Church Preaches Right Path to Follow on Social Networks; INTERNET HAS 'POSITIVES AND PITFALLS' FOR ANGLICANS

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON

THE printing of the King James Bible 400 years ago opened new spiritual horizons to English-speakers - and the Church in Wales believes a similar revolution is under way today. New guidelines issued by the Church in Wales are designed to help Anglicans grasp the potential and avoid the pitfalls presented by social networking.

The internet makes it possible for people's thoughts to reach an international audience with the click of a mouse. Internet services such as Facebook and Twitter enable men and women to form friendships with people they have never met and allow religious controversies to rip across continents in minutes.

But Gregory Cameron, the Bishop of St Asaph, believes the internet can create a more caring church in which people can quickly respond to events such as bereavements. The Church in Wales message boards also allow people to ask specific questions about doctrine, theology and traditions. But he argues people who venture onto Facebook and Twitter must understand that they are making public comments which have the potential to reach a far greater audience that they might ever intend.

He said: "What's interesting about the modern media is they allow every individual to become a publisher. They are effectively entering the publishing industry or broadcasting industry and people don't realise that."

Urging people to think before they post comments, he continued: "If you put it up you're publishing it... Don't put it up unless you want to see it on the front page of the Western Mail!" The religious "blogosphere" has become an arena for fierce debate about issues ranging from the existence of hell to sexuality.

The bishop urges civility in heated arguments, saying: "I've not always managed to do that myself in public discourse. There's a little phrase in the scriptures in which the evangelist exhorts us to speak the truth in love. Certainly, that's quite a good maxim."

Despite the risks, he hopes more clergy will "poke, tweet and blog," commenting: "I'm sure St Paul would have been a regular blogger had the technology been available to him."

The bishop faces similar dilemmas to many modern parents who use Facebook and they have to decide whom they "befriend" online.

He said: "If any of my son's friends want to become my friend I don't accept them but I'm rather glad my son keeps me as a friend. It gives me an insight into what life is like for him and what is going on in his culture."

A further challenge for the church is deciding when and how to enter public debates online. …