The Financial Times weighs in on the Anglican interwebs

A couple of days ago, the Financial Times had an article by David Bowen about sundry Anglican websites and our alleged problem avoidance:

Do you work for a fractured organisation that is busy avoiding the difficult issues? Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, does which is why I have been looking at anglican websites this week. And guess what – they are fractured and busy avoiding the issues too.

Fair enough. I’m not sure his premise works though. First, my sense is that we’re hardly avoiding difficult issues. One might say we’re obsessed with them. Second, it’s true that most church organization (parish, diocese, province) websites stink. Really, really stink. So I’m not sure that it follows from seeing an absence of “sharia” or “homosexual controversy” on a front page that the church is avoiding issues. More likely is that no one has bothered to update the website since 1997.

Let’s look at what he sees on the Church of England website:

First sign of online fracturing is that the Archbishop has a schism with his own organisation – no links I could see to the Church of England site. This is a cheerful affair, with a suitably purple theme broken up with brightly-coloured headings and small but bright photos – good branding if it wants to say what a friendly, accessible outfit it is. Now, what does it say about the Sharia affair, or homosexuality? Well, by using the search engine I found a news story on the Archbishop’s speech, and a link to his site; and also a section on human sexuality going into considerable detail on the whole issue.

Two problems though. First, neither subject gets onto the home page, which is lovely and fluffy but steers well away from tough issues. Second, more seriously, most people will not start from the home page but from Google (every site’s second home page). I typed in “church of england sharia” on Thursday morning, and found a mass of news stories, none from the C of E. Top result came from allafrica.com, with a piece from the Vanguard, Lagos, which thundered that ‘people like Rowan, in their liberal naiveté, are handing over their culture, their country and their Church to a rival culture which is strong, focused, determined and eager to take it!’. Memo to the C of E web people – get your SEO (search engine optimisation) sorted so that you at least get a show amid the massed enemy on Google’s home page.

OK, so his point about SEO is well taken. But I do not agree with his assessment of what should be on a front page. I’m not going to place a link on the front page of our parish website every time a crank gets wound up about something. Rather, we’re going to try our best to have a “friendly, accessible” website. That is, after all, more important. If someone comes to a church website, we should make it easy to find information, including information about current controversies.

I don’t preach about sharia or sexuality controversies. We’re not putting it on our website, and we’re not putting it on our sign out front. If someone wants to know what I think about this stuff, I’ll tell them. If I ran the Episcopal Church website, or the C of E website, I’d make sure the info was easy to find — but not on the front page.

So, yes, I agree church websites need help. But they don’t need to yield to cranky agendas on our websites.

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