This morning I was on the campus of UCC-related Pacific University to take part in a panel discussion on the internet. Panelists - all from different religious backgrounds - were asked this question:
"According to the beliefs of your religion, what sorts of electronic materials should not be found on the Internet?"
Here's how I answered the question:
A generation ago the United Church of Christ successfully challenged the license renewal of several televisions in the South which refused to provide coverage of the civil rights movement. Can you imagine? Television stations owned and operated by whites hoped to starve the civil rights movement of publicity and thus ensure its defeat. They failed, of course, thankfully in part to those Christians who heeded the call of God to seek justice.
Today the United Church of Christ- through our Office of Communication - continues to be a "leading force in the struggle to ensure that women, persons of color and low-income persons have equal access to ownership, production, employment, and decision making in media."
I suppose as a Christian that I am expected to rail about all the obscenity in the media today - particularly the internet. In fact, I'm disgusted by much of it. Too often the internet is used by those seeking to exploit people for profit. Violence and the exploitation of women have become increasingly mainstream and our society is worse off for it.
Some religious leaders have in recent years blamed the internet for spreading sexual immorality. In large part they are reacting to societal changes that have propelled the cause of civil rights for gays and lesbians - and for women. Those in the United Church of Christ - whose history includes the first ordination of a woman and later of a gay man - largely applaud this development in our history - and reject the narrow interpretations of Scripture used to justify continued oppression of people based on gender and orientation.
It would be a mistake to over regulate the internet so that ideas and causes become suppressed. Every effort should be made to protect children from the content of what is published on the web. But the danger in restricting our freedom - our First Amendment rights - is that in doing so to protect people we might in fact oppress people.
For example, many fundamentalists - including the Southern Baptist Convention - have called for economic boycotts and federal intervention against media outlets that show gay and lesbian couples in positive situations - such as loving relationships. This is little difference between these actions and those of the Southern television stations which tried to shut down and ignore the historic struggle for racial equality.
When the United Church of Christ attempted to air television commercials that depicted a church welcoming all people - even gays - the networks banned the message as being too controversial. Our denomination turned to the internet to get the message out.
As a minister, I see the internet as a powerful tool for spreading the Gospel message and remain convinced - as our Founding Fathers and Mothers were - that efforts to suppress the freedom to speak will impact my freedom to worship.
How would you have answered the question?