Today a friend sent me a link to a recent radio interview [News 88.9 KNPR-Nevada on 24 Dec 2008] with Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, leader of the Episcopal Church in the US. The focus of the interview was on the state of the Episcopal church due to the on-going tensions in the church over the election of an openly gay bishop. However in the middle of the interview she made some interesting comments on the her view's about online religious community.
BISHOP: The reality is Christian communities; faith communities of all sorts need physical proximity of humane being in order to discover each other, in order to grow individually and as a community. We do not do that as well with people who are not in our presence. It is hard to build a faith community in a deep sense on the internet. We deal with caricatures; we deal with perceptions and positions rather than full human beings sitting in our presence.
INTERVIEWER: Although many people point to the Obama campaign and the social networking and the impact it made, in drawing together millions of people in this country, mobilizing them, getting them to vote getting them to knock on doors throughout the country and that would be community engagement that is philosophical engagement.
BISHOP:It is. I think it is at a different level that what is normally though of as a faith community.
INTERVIEWER: How so?
BISHOP: Because it doesn’t involve face-to-face encounter with a human being, individual whom you come to know over months and years with all that person’s gifts and warts. And learning to challenge one another in a faithful sense to grow up into all they can be.
...and later she went one to say...
"it is a hunger for intimate community of the kind that we were talking about the minute ago that is only possible in the physical proximity of other human beings. Some of it can be served on the internet but the incarnate piece is missing."
Upon reflection I both agree and disagree with the Bishop. I agree the in most case physical proximity is the ideal and may more easily facilitate the possibility for intimate community, however in my experience and research physical presence does not necessarily mean that intimacy and care will be achieved in community. I think the incarnational nature is also about what people bring to the table to create the environment and that this can be intentionally built and maintained in a "disembodied" context. I have both studied and experience this online my past 13 years of research.
But what do you think?