When Gutenberg’s printing press was invented in the fourteenth century, it allowed a whole new generation of literate churchgoers the opportunity to interpret the teachings of the Bible themselves rather than rely on priests as intermediaries to do so for them. This self-learning most likely contributed in part to an increasing suspicion over the Catholic Church‘s control over its parishioners and, ultimately, to the Protestant Reformation—the masses now demanded direct, personal access to divine wisdom. In a previous blog, we discussed the blessing of laptops and mobile phones on Plow Sunday in a church in London in an effort to adapt the English Church to modern-day life.
Is a similar revolution occurring with the rise of the internet, and must churches become more Web-and-media-savvy in order to retain congregants?
Universal Life Church Monastery is one of numerous online churches that seek to exploit technological innovations for the purpose of spreading its interfaith message to a wider audience; in addition to these internet churches, traditional churches have been investigating ways to use computers and the internet to minister to a potentially broader congregation. This need to incorporate technology into sermons and other church activities was the focus of the recent “Church 2.0” conference at Claremont School of Theology, where ministers, scholars, and laypeople gathered to discuss the concept of “theology after Google”. Ultimately, says Mitchell Landsberg of the Los Angeles Times, the consensus was, “[i]t’s a whole new world out there. Churches will ignore it at their peril”.
The conference’s attendees leaned toward the liberal side of the spectrum, according to Landsberg. One of these is Doug Pagitt, who, with his ear piercing, goatee, and eccentric wardrobe, looks more like a hipster than a preacher, who runs a church. Pagitt, who comes from an entirely secular background (neither his parents nor grandparents attended church) converted to Christianity at 17 and now runs a church in Minneapolis called Solomon’s Porch. In an almost revolutionary tone, Pagitt told Landsberg, “I think things like denomination and ordination are part of the old system of control and domination that has to go”. This sentiment was echoed by fellow conference attendee and Claremont professor Philip Clayton, who, comparing Web ministry to the Protestant Reformation, noted, “Ladies and gentlemen . . . we are talking today about a transition equally as great.”
In their effort to propel their more modern, liberal theology forward through attractive Web sites and, ultimately, on to people’s computers, they will have to compete with the religious right, which is hardly a stranger to internet ministry. Right-wing conservative preachers are even patrolling Youtube in search of “demonic, occult symbolism” used by pop stars to sway the impressionable minds of the young. One such individual, who goes by the username “ThePopCulturePastor”, posted a video montage of British synthpop band Goldfrapp in which he accused the highly artistic and eccentric lead singer, Alison Goldfrapp, of demon worship in her frequent use of Egyptian All-Seeing Eye (or Eye of Horus) symbolism, her embracing a man dressed as a giant owl in one of the band’s photo shoots, her wearing a wolf mask onstage, and band artwork bearing the images of wolves, horses, and rabbits; like many religious conservatives, he makes the argument that such symbolism is pagan, hence occult, and hence necessarily evil, and that the recording industry is using asymmetrical eye make-up, wolves, owls, and bunnies against us in “spiritual warfare”. (Ironically, his condemnation made me like the band even more.) Denominations such as those at the Claremont conference thus have a technologically astute enemy to combat, or, at least, compete with in this era of Web-based ministry: in Landsberg’s words, “One theme that emerged [at the conference] was how smart the Christian right has been about using new media, and how progressive churches need to catch up.”
But exactly how should progressive churches use technology to promulgate their own interfaith message of respect for the positive contributions of all the world’s religions—whether Baptist, Buddhist, or Wiccan—as well as a more positive depiction of youth culture? Perhaps we need to begin by learning how to integrate new and different media to create a complete church experience: minister training in videography, photography, weblogging, and software is a crucial step towards creating a modern, Web-based ministry, and this approach combined with a more progressive theology should attract younger generations, re-affirm their values, and, hopefully, help turn the tide of right-wing supremacy over Web-based ministry.
We are interested in hearing the thoughts of our own ordained ministers about the increasingly complicated relationship between technology and church ministry. Feel free to give us your own experiences in integrating technology into your ministry or ideas how churches can better adapt to technological innovations and remain relevant to their congregations.
Wicca and paganism are often feared and misunderstood; learn more about what these ancient traditions really stand for in our Guide to Divinity.
Los Angeles Times