This post is the first in a series. Find the later parts 2, 3 and 4 in the coming weeks…

My Naive Beginnings

PangaeaWhen I first started Mormon blogging, I thought the field was pretty simple. I thought the Mormon blogging world was summed up by one word: Bloggernacle.

To be sure, from even my first article, I knew about the “Disaffected Mormon Underground” or “Outer Blogness,” but these things seemed to be subsets of the Bloggernacle.

How naive I was back then. It’s only been with time that I’ve come to realize that not only is the Bloggernacle not a catch-all term for Mormon blogging, but in fact, to understand the Mormon Blogging world, you have to understand the various factions and fractures within it. It goes way back. All the way back in a 2006 post about angst, J. Stapley makes it clear that, “Without qualification the DAMU community is not welcome here at BCC.” This stuff holds today. In a (coincidentally and conveniently) deleted-by-server-error comment at 9 Moons, Steve Evans wrote similarly in 2010: “I can assure you that in the Bloggernacle there are no awards to be handed out to Chanson or Chino Blanco.” (Chino Blanco and Chanson are both notable personalities in Outer Blogness, especially if you ever read Main Street Plaza.)

Why does this even matter?

Well, the blogging doesn’t really matter, not so much. However, as I mentioned in last week’s article about strange bedfellows for progressive Mormons, various groups, even if they have similar ideas about what the church should do, are unlikely to form a coalition because the fault lines are drawn based on theological beliefs, or, to put in a different way, different ideas about what the church is. But, as will turn out to be the case (later on in the series), having similar theological beliefs won’t create a cohesive community either, because those differing political (in a what-should-the-church-do? sense) end up mattering after all.

What’s this all about? The name of this entire game is boundary maintenance.

World Fault Lines

To summarize, blogs are hubs of communities, and communities are the focal points of various norms, expectations, ideals, goals…all of those good sociological things. Boundary maintenance is about preserving the previously mentioned things from being diluted or subverted by outsiders or insiders. When J. Stapley says “the DAMU community is not welcome here at BCC,” he says so because of several traits he ascribes to members of that community. The full paragraph that the previous quotation is taken from goes:

You can’t have angst and remain. You either get over your angst or you leave. There are tons of web communities that are antagonistic to Mormonism. These communities, sometimes referred to as the DAMU (Disaffected Mormon Underground) are cauldrons of angst and antipathy. We recently had several links to BCC from some popular DAMU sites and the decline in the conversation here was palpable. This isn’t because somehow the truth was more fully elucidated, but because these individuals aren’t interested in constructive discourse. The light can handle all things on which it shines, but truth is not flavored with angst. Without qualification the DAMU community is not welcome here at BCC. Additionally, the message board style handles and disrespectful discourse that is common on many internet fora are not welcome here.

Whether these traits properly describe members of the DAMU is one thing. But whatever the case, as a preserver of BCC’s community, J. Stapley and others are certainly within their bounds to  assert community standards.

(It is important to note that in the same discussion, Steve Evans does qualify Stapley’s comment. Stapley’s response is to assert that if a member of the DAMU qualifies for BCC, then it is because they have not brought their community with them.)

In a later article at BCC, John C contrasts online communities to offline communities.

In his essay, “Why the church is as true as the gospel,” Eugene England argued that the one greatest effect of the church is that it puts you into situations with people whom you would never voluntarily associate with. In these situations, if you are a good church member, or even if you would only like to be one, you are supposed to serve these people out of love. Serving in love, with all our heart, is the one thing really asked of us by Church service. And we have to extend that love to everyone, in and out of the church, but particularly in, where we are easily frustrated by the bigots, sexists, liberals, feminists, conservatives, and John Birchers among us. We’re supposed to love everybody.

The internet isn’t like that. Ultimately all internet participation is voluntary. We don’t ever have to be here (as spouses tell us all the time). Therefore, we tend to congregate in groups of like minded people. The argumentative among us will engage in excursions to the other side under the guise of dialogue, but usually with an understanding that we are doing this for fun or as a distraction. If real human emotion was considered to be in play, we wouldn’t discuss half the things we discuss and we certainly wouldn’t talk about them the way we do.

The bloggernacle isn’t a place where everyone is accepted with equal trust. Trust must be earned within it. Some people will always be viewed with suspicion, simply because of the questions they ask, the manner in which the questions are asked, and because of implied agendas (real or imposed) behind those questions. In other forums, they will be welcomed and embraced. I don’t truly know if this is a bad thing or a good thing. It simply is.

These are just a few comments from bloggers at By Common Consent, but I think these are important in highlighting one point in particular: By Common Consent is very big on boundary maintenance. It is very big on maintaining a particular tone and message…and it has a long-developed (at least in internet time frames) discourse about it: earned trust vs. suspicion.

Unfortunately, the posts I’ve already linked to don’t help entirely much, because they are already in medias res. Even from these 2006-era posts, the Bloggernacle already appears to be established as something separate from the DAMU, which appears to be something separate from the “Sunstone” crowd.

How to make sense of it all?

Well, there’s a wikipedia page that has a dubious history of the Mormon blogosphere, but it seems to hint that this blogosphere, the “Mormon portion of the blogosphere,” is the Bloggernacle (and that the only exceptions are LDS-themed bloggers who do not like or use the name Bloggernacle, or even consider their blog as part of it.) This kind of characterization makes me doubt the entire page.

I think that, history or not, one is better suited to start at the Mormon Archipelago, the Gateway to the Bloggernacle, and in particular, look at the info and contact page for its founding members:

Ronan (United Brethren and BCC), J. Stapley (Splendid Sun and BCC), John Fowles (A Bird’s Eye View and Mormon Mentality), Geoff J (New Cool Thang), Dave (Dave’s Mormon Inquiry), Roasted Tomatoes (LDS Liberation Front and BCC), Rusty (Nine Moons), Justin B (Mormon Wasp), J. Daniel Crawford (Faith Promoting Rumor and BCC). All of the MA bloggers also post at the Bloggernacle Times, where any MA announcements will also appear.

Pay attention to how many of the founding members have a parenthetical “BCC” next to their names (along with any other blog.) I’m sure that many will deny it (see Scott’s protestations at the idea of a “BCC-run competition”), but effectively, Mormon Archipelago can be considered a proxy for the “Bloggernacle,” and By Common Consent is a metonym for the Bloggernacle as well. It is the Bloggernacle’s “White House” or “10 Downing Street,” if you will. (Bloggernacle Times, the associated group blog of Mormon Archipelago, goes so far as to say something to that effect.)

And although Steve Evans doesn’t number as any of those founding members, as the founder of By Common Consent, his considerable influence ought not be underestimated. (See J. Max Wilson’s first post in his series “A Critical Look at LDS Blog Portals“)

(As an aside, you will note that Times and Seasons doesn’t appear anywhere in the founding list…that’s an interesting story, since while today, it seems obvious that T&S is a venerable member of the ‘Nacle [the term was coined there, even], in the past T&S was completely delisted from MA, and then relegated to a lower box…ostensibly because it did not publicly display a link to the Archipelago.)

Pay attention to the blog and blogger who write that last link, by the way. J. Max Wilson becomes very important to describing another fracture and faction within Mormon Blogging. His blog series on The History of LDS Blog Portals is classic, whereas this post series will try to bring us to the present. But you’ll have to check out part 2 and beyond for that.

Questions for Part I and to think about the Future Parts…

I think that some of the above quotations represent significant philosophical differences between what we are doing here at Wheat & Tares and what others are doing at other blogs. So, I’ll ask:

  • Do you agree with the idea that internet communities and blogs are designed for like-minded people to discuss (and that excursions to the “other side” are “for fun” or “a distraction”?
  • Do you believe that this distinction only holds for the internet, or does it spill out into offline life? Should it exist in either sphere?
  • Angst? Is it a deal-breaker for conversation, or can someone still speak constructively with it?
  • With respect to the church (or to any church), is the important faultline the difference between belief and disbelief, or does it lie elsewhere? In other words, can there ever be constructive dialogue between believers and disbelievers (think about the implications of this in a more general sense)?