Fwiw, I’m a pastor. I think moderators are key here. They are in a unique position to to work with members individually, behind the scenes to shape patterns of behavior through continual narration of the common purpose. This means you will need to have extremely mature moderators who are able to see through theological agendas (even their own) and remained focused.
Perhaps the most difficult task for mods will be to draw people out of their own perspectives long enough to listen. I’ve given my mods a conversational template for this:
- Connect and validate (Affirmation helps one feel valued, which is vital. If the other feels judged, than that person won’t walk with you through the process. This works with the emotions.)
- Invite to take your perspective (“I” messages. We’re moving them out of their emotions an into rational thinking and perspective taking. The goal here is to get them to temporarily suspend judgement long enough to see things differently.)
- Explain why decisions are made (Step 2 makes Step 3 meaningful. The more meaningful something is, the more it is accepted and pursued.)
- Keep the door open to further conversation. (Think process rather than event. This is the beginning of a conversation. The more the conversation continues, the stronger the bond will be, especially when talking about something as intimate as one’s faith.)
I notice that you called Terry’s comment into question in a discussion earlier. I realize that a lot of people will tend to keep quiet when something bothers them. I believe that an important part of being in a community is the willingness to talk with one another, especially in the midst of difference. Thank you for your willingness to speak.
One thing that concerned me when I read your post, however, was that it felt to me like an attack. I don’t think you meant it that way. I realize that you two aren’t on the same page on such things, and you may never come to an agreement. I’m okay with that. I personally don’t think agreement in this arena is as important to our mission. Where we need to agree is on our common cause, which is working together to [help others who are in need].
The reason I’m concerned is that such comments could upset members to the point where they no longer feel comfortable in the community. If they no longer feel comfortable here, then the mission will suffer, and the most adverse effects will be felt by those we are trying to help. So, I need to ask you to continue to speak up (speaking up is good), but I ask that you do it in a way that respects where others are at for the sake of those we are trying to help.
I hope this makes sense. If you think I’ve misunderstood or missed something, please let me know. I would love to continue our conversation.
Hopefully, the four steps are easy to see in there. Of course, contextual adaptation is needed. And I’ve had a lot of success with this template when dealing with touchy situations and outright conflict. I suspect that over time, as you work to establish this cultural norm, you will find that members will start holding each other accountable for this kind of “respectful” discourse for the sake of the greater calling.