TL;DR: After several long and intense fights in modmail, I don’t think marginalized folks are safe on /r/Mormon. Due to abuses of power I have reason to believe that the recently-passed Rule 2 changes will either not be enforced or will be straight up reverted. I cannot, in good conscience, continue to be a part of the /r/Mormon moderator team on these grounds.
EDIT 09/22/21: The first TL;DR has been a bit misconstrued, so I feel a 2nd is in order:
TL;DR 2: The reason we asked the head mod to step down was because of his abuses of power. 5/10 mods stepped down when he didn’t recognize our consensus. The bigotry discussion really just set the stage for these abuses to happen.
History and Background
To begin, I want to make a couple of things clear.
First I would like to reiterate that I am bisexual. I have been relatively open about this fact for quite a few years at this point. I also prefer to use the term “queer” instead of “LGBTQIA+”, because “queer” is a reclaimed umbrella term which doesn’t leave someone out from the acronym.
I was temporarily banned from /r/ExMormon back in 2017 and I decided to start making /r/Mormon my home. At the time it only had about 5,200 subscribers, its rules were sparse, and you could practically count on one hand how many posts and comments there were every day.
One of my goals as a moderator has been to codify the rules and lay down expectations of civil discourse. The goal has been to allow anyone from across the Latter Day Saint movement to be able to express themselves here in a civil manner.
Our mod team has worked together to achieve this goal with a consensus-based method of moderation, rule making, adding folks to the team, and rule enforcement. We talk about an issue at length, develop solutions, and then vote on what is the best course of action.
Over time we took active steps to improve the sub like adding flairs to organize content, revamping the rules, implementing automoderator, and banning memes. Other times circumstances forced us to grow, such as bolstering the brigading rule after the SoCalChrist brigading of 2019, adding women moderators after we embarrassingly didn’t recognize sexism, and issuing a pre-emptive ban when sexual abuse/harassment from a user came to light.
Unsurprisingly, these changes have led to massive interest in the community that we have built. As of now /r/Mormon has over 24,000 subscribers and we have hundreds of comments and dozens of posts every day. Our community has changed significantly from the old days, and I think for the better.
We have purposefully crafted our moderator team to be as diverse as possible in order to cover blindspots regarding the lived experiences of others. Traditionally that meant just ExMos, TBMs, NOMs, and PIMOs. However, the snafu where we ended up moderating women who were fighting against sexism was embarrassing and showed us how important other demographics like gender are. Today we have men and women, straight and queer, and in and out of the Jello Belt, and a variety of professional/economic backgrounds, religious beliefs, and ages. We have strived to cover as many blindspots as we can. This diversity helps ensure that the direction forward is equitable and no one particular class or individual mod has more say than another; we work as a team to better the community.
As a queer person, I have been a bit of a representative and spoken out quite frequently about queer topics. Explaining queer life experiences to non-queer folks can often be an uphill battle, since these experiences are often very far outside of their lived experiences. However, I felt like the investment was worth the emotional effort, because the team and the community would be better off for it. We all understood that the diversity on the team was a strength, but sometimes it took time for that strength to take effect.
A New Controversy As Old As Time
Starting in February 2021 we had a new topic that we needed to discuss: bigotry, namely racism, queerphobia, and sexism. We discussed whether we should allow bigotry if its rooted in ignorance – sometimes people use hurtful and antiquated language without knowing that it is or simply don’t know about the experiences of marginalized folks. We also talked about if we should allow bigotry if it is rooted in genuine disdain – this is when even when attempts have been made to share insights into the lived experiences of marginalized people they choose to keep saying hurtful things and use antiquated language. We also talked at length about how to distinguish between the two. There became 2 lines of thought on how to deal with bigotry:
- Battle the Paradox of Tolerance.
I have talked about this concept at length here. Simply put, marginalized folks won’t want to spend time where they have to constantly defend their basic human dignity. If we tolerate bigotry on /r/Mormon then the marginalized people whom the bigotry is aimed towards ultimately won’t have a voice here anymore.
Either way “no bigotry” was already a part of rule 2, and racism, queerphobia, and sexism should have fallen under that.
- Laissez Faire.
Our sub has had the goal of allowing anyone to voice their opinion and beliefs, including people that we don’t agree with. This was originally applied to not give preferential treatment to LDS or ExMo folks. However, this approach began to be applied to tolerate bigoted ideologies, and are especially tolerated if there is scriptural justification (women were created for men’s pleasure, superiority of certain races, queer folks are abominations who are worthy of death, etc).
Those who preferred this approach said that the marketplace of ideas would ultimately help people give up their bigoted ideologies, because those ideas couldn’t stand up to scrutiny and would ultimately die out.
As a queer moderator, my preferred moderation style is to battle the Paradox of Tolerance. We can’t just “disagree” about my basic human dignity and my dignity is not a debate. I fought tooth and nail for the rights of marginalized people to be systemically recognized.
Theoretically, the Laissez Faire approach is great because helping someone give up their bigotry is a fantastic idea – it would help make it so there’s less hate in the world. However, we don’t live in a theoretical world. Taking this approach necessitates several things:
- That people recognize bigoted ideologies for what they are even if its not explicit, which many people aren’t equipped well enough to do.
- Those who do recognize bigoted ideologies have the energy to push back against it, which many don’t.
- Those who recognize bigoted ideologies and have the energy then want to push back against it, which many don’t because bigots don’t discuss these things with good faith and instead will argue ad nauseam and harass you with PMs when you want to quit.
- That the bigots are approaching the table in good-faith and are able/willing to give up their bigotry, which in my experience isn’t the case (especially on the internet and especially on reddit).
In short, in practice the Laissez Faire approach puts the expectation onto marginalized groups of people (queers, POC, and women) to defend themselves because they’re the ones who recognize the bigotry against them. If those groups of people don’t end up fighting, then the bigotry remains up, is normalized, and essentially has a stamp of approval from the mods because they have absolved themselves of the responsibility to moderate bigotry.
The Boiling Point
All of this reached a boiling point at the beginning of August when a racist came onto the sub and said racist things with very flowery language. I decided to push back against them following the Laissez Faire approach as a show of good faith to my fellow mods. However, I ended up getting reprimanded for it, very similarly to how women were reprimanded for fighting against sexism just a couple months ago. The debate whether the rights and dignity of marginalized people should be systemically protected was reignited.
I reiterated my stance that rule 2.2, which said “no bigotry”, meant that racism, sexism, and queerphobia was already against our civility rule. However, it was suggested by another mod that that interpreting rule 2.2 this way was “reducing our civility requirements just because we’re talking to someone we don’t like” and we should in fact remove “no bigotry” from our rules and lean more heavily on “no demeaning others”. Best case scenario this was listening to a queer mod make an argument about how queer folks should be protected under pre-existing rules, and then disregarding that argument in favor of a different interpretation. Worst case scenario it was advocating for removing systemic protections for the dignity that marginalized people have identified and fought for in a lengthy discussion.
In regards to this topic there have been 80+ pages of modmail discussions and many more which have taken place publicly between February and September 2021. I tried anecdotes, analogies, examples, scripture verses, quotes, and personal experiences to try and illustrate the point I was making; I tried every way that I could think of to push for systemic rights for marginalized folks.
The suggestion to remove “no bigotry” felt like kicking the legs out from underneath me so my argument falls apart. It felt like an attack. I was left emotionally exhausted from having to defend my rights and without hope that it would get better. It felt like everytime I speak out I am either ignored or attacked, and the discussion in August was no different.
We have had a policy that if we as mods are feeling stretched thin we take a break from moderating and/or the sub as a whole. A break can help us recenter and clear our minds so we know what we want to do moving forward. Truthfully, I have needed a couple of those breaks this year because it was difficult not having my basic human rights be recognized in a community I have been helping build for 3 years. On August 17th, after this lengthy debate whether I have rights or not, I announced that I needed another break and was stepping away from the conversation.
Most of the mods saw the point that I was making: marginalized people don’t have enough protections. A proposed addition to rule 2 was made in modmail on August 19th which would have patched that ambiguity in our rules.
Mere hours after this proposed amendment was posted I had my moderator permissions removed without any discussion from me or the moderator team. This meant that I could no longer re-flair posts, remove rule-breaking content, and most importantly I no longer had access to modmail. I was told by the mod who took my permissions that I could have them reinstated whenever I wanted, I just had to ask. I immediately asked, but was told that since I got heated in my fight for the rights of marginalized folks that I was being forced to take a sabbatical.
In effect this meant the queer moderator had his voice taken away when a vote regarding queer rights was being held.
Luckily, even without the queer moderator being allowed to vote upon his rights, the rights of marginalized folks ended up getting ratified through our consensus-based moderation style. I am genuinely very happy with these recent changes. They protect dignity while also seek to educate on topics that people may not know are hurtful (like antiquated queer terms). They will have a profoundly positive impact on the community and already have had a profound impact on me. I am very thankful that my team listened and took action; its what I’ve been fighting for all year.
However, a different problem now needed to be addressed: I had my permissions as a moderator unilaterally removed. Removing my permissions represented a stark departure from our consensus-based moderation style. The mod who did it initially said that it was in my best interest, but the rest of the mod team questioned this decision. Then this mod changed their story and said that I “essentially quit the team” (which I didn’t).
Several mods demanded that my permissions be reinstated and assurances be given that drastic unilateral actions wouldn’t be taken again. If either of those didn’t happen several moderators recommended that the mod who removed my permissions step down.
My permissions were reinstated on August 26th at around 10pm, but the anger toward this mod didn’t dissipate. Since I had not seen modmail in a week I read through everything and realized that if our team was going to heal my first initial response was going to be pivotal. I expressed thanks for the rules, recognized that it had been a weird couple weeks for us and we’re all emotionally tired, and expressed a desire to move on from the debate now that we had finalized the rule changes. However, part of my response also specified that I needed assurances that we would still be moderating with a consensus-based approach and that we would all be allowed to express what we needed (after all we were organized as a representative democracy).
This mod then did a couple of odd things:
- They changed their story again about why my permissions were removed. They were worried about me taking unilateral action and changing the rules and removing my permissions due to that unfounded fear.
- They apologized, but the apologies were short, vague, and unconvincing.
- They issued several personal complaints. For example, one of those complaints was when they called me “emotionally fragile” for being frustrated that my rights weren’t recognized in a community I had been building for 3 years, and was told that I shouldn’t contribute to the subreddit, let alone modmail if I was “emotionally fragile”.
- They said that we were “fundamentally shift[ing] the direction or purpose of this subreddit” after we codified a prohibition on racism, queerphobia, and sexism.
- They repeatedly framed disagreement with their positions as us having “outgrown /r/Mormon” and suggested that we leave the mod team if we weren’t willing to uphold their vision for /r/Mormon.
- They said that questioning the rights of marginalized folks is their right and they wouldn’t “be held hostage” by these new rule 2 changes. They declared that this was non-negotiable for them.
Practically in the same breath this mod then announced that they had been working on a sort of “Proposed Moderator Framework” for the mod team, which would have fundamentally restructured how our moderation team has operated for years. Among the changes were:
- A reversal of rules back to potentially pre-2018 (almost certainly including repealing the recently passed rule 2 changes)
- Laissez Faire moderation approach would reign supreme
- Specifications that /r/Mormon is not for community building
- Most mods lose most of their permissions, while only a select few would keep all of their permissions
- A moderator could be removed for “Improper conduct” and “group dynamic” reasons
- The head moderator has ultimate interpretation and veto power, because the current moderation style is “tyranny of the majority”
They encouraged us to take some time to think about the moderation style changes and get back to them.
The 4-Step Plan
We asked for assurances that there wouldn’t be further power grabs and for assurances that we could still freely speak our mind. Instead I was insulted for speaking my mind and they tried to codify it so they have unlimited power. This was a disturbing power grab.
Several of us privately messaged each other to try and figure out what we wanted to do. We agreed to a 4-step process:
- Formally address concerns and lay down expectations. We all had concerns about the direction the sub was going. We wanted to concisely express those concerns, so we chatted a bit and came up with what we needed to move forward: assurances that further power grabs weren’t going to happen, a recommitment to our consensus-based moderation style, and an apology for calling me “emotionally fragile” for wanting my rights to be systemically protected.
After we reiterated our boundaries and asked for what we needed we had a rather long discussion (about 12 pages of dialogue). Ultimately this mod again declined to sufficiently give those assurances and said that they see no reason why they needed to apologize for the insults. With this response, we chose to go to step 2.
- Vote of No Confidence. In September 2020 it came to our attention that SuperBrandt, who was the head mod at the time, preferred if we closed /r/Mormon and redirected folks to the ExMormon sub and LatterDaySaints sub. This would be the biggest change to the sub in living memory and would be a departure from our consensus-based moderation style. We as a team were worried that SuperBrandt would take unilateral action and shut the sub down, which would have been detrimental to what /r/Mormon had become. The current head mod asked SuperBrant to step down, we took a vote as a team and all asked him to step down, and SuperBrandt complied with the wishes of the team’s consensus. The position of head mod ended up going to the current head mod, who is also the moderator in question now. After step 1 failed we decided to follow this precedent and ask the current head mod, the mod in question, to step down.
We moderators took a vote – more than 2/3 of us wanted the head mod to step down because of anxieties of continued abuses of power.
- Moving Forward. We wanted to figure out what things would look like moving forward. Since we have agreed that the team essentially operates as a representative democracy, the position of head mod is more-or-less a ceremonial role and it doesn’t really matter who has it. However, since this ceremonial role also holds “the nuclear codes” (the ability to remove every other mod and also to shut down the sub), we wanted it to go to someone we trust. It was proposed that /u/IHeartToSkate be made the new head mod, because she is passionate about the community, wants to see it thrive and grow, and has a good head on her shoulders.
Barring the head mod, the mod team unanimously voted for /u/IHeartToSkate to be the new head mod. We also unanimously voted to retain the current head mod as a moderator.
However, the current head mod declined to follow the precedent that they had once fought to create and did not recognize the consensus of the mod team. It became clear to us that we were only allowed to build this community and be a part of the team as long as it upheld the vision that the head moderator had for it. The head mod had successfully made a power grab and our consensus-based decision making was now merely ceremonial. This was an incredibly disappointing response, but after the last month none of us were surprised.
With this, we decided to move on to Step 4:
- Moving On. At this point many of us felt that we only had two options: comply with the power abuses and watch our rights be stripped away from a community that we had worked for years to create OR step down as moderators in protest of the abuses of power and the direction those abuses will take the sub. Many (but not all) of us have chosen the latter option; the only real power that we still have is to not play the game.
However, before we parted ways, I wanted to let the community know about all of this. You guys are the people who truly make the community; the moderators are just the custodians. Since you are the people this affects, you deserve the truth about why we are leaving and where /r/Mormon is going. You deserve to make an educated choice about where you spend your time.
I have been a moderator here for 1181 days. I have made hundreds of posts and thousands of comments. I have strived to create a community where everyone from across the Latter Day Saint movement could interact with each other in civil ways. I have poured my soul into this space, and I’m not the only one to do so. I feel like dozens of us have put in the work to make this the golden age of /r/Mormon. We’ve created a community that has had significant cultural impact, and its been for the better.
By posting this publicly I recognize that I am taking a risk. However, I felt the community deserved to know what was happening behind the scenes and where the community may be going. Unfortunately, I fear that having myself and a majority of the senior mod team step down, especially with these behind-the-scenes changes, means that /r/Mormon is about to undergo some big changes and may become a shadow of its former self. I am truly sorry that I couldn’t succeed in keeping the sub the place that we all loved, but as Captain Jean-Luc Picard one said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.”
Life is all about change, I suppose, and after 3 years of moderating /r/Mormon this is a big one for me, and as hard as it is, it is time for me to move on. I wish I could stay, but I draw the line at being token representation; I will not be touted as a representative but then disregarded and be expected to go along with things that hurt me and the people I represent. I draw the line at being personally insulted; I will not tolerate my character being dragged through the mud for demanding equal rights. I draw the line at tolerating racism, queerphobia, sexism, and authoritarianism; we deserve decent communities. The Paradox of Tolerance has proven true; by tolerating and protecting oppressive ideologies it has driven out minorities (like queers like me).
I am excited at the prospect of freeing up a lot of the time which went to moderating and putting it towards further exploring Community of Christ. There is nearly 200 years of history to learn and I have barely scratched the surface.
Additionally, there is a radically inclusive global community in CoC to be a part of today. I have seen this inclusiveness first hand; I have been running a weekly Zoom Social Hour in my congregation for the last 6 months and I have been open about being queer and loving entheogens, and I have been met with nothing but love and community. I am excited to become a bigger part of this community; I have been taking several priesthood training courses and plan on taking several more. I am excited and passionate about building inclusive and equitable communities, and will be putting my talents to work there. I am excited to see where my journey leads me in CoC.
I still feel a pull to interact with everyone across the Latter Day Saint movement. I went to Sunstone this year and it was a truly fulfilling experience. I learned a lot, made many good friends, and saw many of my CoC friends for the first time. I have already decided that I will be attending every year, and very well may get further involved in it.
Moving forward, I will be spending significantly less time on reddit and focusing on those other things I feel drawn to. However, if I am not banned from /r/Mormon for posting this, feel free to message me and/or tag me in things you’d especially like my input on, but do understand that beyond that I will likely not be contributing much to /r/Mormon any more.
That being said, I have ported a lot of my content to Gileriodekel.com and will be posting my future content over there from now on. Feel free to follow it and comment at your leisure!
Love you guys! Morm on!