Dangers on the Internet

The Web, as a medium, is neutral. Like other communication methods (TV, video, radio, books and magazines, telephone or the postal service), it has no intrinsic moral attributes. The Internet can be used for bad or good. In a fallen world, where easy money can be made by exploiting people, we must expect that the Web will often be used for evil purposes.

It is certainly unfortunate that governments have not taken sufficient action to counter wrong uses of the Web. And because the Internet is a sort of worldwide library – that gives access to anyone, anything, anywhere, in seconds – the dangers and temptations are real.

Internet Evangelism Day strongly believes that the Web is a tool God has given us for evangelism and discipleship. But as in any other form of ministry, you need God’s protection. [www.urbana.org/wtoday.ephesians.cfm?article=95] Because you may be using the Internet in the familiar surroundings of home or office, it may seem deceptively safe. Although we encourage many types of online evangelism, we also want to alert you to potential dangers. See, for instance, our warning about outreach at Second Life.

If you are involved in starting online ministry, especially outreach, you will be under additional attack [www.urbana.org/_articles.cfm?recordid=107] and prayer partners are essential.

How bad is it?

Results of research are scary. Sexual addiction rates for church and the world are similar. And it is not just men – some women get drawn in too. Twenty years ago, you had to make a conscious decision to go to a retail outlet or mail order company to obtain porn. Now, any time you are online, you are five seconds and a few mouse-clicks away from still and video images, many beyond imagination. And they are compellingly addictive (and of course totally unsatisfying). Unlike substance addiction, images remain imprinted on your mind. Almost for ever. This is a marriage wrecker. A relationship spoiler.

Do you protect your house and car from thieves? Protect yourself from being robbed by porn. Make a solemn covenant with God. Get your church to preach about it. It’s the elephant in the room that churches never talk about. This is a dereliction of duty and spiritual care. Understand the issues and the best ways for recovery.

Teaching about sex from the pulpit [www.pastors.com/RWMT/article.asp?ID=316&ArtID=10671]
Help for the sexually desperate [www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/march/18.28.html]

Protecting yourself and your family

1.  Email

The email ‘spam’ (unrequested junk mail) situation has gone beyond crazy. Spam emails often offer pornography. There are many solutions to minimize this problem. Your Internet provider probably offers a filtering solution. You can also set up the email program within your computer to filter directly to trash any email containing defined words or phrases. There are also add-on email services available (such as SpamArrest), which only allow through to you emails from people whom you have approved as recipients. Similar systems specifically for parents to use with their children are also available. These ‘approval gateways’ virtually guarantee you will receive no spam at all.

However if you need to offer your email address widely to people, hoping that they will write to you for help or ministry, email ‘approval systems’ may confuse them and a certain percentage may never submit themselves to be approved.

If you have a website, never display any email addresses within the site as ‘mailto’ links. These can easily be ‘harvested’ by automated software, and sold to spammers. Instead, offer site visitors a ‘contact form’ to fill in online. Properly set up, these completely hide your email address and keep it safe from ‘harvesters’.

2.  Websites

It is frighteningly easy to find pornography online, and a Christianity Today study found that 40% of ministers admitted to such access. Pornography is compellingly addictive, and it is a thousand times harder to escape from, than never to start. Be aware that the times of greatest temptation may be when you are tired, lonely, or away from home.

There are two ways of safeguarding yourself and your family:

Filtering

Some Internet companies offer filtered Internet access which blocks access to the overwhelming majority of porn sites. Alternatively you can buy an add-on filtering and continue to use your existing internet provider. Inevitably, these systems cannot completely block everything, and in the process may also block legitimate sites too. If you have young children who use the Web on their own, these may give you some peace of mind.

Accountability software

You can install this on your computer. It sends an email report of all the websites accessed by that computer each week to an ‘accountability partner’ – someone you trust. Knowing that this is happening is a powerful disincentive to viewing inappropriate material. Some Christian organizations require all their members use this software. Covenant Eyes [www.covenanteyes.com] is highly recommended. Also available are the free X3Watch [www.x3watch.com] and Accountable2U. [www.accountable2you.com]

Key verse Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” We are in a spiritual battle. Remember the parallel with terrorist attacks: “A terrorist group only needs to ‘get lucky’ once to succeed, whereas counter-terrorism forces must ‘get lucky’ 100 per cent of the time.” You may think you are not at risk, and then one day, you are tired, low defenses, away from home... Or you may already be struggling with this problem.

We urge churches, Christian organizations (as well as individuals) to face up to the danger, and consider accountability software as being an essential requirement for their staff. It should not be deemed as suggesting a lack of trust, any more than wearing of car seat-belts implies that the driver is unsafe. It is just a common-sense acknowledgement of the frailty of the lone computer user, and that we have an Enemy who wishes to compromize our effectiveness, damage our marriages, and warp our perception of the opposite gender.

Young people

Young people using the Web in any context, including chat room evangelism, should be trained never to tell people their home addresses and phone numbers, and never to meet face-to-face and alone with anyone they have contacted online.

Of course, it may be appropriate for young people to meet chat room evangelism contacts if they live locally; but this is best done with two people going together to meet the contact in a public place (e.g. a cafe), preferably first consulting with an older church leader about the meeting.

More resources

Do not underestimate the temptations you may face, or that the wider church must address:
SafeFamilies [http://safefamilies.techmission.org/] – TechMission have put together a big range of tuturials and resources, which can be used by the individual, or built into a seminar presentation
Cybersex Temptation [www.christianitytoday.com/mp/2000/003/12.28.html] – written several years ago, it is increasingly valid.
How Many Porn Addicts Are There In Your Church? [www.crosswalk.com/faith/pastors/1336107.html] – article from Crosswalk.com.
X3Church [www.xxxchurch.com] – offers advice and help for Christians and non-Christians, in a lively upfront manner. They are also encouraging churches worldwide to hold a focus day to highlight the problem.
Christianity Today articles [www.christianitytoday.com] – telling the story of the two pastors behind the X3 Church site and its ministry. • If you need help in breaking free from addictions, there are a number of ministries to help you, such as:
Setting Captives Free [www.settingcaptivesfree.com]
Be Broken Ministries [www.bebroken.com]

Are things true? Plus identity theft

A different issue for Christians and the Internet is the passing on of information which may not be true. We tend to believe something if it is passed on from a known Christian source. Yet, of course, they picked up it from somewhere else! There are many inspirational stories being presented as true in sermons, devotionals, etc. To pick two at random: that a young Alexander Fleming was rescued by Winston Churchill when he was also young; or the illustration of a bridge operator who had to drop the river bridge because the train was coming, even though his young son was trapped in the gears. Both are totally untrue. Sure, the bridge story might be used as a parable, but not as a true story. Even the oft-repeated story of how eagles teach their young to fly has been copied to many a website and devotional as a Christian metaphor. Unfortunately, that’s not true either – they do not do it that way!

Then there are imaginary petitions, health warnings, lost children, virus alerts. Never pass on anything unless there is a reputable website giving latest, dated, verifiable news on the situation referred to. Learn how to assess [www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/educational/handouts/internet/5ws_cyberspace.cfm] any site’s credibility.

Be aware also of spam Phishing [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phishing] emails, which ask you to ‘verify’ or update/change your online banking, eBay or PayPal identities/passwords. Some pretend to be EBay complaints or ‘confirmation’ of supposed PayPal purchases you never made. Never, ever, reply to these. Always be aware that any legitimate website requiring submission of personal details will switch to starting with ‘https//’ and will display a small graphic of a yellow padlock in the web address area, or the status bar at the bottom.

Sources to check on any story or email:
Truth Miners [www.truthminers.com/truth] – a Christian resource
Truth or Fiction [www.truthorfiction.com]
Urban Legends [urbanlegends.about.com/library/blxatoz2.htm]
Snopes.com [www.snopes.com]
Phishing danger [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phishing]

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