World Wide Web

Technology shapes content: High Holidays with the online flock

The idea was really simple, in terms of technology: Since many Jews could not attend High Holiday rites, why not put microphones in key locations and let them listen on their telephones? 

It wasn't as good as being there, but -- for shut-ins -- it was better than nothing.

Decades later, some Jewish leaders mounted cameras in their packed sanctuaries and let people watch High Holidays rites on video. Again, it wasn't the same as being there, but it was better than nothing and, certainly, better than listening on a telephone.

Jewish leaders who tiptoed into these technologies "didn't change what they were doing, they just put a telephone near it," said Rabbi Robert Barr, founder of Congregation Beth Adam, a 30-year-old independent congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio. "When cameras came along, they just aimed cameras at what they were already doing. They didn't change anything."

That isn't what this self-proclaimed "humanistic" congregation is trying to do with it's global congregation, which began with High Holidays services in 2008 and has been meeting in cyberspace ever since.

Culture wars in the App Store, part II

At first glance, the original rules written to govern the Apple App Store seem to be simple, logical and easy to enforce. After all, who wants one of the world's most powerful corporations to circulate digital forms of hate? Consider, for example, the guidelines governing "personal attacks" and "objectionable content."

The former rejects, "Any app that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harms way." This does not apply to humorists and satirists, of course. The "objectionable content" rule forbids, "Apps that are primarily designed to upset or disgust users."

The section on "religion, culture, and ethnicity" offers another variation on this theme, stating: "Apps containing references or commentary about a religious, cultural or ethnic group that are defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to expose the targeted group to harm or violence will be rejected."

The problem, of course, is that apps that gladden the hearts of gay mainline Protestants, Reform Jews and other doctrinal liberals will be deeply offensive to Southern Baptists, Orthodox Jews and other conservatives -- and vice versa. And one person's evangelism app may, by its very existence, be seen by those in other faiths as a tool for spiritual violence.

The bottom line: It's hard to produce products built on religious doctrine without offending someone. So do Apple leaders ban all of them or listen only to the religious voices they find the most sympathetic?

In recent years, media leaders have "increasingly bought into the idea of minimizing content that they view as potentially offensive," said Quentin Schultze of Calvin College, a media scholar who has been studying online religion for two decades.

"The larger and more influential the media outlets, the more likely they are to want to take the edges off, because they have the most to lose. ... It's the unique, unusual minority points of view that will keep getting clipped off, of course."

Back in the early 1990s, when Web browsers and email were foreign terms to ordinary Americans, Schultze began exploring the implications of online discourse and publishing for religious believers and their institutions. Soon this led to his trailblazing "The Internet for Christians" website -- a weblog-style project years before that term was coined -- and then a 1995 book with the same title.

The key, Schultze said during those heady days, was that the lower costs and accessibility of World Wide Web publishing would create a "somewhat level playing floor" allowing small, innovative ministries to compete, or cooperate, with larger religious institutions. During times of turmoil, for example, a dissident religious group's online publication could publish information and viewpoints that would be ignored in a major denomination's traditional ink-on-paper newspaper or by secular newspapers.

"Clearly, the Net is becoming a place for religious discourse that is being ignored in public media and isn't being allowed in the sanitized world of official church publications," he told me, in an "On Religion" column interview in 1996.

Decades later, it's hard to imagine what the marketplace of religious ideas and debates with be like without the legions of alternative voices and viewpoints found in the global religious blogosphere and in social media.

The problem, said Schultze, is that if powerful digital corporations -- think Apple, Google and Facebook -- insist on pushing religious voices out of the mainstream public square, the online result will almost certainly be even more strident rhetoric and propaganda on the fringes of public life.

"The wild, wild west of the Internet is still out there, but all too often what's being said out there is very narrow and self-fulfilling. That's where you have websites that just keep telling small groups of people want they want to hear, over and over, with little or no contact with other groups and other points of view," he said.

"But when the leaders of Apple endorse something, or reject something else, they are primarily worried about how that action will affect the reputation of their corporation, not whether their decision promotes a healthy diversity in our public discourse."

In tense atmosphere, he added, religion is a uniquely dangerous subject.

"The passion and the commitment that religious believers bring with them into public discourse is precisely what makes this subject seem so flammable and threatening and dangerous to people in places like Apple."

Culture wars in the App Store (and what they mean)

In a career packed with sound bites, the late Steve Jobs offered one of his best when describing his vision for a family-friendly Apple App Store. "We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone," he famously responded, in an email to a customer. "Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone."

This stance was clear, but hard to apply in the flood of information and images on the World Wide Web. After all, many consumers are very easy to offend, when hot buttons get pushed. What about that Playboy app, which was accepted?

In the introduction to the App Store guidelines, which many observers believed were written by Jobs, it's clear where Apple executives expected to encounter trouble -- sex and religion.

"If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app," stated this 2010 document. "We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, 'I'll know it when I see it.' "

Sex is sex, but many consumers are just as offended by religious views they consider dangerous or judgmental. Mix sex and religion and Apple team really gets nervous.

Brian Pellot, a London-based reporter on religion-liberty issues, recently dug into App Store history and produced a list of symbolic faith-based products rejected by Apple.

"I basically just searched around until I came up with five that were somewhat relevant to religion," he said, via email. "I think a lot of these were flagged because of perceived or feared offense. Not so much because they had to do with religion but because Apple doesn't want to upset users."

It doesn't help, he added, that it's "easier for people to pick fights behind the online mask of anonymity."

In his Religion News Service essay, Pellot focused on these apps:

* "Me So Holy," which allowed "users to paste their faces onto the bodies of religious figures including nuns, priests and Jesus."

* The "Jew or Not Jew?" app helped users investigate Jewish celebrities.

* 3. The "iSlam Muhammad" app pointed readers toward "violent and hateful" Quran passages that "encourage Muslims to attack and behead anyone who does not agree with them." Apple accepted some apps that "ridicule other religious texts, including the Bible," noted Pellot.

* An app from the "ex-gay" ministry Exodus International was removed after protests from gay-rights organizations.

* The Manhattan Declaration app promoted the work of those affirming the "sanctity of human life and the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife." It also was deemed offensive by gay-rights groups.

This latter decision was especially aggravating to leaders of traditional religious groups -- Protestant, Catholic and Jewish -- active in the drafting of the online manifesto.

"Apple is, obviously, a private company with the right to allow or disallow any apps it wants," said Russell Moore, the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

"The exclusion of the Manhattan Declaration app is troubling because it signals one more example of a cultural marginalization of the expression of belief held by those of various faith traditions. ... The freedom of consumers to download an app obviously doesn't imply endorsement of a viewpoint by Apple, so why exclude this one?"

It's crucial to understand that Apple and many other digital trailblazers have evolved into corporate giants guided by lawyers and public-affairs consultants armed with opinion polls and market surveys, said George Gilder, author of digital-culture works such as "Telecosm: The World After Bandwidth Abundance" and "The Silicon Eye: Microchip Swashbucklers and the Future of High-Tech Innovation."

"All such institutions respond abjectly to intimidation" and that is especially true when they encounter issues as politically volatile as homosexuality and radicalized forms of Islam, he said. Also, when it comes to offending elite digital executives, some voices are more offensive than others.

Thus, the "wimps in Silicon Valley" are often quick to pull religious material that will cause controversy in their own cultural circles, he said.

"It's pretty pathetic but it is just the way it is," said Gilder. "It's good news for smaller companies, though."

NEXT WEEK: Are religious debates being driven from the digital mainstream?

Commandments for believers who blog

Popes rarely produce viral sound bites, but legions of Catholic bloggers continue to pass around a quote from Pope Benedict XVI in which he openly blessed the passion that drives them to their keyboards. "Without fear we must set sail on the digital sea facing into the deep with the same passion that has governed the ship of the Church for 2000 years," he said, in a 2010 Vatican address easily found at YouTube. The goal is to live in the "digital world with a believer's heart, helping to give a soul to the Internet's incessant flow of communication."

If that quotation is too long, bloggers can embrace this shout out from Pope John Paul II, who could become the patron saint of digital scribes. Just before his death in 2005, he proclaimed: "Do not be afraid of new technologies!"

That quote should fit atop a computer monitor.

"The greatest obstacle is always fear, when the church tries to get involved in something new," said Brandon Vogt, author of "The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists and Bishops Who Tweet."

"There's the fear of the unknown, the fear of making mistakes, the fear of creating controversy and, most of all, the fear of causing divisions in the church. ... Are there going to be bad apples? Of course. Will there be people who think they've been appointed as the pope? Of course. But Catholic leaders -- including our bishops -- can't ignore what is happening online."

As in the secular media, the social-media tsunami has rocked the old-guard religious publications.

For Catholics, diocesan newspapers long served as the official establishment voices, often clashing with independent publications on left and right, as well as those produced by religious orders such as the Jesuits. Now, Catholic bloggers have emerged as a quick-striking source of alternative commentary and information -- often from a sharply pro-Vatican point of view.

"The Catholic blogosphere is probably one of the most orthodox parts of the American church, in large part because there were so many people who feel like the church being attacked and they want to defend it," said T.J. Burdick, a Catholic educator who edited the new "One Body, Many Blogs" e-Book.

In this collection, a circle of Catholic writers provided their "10 commandments" lists for blogging about religion. In addition to the need for prayer before clicking "post," these blunt recommendations included:

* First, said Marc Barnes of the Bad Catholic blog: "Don't suck. There is a tendency within the Christian world to think the work we do will be good work, if only we do it for God." Anything less than excellence "is no service to God, no matter how well we think we are witnessing, giving testimony, or whatever Christian euphemism we want to use to disguise the fact that we can't be bothered to make something awesome."

* Never assume "everyone who reads your work has the same viewpoint on issues of faith," wrote Lisa Hendey of "Find a Jewish, Protestant or even Atheist friend or acquaintance and invite them to join you for a cup of coffee and a peek at your blog. While they view it, watch carefully how they interact with your content and what lasting impressions they have in reading your work."

* Along that line, but in pews, Deacon Greg Kandra advised: "Keep an open mind to the many ways there are of Being Catholic. Not everyone loves the Latin Mass. Not everyone adores strumming guitars and liturgical dance." When in doubt, he added, "Ask yourself periodically: WWJB?"

* Kevin Knight of warned: "Truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a pixel, will pass from the Wayback Machine cache until all is accomplished." With a strong "amen," Katrina Fernandez of The Crescat said her first commandment is to "remember that we will be ultimately judged by every word we utter and write. The Internet is forever, folks."

* Former atheist Jeff Miller, blogging at The Curt Jester, advised: "Do onto other bloggers as you would want them to do onto you. If you want to be linked by others, then be generous in linking to others and to give proper attributions to where you first noticed a story. If you want others not to jump to conclusions about what you write, make sure you are not doing the same."

Churches ignoring the digital playground

GILFORD, N.H. -- Everywhere computer professional Brian Heil looked at SoulFest 2011 he saw packs of young people trying to stay on schedule as they rushed from one rock concert, workshop or prayer meeting to another. But first, there was one more text to send, one more Twitter tweet to tweet, one more Facebook status to update, one more snapshot to share, one more YouTube video to upload, just one more connection to make in the digital world that now shapes real life.

This year's four-day festival drew nearly 13,000 Protestants and Catholics from throughout New England, which means there were about that many cellphones, smartphones, tablets and other digital devices on hand. The screens glowed like fireflies in the crowds that gathered for the rock concerts each night on the lower slopes of the Gunstock Mountain Resort.

"Everyone's connected everywhere. It's continuous. This is how our young people experience life today," said Heil, during his "Protecting the Playground" workshop for parents and youth leaders at SoulFest. "They don't even look at the keys on their phones anymore when texting. ...

"Lots of kids are more comfortable texting than they are talking and having real relationships. They have trouble with face-to-face intimacy because they're so used to living their lives online and in text messages. Texting feels safer."

But the harsh reality is that the digital world is not safer, stressed the 52-year-old Heil, who has a quarter of a century of experience as digital networker and designer. While many pastors and parents have heard horror stories about children straying into dark corners online, few are aware of just how common these problems have become -- even in their sanctuaries and homes.

This is the kind of danger and sin that religious leaders often fear discussing, precisely because these realities have not remained bottled up in the secular world. Thus, Heil urged his listeners to ponder the following statistics in his presentation, drawn from mainstream research in the past year:

* Two-thirds of Americans under the age of 18 have reported some kind of negative experience while online. Only 45 percent of their parents are aware of this.

* Forty-one percent of children say they have been approached online by some kind of stranger, possibly an older predator.

* At least 25 percent of children report having seen nude or disturbingly violent images online. Heil is convinced this number has risen to 45 percent in the past year or so. The vast majority of children exposed to pornography first see these images on a computer in their own home.

"This is why, if I could convince parents to make one change in their homes, it would be to never put a computer behind a closed door. ... Keep them out in an open part of the house," he said.

* Among teens, 45 percent report having sent or received a sexual text message of some kind. One in five say they have sent or received a nude or partially nude image, the phenomenon that has become known as "sexting."

* Among teens with Internet access, 40 percent say they have been affected by cyberbullying activities, such as malicious changes being made to their Facebook pages after the theft of passwords.

"There are Christian kids doing this," said Heil, talking about various forms of cyberbullying. "Young people just go online and they open up. Things get emotional and they share what's on their hearts. They just can't help it. Then, before they know it, things can get mean and kids get hurt."

Meanwhile, he said, it's getting harder for adults to monitor what's happening in this "dark alley," in large part because young people are so much more skilled at social media than the adults who are paying for all of those smartphones and laptops. Many adults also fear legal complications if they try to trace their children's steps online. Some church leaders -- with good cause -- fear getting involved in social media and having the young misinterpret their motives.

Apathy is not the answer, however, since children are getting hurt.

"It's hard to do happy talk about this issue," Heil admitted. "It's painful and it's hidden and it's dark stuff. ... This is a test of whether our relationships really mean anything in the church today, whether there is such a thing as accountability."

State of the online Godbeat 2010

For journalists who care about life on the Godbeat, the list of the dead and the missing in action has turned into a grim litany. Some religion-beat jobs have been killed, while others have been downsized, out-sourced, frozen or chopped up and given to reluctant general-assignment reporters.

Gentle readers, please rise for a moment of silence.

The Orlando Sentinel. The Dallas Morning News. Time. The Chicago Sun-Times. The Rocky Mountain News. U.S. News & World Report. The list goes on, especially if you include smaller newsrooms that have always struggled to support Godbeat jobs.

At least 16 major news outlets abandoned or reduced commitment to religion news as a specialty beat in recent years, according to the Religion Newswriters Association. Two of those empty desks -- at the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe -- were recently filled.

"In the 1990s and early 2000s, the largest papers often had multiple religion reporters. That has disappeared, for sure. That is where the biggest cut for religion has occurred," said RNA director Debra Mason, who teaches at the University of Missouri.

"We suffer in the meantime, and one possible casualty is all our experienced, better writers. I do worry that the next generation of religion writers don't have any mentors or internships, etc., to gain experience."

Mason stressed that the religion beat is not being singled out. Sweeping changes in the industry, coupled with hard economic times, have been especially destructive in big-city newspapers that once had the resources to fund a variety of specialty beats -- from the arts to fashion, from science to religion. Also, high profits in the 1980s and into the '90s had inflated some newsroom staffs.

At the same time, Mason said she sees another trend. New forms of religion news and opinion can be found in a variety of settings online, including sites such as Politics Daily, The Huffington Post,, Read the Spirit, Immanent Frame, Religion Dispatches and the powerful Catholic weblog, Whispers in the Loggia. CNN leaders recently announced the creation of several specialty news sites, including a religion weblog. continues to evolve.

Dedicated readers have never had greater access to the work of journalists and public-relations professionals employed by major denominations and religious groups of all kind -- from Baptist Press to the Episcopal News Service and everyone in between. Alternative news sources have sprung up in cyberspace, such as the Stand Firm network for Anglican conservatives, The Wild Hunt for modern pagans, Orthodox Christians for Accountability and flocks of Baptist blogs -- from to -- representing establishment and independent writers.

The harsh reality today, according to Rocco Palmo, the man behind Whispers in the Loggia, is that all too often readers who care about religion face tough choices. Will they place their trust in traditional news reports that are, these days, often written by journalists who have little training to prepare them for the rigors of the religion beat or the opinion-based work of experienced insiders and scholars who may have ideological axes to grind?

"There are fabulous religion reporters who are still out there grinding away in the mainstream media, but they are an endangered species for sure," said Palmo. "I still think that basic, hard-news reporting is the gold standard and we need more of it. ... But most of what you see when you go online is commentary and criticism. You don't see that much original reporting being done. ...

"If anything, people like me are just trying to step in and fill the void."

Someone will have to do that because, year after year, religion keeps playing a vital role in shaping many of the world's biggest stories, from the streets of Iran to voting booths in America, from scandals shaking Catholic sanctuaries to mysteries unfolding in genetics research laboratories.

It's impossible to tell these complex stories accurately without grasping the role that faith plays in the lives of millions and millions of people around the world.

"Religion stories are the most exquisite stories to tell," stressed Mason. "I believe that we'll figure out how to effectively and efficiently tell stories about faith and values once this media transition is sorted out. The question is not whether or not we'll have religion news, but whether or not there will be anyone left who knows how to cover it."

B16 says, 'Thou shalt blog'

When Eunice Kennedy Shriver died, Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley candidly reminded his Archdiocese of Boston flock that this was one Kennedy who was consistently faithful to the church's teachings. "She was preeminently pro-life, against abortion and there to protect and underscore the dignity of every person," noted O'Malley, praising the founder of the Special Olympics.

When Sen. Edward Kennedy died soon after that, the cardinal strongly defended his own decision to preside at his funeral -- despite the senator's public stands against church church's teachings on abortion and sexuality.

"We must show those who do not share our belief about life that we care about them," O'Malley argued. "We will stop the practice of abortion by changing the law, and we will be successful in changing the law if we change people's hearts. We will not change hearts by turning away from people in their time of need and when they are experiencing grief and loss."

The cardinal didn't deliver these highly personal messages from the pulpit of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Instead, he posted them on "Cardinal Sean's Blog" at -- his own multimedia journal.

O'Malley isn't alone. A few other bishops and priests have made the jump into cyberspace. However, there will be many more bloggers wearing Roman collars if Pope Benedict XVI has his way. In a message addressed straight to priests -- bypassing the offices of many cautious bishops -- the pope has urged them to start spreading and defending the faith online.

"The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more Saint Paul's exclamation: 'Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel,' " said the pope, in a message released on Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists.

"The spread of multimedia communications and its rich 'menu of options' might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web, or to see it only as a space to be filled," argued Benedict, whose online presence has risen with the birth of and the Vatican YouTube channel.

"Yet priests can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different 'voices' provided by the digital marketplace. Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis."

For tech-savvy Catholics, it's stunning news that the 82-year-old Benedict used the word "blog" in the first place, noted Rocco Palmo, the Philadelphia-based scribe whose "Whispers in the Loggia" weblog is a global hot spot for Vatican news and gossip. The tone of this papal message, he added, is relentlessly positive -- a striking departure from the Vatican's many downbeat messages about media in the past.

The bottom line, noted Palmo, via email, is that "against the backdrop of the widespread American experience of mass closings of parishes, declines in attendance, etc., we're learning that one thing that helps folks want to keep staying close is when ... the church realizes that one hour on Sunday just isn't enough, that people are looking for something to help keep them connected and inspired through the week. So I think Benedict is calling priests to see that they have a crucial role in that, and to see this not as some sort of hobby or personal indulgence, but a vitally important extension of their ministry. Anything that bears fruit to that end lifts all boats."

Catholic leaders will, however, need to be careful when working in this chaotic, even deceptive, online world.

After all, some early reports about Benedict's message about digital media mentioned that Vatican officials marked the occasion by opening an official Twitter feed -- @vatican_va -- complete with the Vatican coat of arms.

It was a fake. Catholic News Service soon established that the Vatican has not taken up tweeting -- yet.

"The whole episode has prompted some Vatican media people to remark, 'It wasn't us -- but it should have been us,' " noted John Thavis, the CNS bureau chief in Rome. "So don't be surprised to see a real Vatican Twitter feed in the future."

Why pastors detest email

For millions of users, the World Wide Web has turned into a Devil's den packed with urban legends, pop-up porn, Nigerian get-rich schemes and tidal waves of spam pushing medical products that make sailors blush.

That isn't how the Internet Evangelism Day team sees things. It notes that "over 1 billion people use the Web," the "Internet is changing the world" and "God is using the Web to transform lives."

"The Internet has become a 21st century Roman road, marketplace, theater, backyard fence and office drinks machine," proclaims the site's webmasters. "Web evangelism gives believers opportunities to reach people with the Gospel right where they are, just as Jesus and Paul did."

Tech guru George Gilder knows where the Web evangelists are coming from and offers a hearty "Amen." He remains convinced that cyberspace is territory that religious leaders have to explore and, hopefully, master.

"The Internet is very good for building communities and, obviously, churches are communities. It allows a particularly charismatic, or brilliant, church leader to reach potential followers not only in his community or in his immediate locality, but all across the country and the world," said Gilder, the author the trailblazing books "Microcosm" and "Telecosm."

"This is the power of the Net," he said. "It can free people from this sort of entrapment in a narrow locality and allow them to find support for their particular faith, wherever it may arise."

But there's a fly in the digital ointment. There's a reason that Gilder's online "Telecosm Forum" is for subscribers only -- he needs to focus his time on serious questions raised by committed readers who are truly interested in the issues he wants to research. Gilder invests his time and energy in this one online flock.

That's the bottom line: A decade or two down the digital information highway, people who are serious about the Web are learning to invest their time more wisely.

That includes religious leaders, who are as buried in digital junk as everyone else. Many ministers who once were anxious to think outside the local-church box have been stunned at the time commitment this kind of "online ministry" requires.

The good news is that ambitious religious leaders can do 24/7, online, multi-media, interactive ministry at the local, national and even global levels. And the bad news? Users will expect them to build and maintain these 24/7, online, multi-media, interactive ministries at the local, national and even global levels.

This is a mixed blessing for ministers who are already struggling to keep up with the fast-paced realities of life in the flesh-and-blood, analog world. Websites, blogs and email can become curses, as well as blessings.

The Net is, for better and for worse, a tool for interactive communications, stressed Gilder, who is an active churchman. Anything that amplifies speech has the potential to help evangelism and other crucial ministries in most churches, which are communities of believers that need to interact with the world around them in order to survive or thrive.

However, religious leaders need to ask serious questions about the size and shape of the online ministries they attempt, he said. Should forums about sensitive or controversial issues be open to all comers? If a congregation offers an interactive website for people who are asking religious and personal questions, is there anyone with the time and skills to maintain it? Will posting a minister's online address produce contacts with people who truly need help? Who will screen all those emails?

There's one more tricky issue that must be addressed. Many believers are highly skilled when it comes to talking to and arguing with other members of their own flocks, using a kind of "preaching to the choir" lingo that is mere gibberish to outsiders. The religious corners of the Web are packed with websites of this kind, which do much to promote insider debates, but little to reach people outside church doors.

"It's crucial to break out of this kind of parochial language," said Gilder. "If you are going to try to talk to people in the secular world, you have to have people who actually have the ability to do that kind of work online. ...

"It's quite exciting to actually go out into the wider world. But you have to have something to say and you have to know what you are doing."

Reporters, with blog on their side

Anyone who follows what Ruth Gledhill has to say at her "Articles of Faith" website knows that she has strong religious opinions.

This is especially true when it comes to Anglican battles. Here is her take on the challenge facing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams after U.S. Episcopalians elected Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori as Anglicanism's first female archbishop and then refused to retreat on homosexual issues.

Will the Anglican Communion shatter, with Third World conservatives pitted against modernists in Europe and America?

"All is not lost," wrote Gledhill, just before the end of the American church's 75th General Convention. "A kind of schism might result, but it will not be schism as generally known. Anglicans are great at fudging crises, especially liberal ones. ... All Rowan Williams has to do is apply his formidable intellect to the question of how both sides can be kept at the same communion table, albeit at opposite ends."

Gledhill has a right to her opinions, of course.

But she isn't just another Anglican with a "weblog," one of dozens of "bloggers" who flooded the Internet with news, rumors and opinions during the tumultuous events this week in Columbus, Ohio.

Gledhill is the religion correspondent for The Times of London. Thus, she writes waves of regular newspaper stories, as well as columns that mix traditional reporting with her own analysis. And now, blessed by her editors, she writes thousands of words each week at her "blog" -- ranging from coverage of theological issues that may be too complex for the regular news pages to personal observations about her own parish and her own faith. She isn't alone. The Times offers dozens of blogs by reporters covering everything from politics to fashion footwear, from movies to gay family life.

Many editors want their reporters to blog and many others do not. What happens when journalists who are supposed to write unbiased stories about hot issues start airing opinions online that tell readers what they really think? When is a reporter a reporter and when is a reporter a blogger?

This can lead to confusion. A Church Times columnist recently challenged Gledhill's decision to refer to the Bishop of Chelmsford as an "extreme liberal," calling it a sign of bias.

"This is a difference of opinion," wrote Father Giles Fraser, who teaches philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford. "But Ms. Gledhill presents it as if she were seeking a degree of objectivity rather than admitting that she is a campaigner herself. ... It isn't that journalists such as Ruth Gledhill ought to keep their views under wraps. That's why her weblog is so welcome: it is only when we know where people are coming from that we can learn to play their spin. In order to be empowered as a reader or listener, I want to know more about what journalists believe, not less."

Actually, said Gledhill, she used the "extreme liberal" label because of the bishop's role as a patron for Changing Attitude, an important lobby for "gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender" causes in the church.

When she first started blogging, said Gledhill, it was tempting to dig deep into her personal beliefs and experiences in an attempt to reach out to readers and to offer a form of writing that was completely different from her regular reporting. But it didn't take long to realize that "this seam was going to run out pretty quick," she said. She has also learned to pay close attention to the feedback she receives from readers, who can respond directly to her online posts.

After nearly two decades on the religion beat, Gledhill said she welcomes a chance to put more and more news and information on the record in The Times of London, even if it is published in pixels rather than ink.

"I?m never bored by the subject of religion, it was a little restrictive just writing news all the time," she said. "There were things I so much wanted to say and there was nowhere to say them. I feel completely re-energized by blogging and am slightly addicted to it. I believe, and hope this is a true belief, that it is making me a better reporter because it is making me more accountable, making me think more deeply about what I am reporting and is also, in a strange way, making me more involved, more compassionate."