A couple of reports are suggesting that the Church of England, the UK’s largest Christian church denomination, may have to U-turn on its previous decision to cash in on the increasing popularity of mobile phones and wireless Internet access.
Last week The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that a number of applications for the erection of mobile phone masts on church buildings have now been rejected, on the grounds that they can be used to ‘transmit dangerously obscene Internet images’.
Today, the Memri blog reports that two churches may be banned from installing wireless systems in the church (although given that the two churches are the same as named in the Telegraph article, this may be a misinterpretation of the original article)
There is a reasonable financial reward for agreeing to have a mobile phone transmitter mast placed on the church building – something like £10,000. Then again, the Church of England as a whole has plenty of money (a lot of it tied up in land) so it shouldn’t miss this too much.
In his judgment, Mr Pulman, a QC who also sits as a deputy High Court judge in the Family Division, became the first Chancellor to refuse a faculty on the grounds that “revolting and damaging” pornography could be transmitted by the network. He said that it was “no part of the work or the mission of the Church” to facilitate or gain financial advantage from the transmission of pornography.
He said: “No Church bookstall would consider it appropriate to offer for sale ‘top shelf’ magazines with their images of sexual titillation or impropriety.”
Mr Pulman also attacked local authorities for granting planning permission for such antennae, saying that their social services department were well aware of the dangers to children.
It should be noted that this is not civil law, but denominational church law, so we’re not suddenly going to start seeing mobile phone masts and wi-fi hotspots being torn down around the UK.
I’ve a lot of time for the church when it’s doing good, but this feels like overzealous religiosity. Of course both mobile phones and the Internet can be used to relay pornography – they can also be used to help people stay in touch, and used in emergencies.
I could see a real opportunity for the church to embrace this technology, rather than shaking a big stick at it and crying “Evil!”
Take the Reverend Keith Kimber from Cardiff who installed a wireless network in his church and believes “The church is a sanctuary for everyone”. The church could even brand the free wireless service with information about their services, and a warm invitation to visitors.
Of course, the pharisaic would say that someone could creep into the church with their laptop and start surfing porn in the aisles. Well, theoretically, yes they could, although it’s perfectly possible to block access to certain web sites. Slightly more difficult with mobile phone masts, but I don’t think anyone outside the church would think that Christianity endorsed pornography (or angry phone calls, or text messages from a cheating husband to his mistress…) because they had a mast on their church.
Of course the church isn’t going to sell porn on its bookstall. Neither is it going to ask vicars to pick up a large Bible from the pulpit, run into the streets and begin whacking people around the head with it.
Encouragingly, there are plenty of less institutional Christian congregations who are embracing the Internet and mobile technology to reach out to both their current congregation, and those in their community.