One of the hardest decisions that a blogger has to make is whether or not to keep the comments open. There are advantages and disadvantages to whatever one chooses.
First, three disadvantages:
1. Challenge. When one leaves comments open, they have to be ready to have their propositions challenged. Really, this only applies to those who opt for a content blog rather than a news blog or a personal diary type blog. Challenges come much less often in live environments. In live settings, people will normally keep to themselves, biting their tongue. But the internet has changed things. People are now accustomed to the world of virtual anonymity. Why this can be a disadvantage is that there is a degree of tension (and sometimes discouragement) that arises when someone challenges your otherwise inspired thoughts. That is why book authors often have a hard time transitioning into this new venue of “publishing”. They are not used to the type of acute challenge that blogs bring.
2. Response. Dovetailing the first is the fact that if the comments are open, you are normally expected to respond to the challenges. Take it from me, the responses can often be much more involved than the original post. This is especially the case when people misunderstand what you are saying or want to discuss some ancillary issue. If you are known for responding in your own comments, your silence can be interpreted as a concession due to your inability to respond. If your blog is large and your commentors active, a blog can eat your lunch. There have been days in the past where I did nothing but respond to comments (although I limit myself quite a bit today).
3. Belligerence exposed. Let’s face it: we are not sanctified yet. People have strong and often unbalanced opinions. On the internet, more often than not, we are willing to sacrifice the virtues of grace and thoughtfulness for anger and belligerence. Blogs (and any internet venue) can expose the worst of people’s sin nature. Attitudes suppressed in more visible live settings are unleashed when we can hid behind a computer. Pastorally, this is very disadvantageous due to the fact that we don’t want to provide settings that are laced in red kryptonite (i.e. the kind that causes Superman to lose all inhibition). In this sense, open comment blogs are not unlike bars where alcohol saturated minds are asked to discuss controversial subjects.
With all of these disadvantages in mind, you might ask “What are the advantages?” There are two primary ones that I can think of. So important are these advantages that I, as you may know, have kept the comments of Parchment and Pen open.
1. Personal challenge. Closed comments shield the blogger from personal challenge. Yes, it is easier to keep from being challenged, but, frankly, it can evidence arrogance. Since the nature of blogs allows for the author to be challenged with a simple click of the “allow comments” button, to keep from allowing comments can communicate the I-am-above-correction attitude. When you do allow comments (and actually read some of them!), you express an openness to be challenged and change accordingly. This is the reformation principle of “always reforming”. It presents a grassroots approach to personal engagement in theological issues. And isn’t this what the Reformation was all about? Don’t Protestants reject the ultimate voice of self or magisterial authorities? When the comments are closed this may communicate to others that you believe you are above personal challenge (and, therefore, even communicate an insecurity in your own articulated positions).
2. Community involvement. Pastorally, don’t we want people to learn? Isn’t part of the risk of putting a Bible in everyone’s hands the fact that they might get it wrong or act in a way that is dishonoring to the Gospel they claim to represent? Is the risk still worth it? The old saying applies well here: “Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.” Many people say to themselves, “If I involve you, you will screw it up!” That is a pre-Reformation attitude. It is fine for one to say that so long as they understand the implications. When both the author and the commentors are involved in the blog post, then understanding is more possible for each (though not guaranteed). Yes, there are crazy people. Yes, there is belligerence. Yes, when people hide behind a computer, they can say disrespectful things. But there is also learning that takes place when you allow people to enter the discussion. Didactically, when you respond to belligerence in love, grace, and patience can be the most encouraging thing there is.
Let’s face it: blogs and open internet forums present the most frustrating and problem laden environments in the history of the world. I don’t really blame people for keeping comments closed. Sometimes I feel like shutting them off myself. But I am convinced that open comment blogs, when done right, present one of the most unique discipleship opportunities that we have ever seen. As well, I am not saying that just because the comments are open that the advantages spoken of in this post are automatically facilitated. Many blogs have been around so long and/or are so belligerent themselves that they have created an audience that only affirms each other’s (and the blogger’s) prejudice. There is no real advantage there.
In short, we must count the costs on both sides, but act in ways that facilitate the betterment of the bride of Christ.