The church and parachurch organizations have a two-fold aim in regard to the media, for instance, the internet. Their aspect is to encourage right development and right usage for the sake of human development, justice, peace and building of healthy societies at the local, national, and international levels. Considering the great importance of social communications, the church aims at seeking honest and respectful dialogue with those responsible for the communications media. It seeks a dialogue that relates primarily to the shaping of media and policy.
On the church’s side, this dialogue involves efforts to understand the media and their purposes, procedures, forms and genres, internal structures, modalities and to offer support and encouragement to those involved in media work. On the basis of this sympathetic understanding and support, it is absolutely possible to offer meaningful proposals for removing obstacles to human progress and the proclamation of the word of God (Pontifical Council for Social Communications, n.d).
The State of the Church on the Internet
The internet offers important benefits and advantages from a religious perspective. Internet provides information about religious events, ideas, and personalities as a medium for evangelization. Day in day out, the internet provides inspiration, encouragement, and opportunities for worship to persons confined to their homes and institutions. It offers direct and immediate access to important religious and spiritual resources, great libraries, museums as well as places of worship. It also provides teaching documents of the Gospel, the writings of the church ministers and the religious wisdom of the all the time. It has a remarkable capability to overcome distance and isolation, bringing people of like mind together. Through internet individuals can form virtual communities of faith to encourage and support one another both spiritually and financially. Therefore, the church can perform its important services through the internet.
According to a research conducted by Barna group between June and July 2006, 64% of the America’s 128 million internet users have done things online that relate to religious or spiritual matters – internet Evangelism (http://www.christian-web-masters.com/book/export/html/11927). The church and other Christian organizations use the internet to share their testimonies and preach correct information and beliefs of the church. Among the millions of people who surf the internet every day, many may find words of hope, come across other cultural and spiritual experiences, bringing down ideological barriers to discover new horizons. Many learn the cultural diversities and even share cultural experiences bringing about social cohesion as well as cultural understanding.
Christian organizations can post information about their products and services on the internet thereby promoting their business activities. The internet acts as a social link or a vehicle for business interests especially to those equipped with knowledge on conducting business via the web. Business people can identify a social network that provides tools for their business promotion through connecting to potential colleagues and clients. E-commerce sites allow Christians and business people make contacts with a number of industries and promote their products and services. For instance, through widgets one can add virtual fliers and brochures to the pages, plug the organization’s news and events and post organization’s videos.
With the internet, churches and parachurch organizations can have a successful fundraiser with minimal effort and cost. The church members and other well wishers can give their donations using credit cards and debit cards. The church and other church organizations can also fundraise through the online fund raising mall. Those who wish to fund church activities, log on to an online fund raising mall site, select their group, and then link to different e-commerce sites to make their contributions (Robbins, 2000.
Internet saves a lot of time and is effective than face-to-face networking. For instance, rather than drive somewhere to meet someone, one can be taking dinner and get online to meet potential clients and colleagues any time of the day or night, develop a reputation very quickly and open doors for business without setting foot outside the house.
On the other hand, internet has been a challenge to the church. It has impacted negatively hindering the proclaiming of the gospel. Websites and blogs have been used to post details and false information about religion and religious believes. This has resulted to denominations attacking one another or even churches attacking one another. Church conflicts involving divisions over leadership style, use of authority and confusion, financial conflicts and interests battles end up in cyberspace.
Internet has been used to promote behaviors such as drug use, which are against the church teachings. Certain internet websites promote and facilitate the production, use, and sale of drugs to adolescents and young adults. Adolescents and young adults involved in drug syndicate can access information, services, and contacts through the internet. This has encouraged legitimate and illegitimate entrepreneurs including drug offenders to market and sell their products to young people through this powerful medium. Many websites, newsgroups, bulletin boards, and chat rooms promote the drug culture by providing a wide variety of information on drugs. Through bulletin boards and chat rooms, the culprits organize and arrange the sale of drugs or chemicals, which are then shipped to the customer for an agreed price. This is a major challenge to the church since, many people and particularly the youth are lured to the world of drugs which make them susceptible to committing other social crimes such as rape, prostitution, murder, robbery etc.
Homosexuality, adultery and pornography have gotten to homes through the internet. Sex, violent and horror movies as well as other television productions produced in different corners of the world have always found their way to the internet. This has greatly contributed to the moral degradation in our societies. Online dating and chat rooms have greatly contributed to sexual immorality. Minors get access to sex material over the internet and they end up engaging themselves in sex before marriage which is against the Christian teachings.
Computer crime has been a challenge and threat to the church and the ‘body of Christ’. Computer criminals have taken advantage of the Christian community since most of its activities involve funding which at times is done through the internet. Insecurity in the internet has caused fear among internet users since they fear that once they open some websites, they are going to fall into the traps of computer criminals whose intentions are malicious. Some criminals end up changing the websites by deleting some pages or graphics, uploading new pages and taking control of the messages conveyed by the site. At times they even block some sites from being accessed by the intended users.
There is loss of confidence in the use of credit cards. Even in genuine sites, some users still find it risky since hackers can hack into the system and get the credit card number and use it for their personal gain. This has affected the giving of donations aimed at assisting churches and parachurch organizations finance their activities.
Internet has also bee used to preach hatred. Some websites and blogs have been used to send messages which cause enmity, hatred, destruction of property and even killings which consequently disintegrate families, communities and even the whole society. For instance, Al-Qaeda has been using internet to instruct the Islam extremists to carry out terrorist activities in certain regions or to certain people.
However, our churches, parachurch organizations as well as other businesses have greatly benefited from the internet. This medium has offered churches and parachurch organizations, an opportunity to inform, educate, pray and evangelize. Therefore, internet has helped church organizations take the word of God everywhere to reach those who live in solitude and those who perhaps would never have gotten an opportunity to acquaint themselves on church teachings.
To promote responsible use of internet, it is necessary to educate users on the benefits of responsible usage (Pontifical Council for Social Communications, n.d). The Church must assume its own responsibility vis-à-vis the new means of communication putting into consideration the reality that surrounds us; where the positive element is opposed to the negative thereby creating confusion and false values.
Pontifical Council for Social Communications, (n.d.): The Church and Internet. Retrieved on 30th October 2008 from: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/pccs/documents/rc_pc_pccs_doc_20020228_church-internet_en.html
Robbins, D. A., (2000): The Internet: The Gospel’s Great Opportunity. Retrieved on 30th October 2008 from: http://www.victorious.org/internet.htm
The Role of the Church & the Internet. Retrieved on 30th October 2008 from: http://www.christian-web-masters.com/book/export/html/11927