Background

Imagine that you have become heavily involved in some community -- a social club, a non-profit organization, or a congregation, for example. You've poured a lot of time and energy into it, donated some ritual objects you'd made yourself, and made a ten-year pledge to the endowment campaign. But some things happened and the group changed direction, and decisions were made that posed moral difficulties for you, and you could no longer in good conscience support them. But you'd made those donations, both the future pledge and the work of your own hands, and you feel conflicted. On the one hand a promise is a promise and it would be wrong to take your stuff and renege on the pledge; on the other, knowing that your handiwork is now being used for purposes that you have a problem with drives a knife into your heart every time you think about it (or write that annual check). So perhaps you might ask to negotiate your way out of that pickle, knowing that the organization does not have to do anything to help you.

This is the situation I find myself in with BH. I came here on the promise of a religiously-neutral site, where we do text and not theology, where we engage in heremeneutics and exegesis in an academic manner, like many of the other science sites on Stack Exchange. (This doesn't mean everybody is expert; I'm describing an approach.) Everybody had the best intentions, but somehow it didn't work out that way. We have a lot of people who are more interested in religion-based answers, who bring their theology into everything they write, and from their perspective, asking them to stop is like asking them to deny the most important thing in their life. We expect people to show their work and support controversial or offensive claims, but even that is causing problems. Maybe it's not even possible to be religiously-neutral and we had to try it to learn that.

The result of all this is that, regardless of anybody's intents, BH feels and looks like a Christian site. Not just to me, but to uninvolved people who've looked in on it at the request of somebody here. And maybe you don't think that's true or you don't want it to be true (I sure don't want it to be true), but the reality is that between demographics, prolific posters who take every opportunity to bring their religion into answers, and inertia, this is where we are and it seems unlikely to change significantly.

The Problem

Back when we all thought we could build a religiously-neutral site, I donated gifts in the form of answers -- lots of them. Doing that in a neutral space (like BH was then, or on a blog, etc) is fine -- people publish on the internet all the time. But teaching torah on a Christian or Christian-seeming site poses difficulties of both halacha and propriety. In the site's current form I should not be posting here. My answers should not be here. I have done harm by posting them. (I know that's hard to understand.) Knowing that drives a knife into my heart. That these answers were once appropriate (before the site changed) doesn't matter; a visitor sees the site that is, not the site that was.

The terms of service that we all signed grant an irrevocable license to our work to Stack Exchange. I do not intend to violate that user agreement, any more than I would simply stop writing those endowment checks. A promise is a promise. Nonetheless, I am here to ask for a way to undo the damage I've done.

The Request (Plea)

I would like the community's permission to seek deletion of my answers. Stack Exchange may still tell me "tough luck", but maybe if I have the support of the community, support you in no way owe me but I'm asking anyway, then maybe they would consider the request seriously.

I am in the process of reposting most of my answers to a personal blog, a site that could never be mistaken for Christian. (This is slow going because I have to summarize or rewrite the questions, but I'm getting there.) In a few cases either my answer didn't contribute much or the question was weak, and in those cases I haven't ported the content, but most of it will be there. I would do this anyway (hey, it's my work and I don't want to lose it), but I offer this as small mitigation to those who are concerned that I would take away the gifts I made. (I've been told they're seen as gifts, anyway.) I'll share the blog link, of course.

Would y'all go along with a request to delete my answers? Is there something more I need to do to gain your support?

Note: I'm not talking about the few questions I've asked. Deleting them would take something away from the people who invested effort in writing answers; they can stay. It's the answers (on main) I'm concerned about.

What say you?

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So not to let this sit too long unanswered — I understand your concerns and appreciate your candid and level-headed appeal. There are typically better remedies to handle these situations; your request really does go against the intent and spirit of contributing to a body of work that others both depend on and act in cooperation with. Still, I would like to give this further consideration so that I (or someone) can offer a more thoughtful reply and resolution. Take care. –  Robert Cartaino Dec 4 '13 at 0:26
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@Robert, thank you for the reply. I really appreciate you giving some thought to this. I know I am asking for something that runs against the grain of Stack Exchange. It's an unusual problem; usually (I infer) people don't want their names out there and disassociation solves the problem, but in my case the problem is the content (that I put there) in this particular place. Disassociating would actually make that worse (I'd no longer be able to monitor edits). I do promise to do everything in my power to make sure the content I host elsewhere stays available. –  Gone Quiet Dec 4 '13 at 1:19
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@Robert, one factor I hope you'll weigh is that beta sites, by definition, evolve. If someone contributes to SO and later wants to get out, it's not because the site morphed on him; he knew what he was getting into. Here, the site I joined 2+ years ago is not the site we have today; these things happen and need to happen as communities work to build viable sites through experimentation and iteration. All sites evolve to an extent, but with beta sites it can be much more pronounced -- by the time a site graduates we expect it to have hit its stride. –  Gone Quiet Dec 4 '13 at 1:51
    
At this point I have to agree with most, if not all, of what Robert has said. One thing I'll say as a fairly new person at BH may seen ironic. You've shared some differences with some Christians because that’s part of how you live and think, based on how you read text. Frankly, getting input from a different perspective is what's helped me most. First that came from other Christians. Now I'm on to views such as yours and appreciating them. Thanks. –  John Martin Dec 4 '13 at 15:14
    
@John, you may find this meta post about my participation here helpful. (I posted it in September, which is before you arrived.) –  Gone Quiet Dec 4 '13 at 15:17
    
I'm a little torn here, I think in borderline cases SE can't realistically respect requests like this one. For example, many early contributors to math.SE now consider it to be an unethical site, and thus that their contributions there have done harm by legitimizing cheating. Obviously SE isn't going to allow people to delete their old posts there. On the other hand, if this site were say merged into christianity, then that wouldn't be a borderline situation and SE would be in the wrong not to allow deletions. –  Noah Dec 8 '13 at 20:33
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7 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

My apologies for the delay. I didn't forget about you.

We've been talking a lot about this behind the scenes. It's issues like these that remind us to take a step back on occasion to take a good, hard look at how these policies affect people in the real world.

As well we should.

I read your comments and your follow up carefully, so I wont quote a bunch of licensing policies and rules in reply — You've been an excellent and avid participant for a very long time. But that also means your content has become an *integral* and appreciated part of this site and the collective efforts of everyone who has also contributed to this content.

In the future when someone comes searching for help, hopefully they will find this place. And in much of what they find here, your answers are among the highest-awarded in the system. Unfortunately, if we were to simply remove those posts, the information that we've all come to depend on is gone. It's not as if the community will realize we've created this gaping hole that needs filling. Back in the day, up-voting your content removed the need for someone else to provide that assistance. So it's not just your posts that we would be losing. Poking the helpful bits out of this collaboration (so long after the fact) diminishes the opportunity to help those who come after appreciably.

I wish I had better news for you — you really have been very gracious and thoughtful in your appeal — but if you feel the site has drifted away from the promise it once held, I will be happy to disassociate your content and remove your account. But I cannot in good conscience remove a key part of the foundation we've built together in the process.

At least know that, whatever you decide, your contribution will always be appreciated. I wish you the best of luck. Please let me know if you need anything further. Take care.

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Thank you for considering my request. Not long before seeing this reply I sent you email asking if the compromise of a carefully-worded disclaimer edited into my answers would be possible. Can we explore that? (See your email for more.) I am trying to do what's best for everybody, recognizing that our needs are sometimes at odds. Disassociation isn't a viable solution, unfortunately; it preserves my words but removes my ability to monitor them (e.g. be notified of unfavorable edits). As long as the answers remain my account will need to remain, even if I otherwise stop using it. –  Gone Quiet Dec 12 '13 at 3:47
    
I received your email. I am unable to reply at the moment, but let's not spit this conversation between email and comments. –  Robert Cartaino Dec 12 '13 at 4:39
    
Thank you also for the obvious care you put into both the decision and this post. I appreciate that sensitivity and I see I failed to say that in my previous comment. –  Gone Quiet Dec 12 '13 at 13:57
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In email Robert said that a disclaimer is permitted and suggested some implementation detail (wording, formatting, rollout strategy). Thanks! I'll be doing that. (Accepting this answer as the authoritative resolution, even if it's not the answer I sought.) –  Gone Quiet Dec 13 '13 at 2:43
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As you point out, we each have a "contract" with the community that our answers become the property of the community. But as you also pointed out, since the community "owns" the answers, the community can also decide to allow their removal. Though I do not fully understand the reasons you feel your answers are harmful (I would appreciate, but do not need, an explanation), I can sympathize with your position. If I once posted pictures on Facebook, I would want a way to be able to delete them, whatever my reasons for deleting them might be. And what you're asking is even less - an opportunity to simply move your answers to another website. As long as the information you have posted remains available, it shouldn't make a difference to us where it is available - whether on this site, or a blog.

You have my support.

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Thank you. I wrote about the problem here back in early September when I stopped answering questions, and if you follow the link in that question and the links in the post that takes you to, you'll learn possibly more than you wanted to know. –  Gone Quiet Dec 4 '13 at 16:40
    
@GoneQuiet Thanks, I read the link, but I'm not sure I understood. Is it that you consider your contributions to this site as supporting or seeming to support false theology and distortions of scripture? Again, feel free not to answer. –  Niobius Dec 4 '13 at 16:48
    
That's a big part of it. (As you might have guessed, it's more complex than will fit in this comment.) I'm happy to answer, but I'm wondering where, since I don't think comments will work well. I could set up a chat room for us if you like? –  Gone Quiet Dec 4 '13 at 17:25
    
@GoneQuiet Great! I'd appreciate it if we could have a chat about it. –  Niobius Dec 4 '13 at 21:28
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I think your idea to edit in a (short) note about the original context would be a much better solution than deleting your answers. There's certainly no reasonable argument that it would be worse vandalism to add a note than to delete. Alternately, perhaps a longer explanation on your user page, combined with a very short comment with link on your answers might be a workable compromise.

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It would have to be in the body of the answer, not in a comment (that can be silently deleted, and anyway isn't as visible). And it would have to provide a short explanation in the answer itself, not just on the user page (though it could link to a further explanation there), because people coming from Google etc are just going to see the page -- they won't know or usually care about user pages and the whole SE machinery. But those details aside, I'm amenable to this approach if it's permitted (and the explanation isn't so watered-down as to be ineffective). –  Gone Quiet Dec 8 '13 at 20:46
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I think I understand where you are coming from, but my -1 indicates that I think this is the least acceptable option: any short note in every answer would be a 'political statement' of sorts with high visibility. To allow that would be to suggest others could do the same which would put the heart of the site (the actual Q&A which is the reason why folk ever come here in the first place) into very undesirable territory. Who is the message aimed at? Old hands will see it and understand the context (but know already), visitors will be baffled and distracted. –  Jack Douglas Dec 9 '13 at 8:56
    
Isn't it a little premature to assume that a wording we haven't seen yet would be a political statement? We have some excellent writers on this site; can't we trust them to help craft the message? –  Gone Quiet Dec 9 '13 at 13:43
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@GoneQuiet Its not the wordsmithing that is the issue here. How would any amount of clever words change the fact that the message was added because the author thought the post (may) not belong and how would that not reflect poorly on the site? –  Caleb Dec 10 '13 at 16:53
    
@Caleb does a historical lock reflect poorly on the site? I don't have that wording handy, but it's never struck me that way when seeing it. Why couldn't something along those lines work? –  Gone Quiet Dec 10 '13 at 17:17
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@GoneQuiet Historical locks serve the opposite purpose: they highlight community agreement on site direction (and that something no longer belongs). In your case anything similar would be a signpost in the opposite direction: one person saying they take exception to the the community direction. No matter how you phase that it is what it is. –  Caleb Dec 10 '13 at 18:56
    
Noah, related discussion. –  Gone Quiet Dec 11 '13 at 17:45
    
Noah, see here - disclaimer approved. (And yes, I'll be augmenting what's already on my user page.) –  Gone Quiet Dec 13 '13 at 2:46
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I personally won't support your request. I've given this a lot of thought since you brought up the issue in chat the other day, and I have nothing but praise for the friendly and reasonable line you've taken in your request, but my conclusion is that it would be more 'wrong' than 'right'. If SE grant your request I won't argue with them about it: it's their decision and they know better than I, but this is what I personally think right now. Apart from anything else, I'd be worried about a precedent being set that we'd later regret if another contributor asked the same.

With that said, there are two things I'd like to add:

  1. Wanting your content removed (whether or not SE agree) means you do not want what's best for the site. I don't think your further participation on that basis is tenable. It may be the morally correct thing to do from your perspective, and I don't presume to judge you for that (I feel nothing but sympathy right now as I write this, and I am saddened both for you personally and for the site), but it's my view that unless you change your mind, you should leave completely. By that I mean your participation here on meta, in chat and on main in all forms. I think this needs to be an 'in or out' choice because there is something you care about so much that you wish to tear excellent content out of the site we love. Though I respect your willingness to make hard choices this kind of action is as exceedingly painful for the rest of us as it is for you.

  2. Please stay. If you can't then you can't, but if there is any avenue you haven't explored yet, anyone you respect or in authority you haven't asked yet, please see if there is some way you might be mistaken, that you might be allowed to work with us for the site and the community wholeheartedly. You have been a model contributor, and the ongoing work you've been an integral part of, shaping and building this site, is both exciting and promising in so many ways. I say this more in hope that expectation: I know you've been thinking about this for a long time and I don't doubt you've considered your action with wisdom and intelligence.

I'd willingly give up all your past contributions to the site if you were then able to contribute fully from now on. Obviously this isn't an option you've given us, but I'm saying it to make clear that despite the value I place on the answers you've given, and despite our past differences, it is you I'd most like to keep on BH.SE, not your past answers. I am quite sure that whether you go or stay will have a significant influence on what kind on site this becomes a few years down the line.

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Well-balanced answer; you've obviously thought this through. As I see it, you raise two objections: 1) the setting of precedent, and 2) what's best for the site. However: 1) The situation as we have here is unprecedented and is not likely to recur. 2) We must be loyal not primarily to the site itself, but to what the site stands for. SE is not about becoming a popular site, but about people helping each other by sharing information. As long as the information is moved rather than removed, the spirit of SE is not violated. But I agree that the worst of this is losing this loyal member. –  Niobius Dec 4 '13 at 21:59
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Hi Niobius and thanks for being a part of this discussion. On "the information is moved rather than removed", these usually amount to the same thing: try this Google search in a private window. We get on the first page, and generally rank highly in Google, plus we get 4k+ hits per day to the site. otoh, there are millions of blogs etc out there that are effectively invisible… –  Jack Douglas Dec 5 '13 at 8:06
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…secondly, moving just Monica's answers somewhere else reduces their value because the context of other answers is taken away. People trust content here because they understand the model: better content generally rises to the top because of votes. A private blog is just part of the general internet soup where there are a million voices and it takes research to judge the content. –  Jack Douglas Dec 5 '13 at 8:09
    
Makes sense. Thanks! –  Niobius Dec 5 '13 at 10:13
    
One thought, though: googling a question about hermeneutics often yields a result on the first page from SE. But this would change only if questions were removed from SE - not if answers were removed. The search, "How tall was Goliath" would result in finding SE regardless of the answers on this site. And as long as there's a link to the place with GoneQuiet's answers on SE, the answers are only a click away. Moreover, the "reputation" or old answers seldom change much - these would surely be preserved if the answers were replaced by a link? –  Niobius Dec 5 '13 at 12:35
    
Do you mean if we replaced Monica's answers with a link to her answer hosted elsewhere? That's not really OK on SE, and if I understand Monica correctly, it wouldn't be acceptable to her anyway. It also has the effect that a Google search won't match on the content of Monica's answer, making the whole question less discoverable. –  Jack Douglas Dec 5 '13 at 12:41
    
@Jack, thank you for this thoughtful answer. Re precedent: there were no similar cases when I asked Jon in September. I do want what's best for the site; we disagree about what that is. I come to this position reluctantly, wishing that instead the site could be more neutral so I wouldn't be pushed out. No, a blog doesn't have the SEO of SE & I'd not try to compete (couldn't anyway), but if y'all want to link individual posts in comments like you do for other resources, that's fine. Further discussion in chat starting here. –  Gone Quiet Dec 5 '13 at 14:44
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While I think that it would be courteous and gracious for the community to support GQ's request, I think I can do more good here by offering GQ a reason why this situation may not be so bad.

Anyone, on any day, can connect up a hose to Mi Yodea and deliver the content there anywhere, so long as they abide by the minimal attribution requirements. Thus, every Jewish person (and Mi Yodea is rather chock-full of very observant Jewish persons) who teaches Torah there is accepting the risk of waking up one day and finding their teaching in an inappropriate context, as defined by the question here.

So, either those folks are all asleep at the switch, or they have decided that intent is key. I'd bet on the later. When GQ answered questions here, it was with the intent of teaching in an appropriate context. It seems to me that having the feel of the site change around the material is not materially different from having the material copied and pasted into a different context. At most, from the standpoint of the Jewish issues that are raised here, asking nicely to get rid of the content is about all GQ can do. The license is the license. Once the request has been made, my personal view is that she's off the moral hook. Of course, unless someone's been laying hands on my in my sleep, I've never received smichut, and my opinions don't carry any particular weight.

Given that SE, Inc. has traditionally been very, very, resistant to setting the precedent of removing material, I fear that even a ringing endorsement from everyone in sight here will not persuade the corporate team to go along. It might offer legal traction to other people on other sites.

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Thanks for the feedback. There is a difference between publishing material elsewhere (a blog, Aish, a textbook, etc) and having someone bring it into a Christian setting, and bringing it there directly. It's kind of like the difference between publishing a chemistry textbook that contains info that can be used to make bombs versus telling known troublemakers how to make bombs. (I'm not saying torah is a bomb; I'm just reaching for an analogy that conveys the severity of the problem and fits in a comment.) –  Gone Quiet Dec 6 '13 at 21:04
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I understand that this distinction is what troubles you. (You might be saying that Torah is 'da bomb'.) The context was appropriate when you published it. You, like lots of other people, put out content under a license that allows it to be repurposes in a bad context. But I'm repeating myself. –  bimargulies Dec 6 '13 at 21:32
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Part of the problem is that Joe Googler doesn't see or know the history; he just sees answers that are inappropriate for the current state of the site. I've been told that editing a note into all my answers about the original context would be treated as vandalism. –  Gone Quiet Dec 8 '13 at 0:10
    
I personally think this is the best answer because it addresses the heart of the moral issue. Unsaid but implied is the idea that while @GoneQuiet is perhaps morally compelled to make the request, she won't be held accountable if the answer is "no". At least I hope that's the correct interpretation. –  Jack Douglas Dec 12 '13 at 7:58
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First of all, thank you for your contributions.

I am just one person, I have heard your plea and I will unselect any of your answers so you can remove them if that is still your request. I respect your religious convictions. Though you do not follow Jesus, I do, and Jesus taught his followers to give to everyone who asks, not to send him away and say come back tomorrow when you have what they ask for today. You agreed for your contributions to be community shared, and due to religious conviction request them back. I as part of that community agree to give them back to you.

Jack is right. It will set a precedence if we comply. But what of it. How many folk have such strong religious convictions these days and why cause a neighbor distress? Shalom Monica

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Thank you for this response and for your thoughtful consideration of my religious convictions. I wish I could delete my answers, but Robert, who speaks for SE, has said no. :-( The answers are trapped here with or without acceptances, so you should either keep or remove those marks based on whether the answers satisfy you, not on my desire to delete. Thanks for thinking creatively about the problem! It's an interesting proposal and I had to think about it for a while to figure out what effect it would have. –  Gone Quiet Dec 20 '13 at 0:14
    
When you delete an answer is it still in shadow land forever? Or does it eventually fade away? –  Sarah Dec 20 '13 at 1:38
    
Deleted answers remain visible to people with the rep to see them (10k on a graduated site, 2k on beta IIRC). While it's possible to hard-delete an answer (at the database itself; must be done by devs), this is reserved for cases where something that really really shouldn't have been posted was, like somebody else's private and sensitive information. Questions are a little different, but this is about answers. –  Gone Quiet Dec 20 '13 at 1:48
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I m sorry how this is turning out for you. If it is any consolation, I cannot see how truth can help fraud anyways. Truth, like light shines; it chases away darkness and exposes flaws. Fraud, on the other hand, hides in the dark. If Yeshua was a fraud then any truth you post cannot help Christians in their cause; it will only shine light on what is false and expose it as false. And if Yeshua was not a fraud then he was a fellow Jew, one of your own, and also the Son of He Who Is God of Abraham, of Isaac, and Jacob; you would want to help his followers. –  Sarah Dec 20 '13 at 2:11
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Sometimes fraud can be really well-disguised and fool people, which is bad. In the case of my posts, part of the problem is that they're helping to support a site that espouses values I find unacceptable -- I'm helping BH with all the metrics that Stack Exchange finds useful, and giving the casual observer the impression that this place is appropriate for Jews -- so my posts may draw others in who will end up realizing too late what I realized, maybe. Sigh. Thanks for the sympathy! –  Gone Quiet Dec 20 '13 at 2:27
    
@Monica, Ah, I see. That makes more sense. I wonder if the authorities would be able/willing to somehow lock your posts so they could not be edited if you disconnect from your account. I am sure there is no real way to guarentee that tampering could not occur though. –  Sarah Dec 20 '13 at 2:28
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Yeah, locks can be removed, but current or future moderators. I can't rely on that. (And you don't even get notified if that happens.) If the answers have to stay, better that the account stay so that (a) I will be notified of edits and (b) I can say something appropriate in my profile. –  Gone Quiet Dec 20 '13 at 2:33
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I fully support your plea , I had a similar reasoning for which I had asked this question which was closed with a clear biased action (the mod himself accepted it as a very good question , yet closed it). The most fundamental problem with this site is that this site has ended up using the name and publicity of 'Biblical hermeneutics' giving an impression that this would be an academic biblical site only dealing with interpretation of texts but the inevitable problem is that majority of the users seem to be protestant evangelical Christians who would love preaching what they think is right on this site, even they cant help to not think this. This site also gives an impression that Christian interpretation of the Bible is the most welcome one. Thus for people who have shared interest in the Bible like Muslims and Jews would find this site going very off track and becoming just another bastion for baseless evangelical propaganda from one group of people. Hence if a Muslim or a Jew who may have contributed on this site thinking that its not about theology but only textual interpretation of the bible , but later if this same content is used to further the cause of one group (like increasing SEO metrics of the site ) than surely it would hurt the sentiments of the contributor and I myself would feel like I have been fooled to contribute to this site. The solution would be to remove the posts of the contributor who contributed in good spirit or at least add a disclaimer, this will make the contributor assured that people reading the post in the Christian context wont get a misunderstanding .

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-1 for pushing your own agenda with only a thin layer of pretense of sympathy for Monica. –  Jack Douglas Dec 12 '13 at 14:54
    
@JackDouglas I would be glad to know what agenda are you talking about ? I am not pretending to be sympathetic to Monica but just wanted to explain my views for the plea which existed even before this case. –  Ali Dec 12 '13 at 17:03
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The closure of your question was discussed at the time and based on issues quite different from what you're pretending now. We've also been over the issues with the agenda you have for this site. Trying to mix and match any dissent to make it look like you have the same cause is disingenuous and not productive. –  Caleb Dec 12 '13 at 20:24
    
@Caleb it was not discussed at all , rather completely offtopic arguments were started by you moreover it was answered as an "important " question by a mod –  Ali Dec 13 '13 at 4:36
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