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ERLC launches Web community

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–When news reports began trickling out that some brands of pet food were contaminated with a deadly ingredient, pet owners in America rushed to their cupboards — and the Internet.

Not surprisingly, traffic to pet food sites was up 115 percent in March, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

With more Americans than ever connected to the Internet, the Web is a ready and often-reliable source of information. Overall Internet usage rose from 58 percent of U.S. citizens five years ago to over 73 percent today, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

This reality, in part, has led the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission to begin laying out plans for a Web-based community in support of its effort to aid individuals in the “biblically-based transformation of their families, churches, communities, and the nation.”

The ERLC launched JosiahRoad.com June 11 before the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 12-13 annual meeting in San Antonio, looking to provide a site where people could both connect with likeminded individuals or dialogue with others who share different perspectives , regardless of their faith background.

At ERLC President Richard Land’s request, the SBC entity’s staff is developing resources to reach believers who might otherwise not relate to the organization’s work.

“This younger generation offers more promise and hope for spiritual and cultural reform than I have seen in all my years in the ministry,” Land said. “We recognize that to reach this demographic we cannot just keep communicating the way we have been for the last 15 years. The JosiahRoad.com initiative is a major part of our effort to serve a broader audience.”

The site features an expansive forum section where registered users can post entries and respond to others’ comments. The site also has its own version of a “wiki” — fashioned after the popular online user-generated Wikipedia encyclopedia — addressing topics that might be of interest to JosiahRoad.com visitors.

With the Pew study reporting that more a third of American adult Internet users access Wikipedia.com, and the site is particularly popular among the “well-educated,” the ERLC included a user-built “wiki” in its JosiahRoad.com rollout.

“I don’t know that there is anything like JosiahRoad.com on the Internet,” said Harold Harper, the ERLC’s executive vice president. “It is truly a unique place on the Web where individuals at different stages in their spiritual journey can exercise their faith.”

This virtual community is designed to allow people to be very forthcoming in their discussions, Harper added. “You can ask hard questions, and you can give hard answers,” he said.

Like a real community, JosiahRoad.com is driven and directed almost completely by users. The site benefits from the advent of Web 2.0, a second generation of the Internet that features applications allowing non-technical users to employ the Web as a means to express themselves and participate in virtual town squares throughout cyberspace.

While the site is fully moderated, it is not designed to be an exclusively “Christian site,” Harper noted. While anticipating that Christians will be heavily involved in the site, there is no “test of faith” before one can post a comment, he said.

“It is an open site,” Land said. “Our hope is that people will explore serious ideas and develop realistic solutions to matters that concern us all,” he said, emphasizing he has no doubts that God’s truth will prevail in any discussion.

A 2001 study released by the Barna Research Group indicated that among online Americans, “millions are turning to the digital dimension to get them in touch with God and others who pursue faith matters.” The report said that by 2010 as many as 50 million individuals may look only to the Internet for “all of their faith-based experiences.”

Barna said “born again and evangelical Christians are every bit as likely as non-Christians to use the digital superhighway.” The report noted that Catholics and mainline Protestants are slightly more likely to use the Internet than Baptists and Protestants who attend non-mainline churches.

The biblical account of Josiah (2 Chronicles 34) provides the principles and the name upon which the site is built, Land said.

“The young King Josiah was open to God’s leadership,” he explained. “Josiah’s journey of faith took him face-to-face with the reality of a culture that had turned its back on the One True God. Instead of just going along with the flow as many in his position before him did, Josiah sought to restore his nation’s spiritual and moral foundation with a zeal that only God could provide.”

Land said his prayer is that the website would be used in a similar way to accomplish great things for God and His Kingdom. The ERLC is committed to exploring the adoption of every technical means possible to reach people — young and old — with scriptural truths, Land said.

“As the Internet is primarily used for gathering news and information,” Harper said, “we hope and pray that God will bless JosiahRoad.com as a site that people can trust for information that is vital to their spiritual life.”
Visit http://www.josiahroad.com for more information on the new virtual community of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

    About the Author

  • Dwayne Hastings