When The Network was started 10 years ago, it had a simple mandate: to connect people from across the Christian Reformed Church so that they could ask questions, compare notes, share stories, and find resources. It would be populated and moderated by the community itself, with user-submitted content, and guidelines to ensure that conversations remained respectful and honest.
Recently though, you may have noticed a trend of more involvement by staff moderators. We’ve been more stringent about deleting comments and taking down posts. This has caused some frustration in our readers and I thought it warranted a bit of explanation.
I am a communicator at heart and my desire is for free-flowing dialogue among Network participants. I want to be able to sit back and watch The Network community share ideas about church ministry and, when necessary, wrestle with challenging topics. I want to trust the community to moderate the content that is not appropriate, and to engage with each other respectfully. However, I’ve recently had my eyes opened to the fact that The Network “community” isn’t actually as representative of the broad CRCNA community as I thought it was.
In some intentional conversations with people of color, I’ve come to recognize that The Network of the past has not been a very safe place for people of color to be. Few of our posts have been written by people of color or represent their experience. This means that when visitors of color came to our site, they weren’t seeing content that relates to their context and weren’t very compelled to stay. What’s more, several people mentioned that when people of color did post content, they felt personally attacked for what they shared.
Recently, the topic of racism has received global attention. Police shootings of unarmed black men and women have sparked protests around the world calling for systemic change. These protests have sparked counter protests by those who disagree with the values of Black Lives Matter. Even in our churches, a debate has begun about “Critical Race Theory” and its place in Christian minds and conversation.
As a white person, I didn’t see how debate on this topic was any different than debate about church worship styles or children participating in communion. As a result, I allowed some posts to be shared that questioned the idea of white privilege and criticized protestors. I didn’t think about how these posts made assumptions about people of color and discounted their lived experience in a way that other discussions about topics of debate didn’t. I allowed The Network to be a place that caused pain for some of our readers, and I apologize for this.
And this type of situation isn’t limited to Black, Indigenous, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic and other people of color. It can also happen to those with disabilities, survivors of abuse, and other marginalized people. The lived experience of those most impacted by an issue should not be up for debate.
Today, we are taking steps to help ensure that our Network community can truly be a safe place for everyone -- a place that reflects who we are and who Christ is in us. This means that we will be intentionally seeking posts from marginalized voices that we haven’t traditionally heard from. We’ll be expecting posts and comments that demonstrate Christian humility and graciousness in tone, language and implication even when people strongly disagree. We’ll be moderating comments that make significant claims outside of the writer’s lived experience and expertise. And we’ll be deleting posts and comments that attempt to hijack conversations and turn other people’s experiences into controversies.
In other words, we are moving toward creating a community aligned with a biblical call to hospitality, especially for marginalized people most impacted by issues, and doing it in a way that builds up the whole church. We believe that this is how the church should be talking to and with each other.