Is comment moderation the same as censorship?

7 minute read

From time to time this site is drowned in angry messages. If they are rude, crude, or abusive, they do not appear on the blog. Josh and Rev N have challenged me to think about the limits of free speech on private blogs. I’m not sure how wrong I’ve been in my actions, but am willing to change my stance going forward. If you have anything to add to this discussion, your contributions will be most welcome.

  • How can we be less like the world in our online speech?
  • How can we be faithful to the Word of God, while being kind to one another?

Five examples of people who have been moderated

People don’t like it when their comments are truncated. If you go to the trouble of writing a comment on a blog, you want people to read all of your words exactly as you expressed them. Conflict occurs when what you’ve said goes contrary to the spoken or unspoken rules of the blog-owner.

One error I’ve made is to assume that others share my assumptions of what constitutes proper Christian behavior. Another is my failure to state clearly when and how I will moderate comments.

1. Ducky

In a comment thread on another blog Ducky tried to discredit me by revealing my past history of reading tarot cards. This had nothing to do with what was being discussed. Ducky revealed it only to smear me and derail the conversation.

Ducky makes no pretense of being a Christian. He has many valuable things to say, such as his comment on Photographs and memories. It really surprised me that he took such a cheap shot.

2. Dan Trabue

Dan Trabue presents himself as an innocent Christian lamb who only wants to spread peace and love. Yet he’s been banned from many Christian blogs for years behavior to the contrary. When people catch on to his game, he zeroes in with invective and abuse.

On the While it’s yet day version of this website there was a page with extensive documentation about Dan Trabue. He objected that the page might interfere with his ability to get a new job. Out of kindness to him, the page has been removed under the condition that he stops his aggressive behavior against orthodox Biblical Christians. If he crosses my path again, the page About Dan Trabue will go back up.

Some information about him is still availble online here.

3. Rev. N

Rev. N is a retired Lutheran pastor who made many helpful comments. Then one day he submitted a long entry of 190 words unrelated to the subject of the post. The comment was harshly critical of the government. And it brought in the topic of geocentricity.

The resulting email exchange became a character assassination attack on me. This otherwise kind and respectful Christian man suddenly seemed unwilling to give me any benefit of the doubt because I had wrongly misunderstood his comment to be relating to flat earth.

I was wrong for misreading what he said, and have apologized to him.

4. Don Vega

Don Vega left a harsh and abusive comment which showed little evidence of Christian grace. You can see a somewhat less aggressive tone in his comments at Extra Nos.

When his comment did not appear on this blog, he proceeded to slander me online. He also continued to paper me with email messages after 3 separate requests for him not to contact me again. I can’t print the profanity he used.

Here’s my public response:

Don (or Ron) Vega, Since you have chosen to slander me publicly here, let me clarify that all comments on my blog are moderated. Your behavior is an example of why this is the case. Your comment above was never published on my blog, so it could not have been "kilcreased" as you put it. Perhaps I am pompous, but I'm too aware of my own failings, limitations and difficulties to be either uber-pious or sanctimonous. You must be confusing me with others. But that is not my concern. What does concern me is the shame you bring on Christians and Christianity by your rude and aggressive behavior. As I wrote to you privately: Please do not contact me again. We have obviously different ideas about what constitutes Christian behavior and belief. Let's let it go at that. Your comment here is just like the ones you made at Extra Nos. Just because Bobby hit his sister, doesn't mean that you are not wrong for the things you do. Just go.

5. Josh

My respect for Josh has grown through our email interactions this week. He makes the following charges against me:

  • I call him out for apostasy yet refuse to debate issues

  • If my theology is so strong, then I must argue my point with him

  • I believe that “all my readers can’t think for themselves”

  • I censor posts

Here are my answers to Josh. I am open to critique if I am missing essential points. Josh seems to assume that blogs are free speech zones and that bloggers must allow discussion and debate. I do not agree.

Censorship and personal blogs

A blog is a personal journal - Web-log = blog. Censorship does not apply to personal journals.

I do believe that people can think for themselves. But I’m not going to provide a platform for:

  • Hatred of the government

  • Wrath against me and other readers

  • Argument of the basic tenets of Biblical Christianity as found in the Creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian) and common to the Book of Concord and Westminster Confession of Faith.

Honest discussion requires a common language. And respect. And a passion for truth.

Some commenters only want to spar. They want to argue for the sport of it. If that’s you, then there are other places you can find that. The purpose of this blog is to provide my understanding of Biblical faith as a Confessional Lutheran. I seek to grow in my knowledge of and obedience to Jesus Christ. I am not interested in pointless acrimonious debate.

Saving Faith

There is a Biblical Christian faith, and there are many imposters. It’s not possible to convince people to believe. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit as he works through the Word and the sacraments of baptism and communion. Faith is a gift of God. Christian discussion is only possible when saving faith is present.

When fruitful discussion is not possible

A recent Gallup poll found that 78% of Americans consider themselves Christian. Few of those hundreds of millions of people whould agree that:

  • All 66 books of the Bible (the Canon), and only those 66 books are the living Word of God and authoritative for life, doctrine and practice.

  • Scripture is without error

  • Scripture interprets Scripture.

People who don’t share these basics speak different languages. They will never agree on who God is and what he expects. They will never come to any conclusions. They will only go around and around and become frustrated with each other.

They have nothing to discuss.

An example of commenting rules

In an attempt to address the issues raised in this post, I present Bill Muehlenberg’s commenting rules.

Commenting Rules

Readers are welcome to post comments on the material posted here, but some simple rules apply. If you are happy to abide by these rules, then by all means, send in your comments. Happy writing!

  • No trolls allowed.

  • I reserve the right to edit or refuse comments.

  • This site is meant to express my point of view. If you are looking for a soapbox to promote your own views, create your own website or blog site.

  • Comments should be brief (preferably under 100 words), polite, constructive and informed.

  • Comments which are simply attacks on myself, or are done in bad taste, or use rude language, or are possibly defamatory will not be posted.

  • You must state your full name to have your comments posted.

  • I may reply to some of your comments but will not be able to respond to all.

Censorship and online Christian discussion

To each of these men, and to you, I freely admit that I have made mistakes in the area of comment moderation. I am willing to change my stance. But I’m not willing to be distracted by people who reject the authority of the Word.

If you have anything to add to this discussion, your contributions will be most welcome.

How can we be less like the world in our online speech? How can we be faithful to the Word of God, while being kind to one another?

Originally published at: Comfort for Christians

Comments

I still allow “anonymous” entries, but sometimes with multiple anonymouss it can get confusing, and Im seriously thinking about asking for a name for those posts. Also, I dont think it matters what church a person goes to unless it is germane to the article, and then sometimes I ask. Ive had to go to moderation because of so much spam and bad behavior. Here are my comment rules: I have the following rule posted right at the comment block: Comments with links - either with the commenters name or in the text of the comment - which link to sites with heretical, aberrational, obscene or otherwise improper teaching, will not be published with said links. Comments which are mostly, or only, ad hominem attacks will not be published. I have the following posted under the label “Comment Rules”: I have visited too many blogs where comments completely abandon the topic of the article - they get “hijacked” into discussion of many unrelated topics.  I don’t like that and I don’t want to permit that on my blog.  Comments are to be in reference to the article – or in response to other comments about the article –  or they will not be published. If the commenter starts out in regards to the article, but then decides to go off on a tangent, then no more comments will be published by that person. If a commenter wants to discuss something else besides what is in the article, the commenter is more than welcome to e-mail me to engage in a discussion.   If I ask a commenter to take the discussion to email, if he continues trying to post, he will not be published.   The commenter can ask, demand, cajole me into publishing his comments, but it won’t happen so don’t waste your time. If you disagree with what I say, then demonstrate from Scripture or other data where I am in error and I will be more than willing to recant or correct the error. But if you include any personal attacks against me, your comment will not be posted. I have spent too much time correcting these sorts of comments and challenging commenters to explain the evidence for their personal attacks, and I don’t think it is a proper use of my time. Not only that, but why should I post someone behaving in an un-Christian manner?

For one thing you’re using the wrong terminology, it’s not censorship, it’s moderating, and as the blog owner it’s your duty to moderate responses. I used to have open responses on my blog until I pointed out the false teaching of a hypocrite that is loved by the Not All There “Christians”. As a retired Sergeant, I know swearing. I used to be a professional at it. I could “chew you up one side and down the other” for 20 minutes straight while making a pot of coffee and not repeat myself once. But that was then. This is now. I see my blog as MY blog, and when I saw that foul language on MY blog I began moderating. First, no anonymous posting. You can’t believe how fast baseless bravado can evaporate when the writer is forced to identify himself. Other things I do not tolerate; swearing, insulting people, blasphemy, and going off topic. It’s MY blog, it’s MY heart I’m opening up on MY blog, it’s MY readers I’m trying to protect, it’s OUR savior we’re here to glorify, so we play by MY rules. If someone doesn’t like it they can get their own blog. I have no problem if someone wants to disagree with me, that’s fine – iron sharpens iron – a disagreement gets my nose down in the bible to reference my assertions. But when someone breaks my rules, especially when they’ve been warned, I will go ahead and post their comments, then respond as to why they are not tolerated and close my comments with “you have been moderated” then I will delete the messages of their posting. All a reader will see is the commenters name, “This comment has been removed by a blog administrator”, and my reason for removing their comments. Is that harsh? Maybe, but then so is a lot of the language I have had to clean off my blog. And I don’t get a lot of repeat offenders. You know, like Dan T. So stick to your guns, you have a good set of rules and a great blog. It’s a shame we have to do this but we have readers who don’t want to see that kind of thing. BTW – the “denomination” of my church is the Four C’s – betcha never saw that before

Rule #1 Orthodox Confessional Lutherans (Real Lutherans) believe the Doctrine of Objective Justification. It is their duty to root out false teachers; especially those who claim to be lutherans that deny this universal precious doctrine. Rule #2 Real Lutherans must have thick skin. Why? Because we are a polemical tribe. Get used to it. Irony alert: By your ground rules, Martin Luther himself would not be allowed to post here.

Hi Glenn, My thought on asking a person to reveal their church is to make commenters a little more real and present. It also provides some kind of framework for some of the theological comments and criticisms which are sometimes raised. Your rule about links is a good one. I may add something similar to the new comment guidelines. And what you wrote here is precisely the point of these two posts this week: I have spent too much time correcting these sorts of comments and challenging commenters to explain the evidence for their personal attacks, and I don’t think it is a proper use of my time. Not only that, but why should I post someone behaving in an un-Christian manner? Alec

Ron, One. Could you point to the place in the Book of Concord which proves your allegation: Orthodox Confessional Lutherans (Real Lutherans) believe the Doctrine of Objective Justification. There are plenty of Orthodox Confessional Lutherans who believe otherwise. As you know. Two. Thick skin has to do with the person receiving treatment, not giving it. Polemics are wonderful. That is also known as “iron sharpening iron”. What is not okay is venting wrath, trying to destroy a person with ad hominem attacks, and behaving in an un-Christian way. But you and I do not agree on this point, either. Three. This is the most wonderful comment of all. Thank you for adding it! You hooked me. Which points would exclude Martin Luther? Alec

Hi Doug, “Censorship” is what Josh accused me of carrying out here. Ive also heard this from others. Moderation is the proper term. I used censorship to be clear that I am responding to Josh specifically. The “you have been moderated” method youve laid out makes a lot of sense. It also takes away any sense of mystery which can happen when posts get completely deleted. CCCC = Conservative Congregational Christian Conference? Ive been to one of their churches a few times. Good people. Alec

One. You will not find the exact wording in the BoC. The clearest pronouncements are in the Smalcald Articles under the The Office and Work of Christ-REDEMPTION and in the Solid Declaration under Election. Two. You must understand tough love to get it. We are talking the truth and salvation after all. Three. Points 3, 4 and 5.

I concede it is in your purview to moderate your blog however you see fit. My complaint is when I am called out as apostate on your blog post, and not given a chance to defend my side. Especially when I dont believe I have ever posted anything in disagreement with the Apostles Creed, or the Nicene Creed. To be honest I have never read the Book of Concord (I will be reading this), but it is possible my posts may be in contradiction to it. I wonder if you might have an addendum to your rules to offer the accused an avenue to defend themselves. One last thing. From the perspective of someone that has been moderated. It would be nice to receive some message that acknowledges this. It would also be nice to receive the text of my post back in an email (not sure if this is easy to do). I put a great deal of thought into responses and the internet has now swallowed a few of them up. I dont always remember to save them. Thanks again for being open to this dialogue.

Josh, (1) You were given the opportunity to defend yourself. And you did. Your response was printed and is still there. Your arguments are also still at Stans post where you defended them extensively. You were not given the opportunity to further debate your points here for the reasons stated in this post. (2a) The history of the Christian Church has been one of ongoing heresies and apostasies. As new flowerings of false doctrines have appeared, at times of strength Christians have gathered together and countered them with statements. These are the creeds and confessions. The Nicene and Apostles Creeds are not enough. If you read the comments from Don (or Ron) Vega (he uses both names in violation of Jesuss command to let your yea be yea and nay be nay), you can see he believes a heresy which cant be defended from the Lutheran Confessions. It came from the German Pietistic movement which developed later and is a form of sneaky universalism which Vega believes is the true gospel. If “Justification by faith” is enough to send you to hell, and if “all Confessional Lutherans” believe in Universal Justification (as Vega says) then why do we find this in the Lutheran Confessions (in multiple places and stated in many ways): This article concerning justification by faith (as the Apology says) is the chief article in the entire Christian doctrine, without which no poor conscience can have any firm consolation, or can truly know the riches of the grace of Christ, as Dr. Luther also has written: If this only article remains pure on the battlefield, the Christian Church also remains pure, and in goodly harmony and without any sects; but if it does not remain pure, it is not possible that any error or fanatical spirit can be resisted. (Tom. 5, Jena, p. 159.) 7] And concerning this article especially Paul says that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Therefore, in this article he urges with so much zeal and earnestness the particulas exclusivas, that is, the words whereby the works of men are excluded (namely, without Law, without works, by grace [freely], Rom. 3:28; 4:5; Eph. 2:8-9), in order to indicate how highly necessary it is that in this article, aside from [the presentation of] the pure doctrine, the antithesis, that is, all contrary dogmas, be stated separately, exposed, and rejected by this means. -Book of Concord, Solid Declaration, III The righteousness of faith, 6 Notice that its not called the righteousness of all men without their having to believe. Its called the righteousness of faith. Many people claim to be Confessional Lutherans yet dont care what the Lutheran Confessions say. They never read them, quote them, study them, or compare what they say to Scripture for themselves. The best we can say is that they are lazy and complacent. The worst we can say (and this is to the professors and teachers) is that they are dishonest. (2b) You too have written things which show a disagreement with the Reformation confessions in regard to Scripture. From the Westminster Confession: IV. The nameity of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the name thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God. IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly. X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. -WCF, 1 Of the Holy Scripture You have written clearly that to you the “words in red” are more important than Christs “words in black”. With this hermeneutic you will come to different conclusions than those of us who are more orthodox (aka Bible-believing) in our interpretation of Scripture. The only way Christians can have any discussion or agreement on this blog (or elsewhere) is if they start with the same understanding of what constitutes Scripture and how it is to be interpreted. (3) Ive sent your moderated posts to your email address. Alec

My, my ears must have been burning. Since Im being written up it seems only sporting to allow me to respond but clearly thats something you decide.

Im not given any leeway on your blog since I never attempt to post on your blog. When I mentioned the Tarot connection I have to say it was only partially a dig. The switch from Tarot reader to fundamentalist Christian is fascinating. Are you the judge of who is or is not a Christian? I say no. Now I am certainly not a Christian by your terms but that means nothing. I have taken my own path and find that trying to define an infinite being according to some tribal texts is problematic. I am drawn to the Christian existentialists. Yes, I am of the world as you are yourself. If that means adhering to the social gospel then so be it, I make no apologies. If you mean by “being of the world” that I am a hedonist - boy, you blew that one.

However, I am dangerous. My personal guides are: Faith is not a guarantee. God loves the atheists best. Ill leave you to figure out the second one for yourself. The first is obvious.

Hi Ducky, Glad you weighed in. No, I am not the judge of whether you or anyone else is a Christian - thats between you and God. Luckily hes helped us all by providing what he requires of us in writing in the Bible. None of us measure up. Thats the whole reason we need the Savior. I wish you well and that is sincerely true. Alec

Alec, Im glad to be at your blog and am enjoying what I read and finding agreement. First: my background was Roman Catholic with a Catholic education. The Lord saved me while I was involved in a Bible study on Ephesians. This study became a church plant of the Christian Missionary Alliance. During my time in the Alliance, I was sidetracked and injured by Charismania/Word Faith. I almost returned to Catholicism because of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal but my Pastor counseled, warned, and prayed for me. Reading about Martin Luthers experience (in Baintons bio of him, e.g.), and reading and rereading The Bondage of the Will helped me so much, steadying me as a former Catholic. Because of what we learned through Reformed Christians and Reformation lit, we began attending an Associate Reformed Presbyterian fellowship. When this church closed, we began attending a small independent freewill Baptist fellowship because a friend invited us. We are now Reformed Baptists worshipping there but continuing to adhere to the Solas. The Lord has steadied and is steadying me. Lately Ive studied primitive Christian groups, which werent part of the Reformation, and I admire these Christians but remain a Protestant - the Protest has not and cannot end. (Rev. 12:11) Do I have anything to add to the present discussion? Only this, that comments MUST be moderated unless you want confusion, which the Adversary engenders. Also, a blog is our home so to speak. And we cant allow people to come into our home and injure those we love and us. Really, it can harm everyone involved - when we are called to edify one another. For there are an endless number of ways to sin through the spoken and written word, and to stray off the narrow way. As we continue blogging, we learn more about responding and moderating. Lord bless you, my brother! Maria

Hi Maria, Thank you for your comment. I found myself nodding in agreement while reading. Long ago I was in training to be a minister in the Reformed Episcopal Church when that denomination “merged” in some way with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. I knew so little at the time that I could not make sense of what was happening. I left the seminary, then the denomination and eventually my faith for 20 some years. Fortunately God never let go of me. Thank you for confirming what I believe - that these blogs are something like online living rooms. When you make a comment its very much like being a guest in someones home. Its just good manners to behave respectfully. Of course, it seems that some people have never learned basic manners. Or maybe they dont care - I dont know. But the majority of people who come around here for “a cuppa tea and a sit down” are wonderful folks. I only wish we were able to have these conversations face to face. Alec

Our God is so good not to let us go! So GLAD for you, Alec! Learning how much to say and when is a huge blessing, which keeps us and others safe - at least a lot of the time. Yes, it would be great to sit down to a cup of tea! Some who dont mind their manners online, or think they must always get out their boxing gloves, might be very different in person and gracious.

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