Much attention has been paid in recent months to "the church in cyberspace" – the introduction of religious sites to the World Wide Web. Many of these sites are of course evangelistic, teaching Web readers about a particular religion; others attempt to describe in an objective manner the teachings of the world's religions. What they all share, though, is a characteristic which is shared by most Web sites: the information on these sites has not been widely available until now.
Nowhere is this more true than in the case of religion news. Except for a few stories carried by the secular news services or by major religion news services such as Ecumenical News International or Religion News Service, religion news has not been available to most Americans until recently. Americans might subscribe to a magazine or newspaper that carried news about their particular faith, but it is likely that they were unaware of what events were occurring in other faiths, even when these other faiths were dealing with similar issues.
The introduction of the Internet has changed this. Now anyone may publish news about his faith which can be read by people throughout the world. The World Wide Web, with its ability to link sites together, has increased this assembly of information.
The full impact of the Web has not yet been felt, though; religion news to a large extent is still published along boundaries of denomination and faith. As a small and partial solution to this problem, Greenbelt Interfaith News has begun publication on the Web. Our new audience is, by the very nature of the Web, international, and we have therefore already begun expanding our coverage of national and international news.
This is not to say that we intend to neglect news from Greenbelt and Washington, D.C. The articles about local religious activities may appear at first glance to be too parochial for most Web readers; however, they are intended as a deliberate complement to the magazine's national and international coverage. Much of what occurs in the religious world occurs only at a local level; therefore Greenbelt Interfaith News hopes to show through its articles – local, national, and international – the ways in which local religious communities are affected by events occurring at a national and international level. In turn, perhaps, readers will begin to sense how national and international organizations are influenced by local religious communities.
Because of the expansion of news items, we have been forced to cut back on the number of articles appearing in the printed edition. Hereafter, the printed edition of Greenbelt Interfaith News will carry only articles on Greenbelt news (except to fill space). We realize, of course, that many Greenbelters do not yet have access to the Internet and will not be able to read the full edition of the magazine on the Web; we hope, however, that the continued coverage of local religion news in the printed edition will serve the community's greatest need.
While preparing this article, the editor learned that two more churches in the Greenbelt area are in the process of hooking up to the Internet. Today, computers remain a luxury item; in a few years, perhaps, they will be as common in households as televisions have become. It is by now a banality to say that the Internet is changing society; but perhaps it is worth mentioning once more the most unexpected benefit of the Information Age: from now on, a small organization – whether it be an obscure literary society or a tiny religious body or a community newsmagazine – can speak and be instantly heard throughout the world. The invention of the printing press seems trivial by comparison.
©1997 Heather Elizabeth Peterson