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The book “Technology for Ministry: Best Practices for Evangelization on Social Media and the Internet in Africa” is now available both in hard copy and Ebook version and can be obtained online on Amazon here

Book Brief:

With the rise of citizen journalism, the blogosphere and the social media, anyone can write and publish on the Internet. This raises the question of information quality. Religious information is one of many victims of online misinformation. In a time of information overload, how do you distinguish what is quality and credible information and what is not? How do you distinguish real news from news designed to mislead? How do you identify or verify credible sources online? This book answers these questions and provides a how-to guide for clergy, religious and lay faithful on the best ways to assess and identify quality and credible information from online resources. It provides suggestions from a professional and religious perspective on how to engage in the decent use of the social media. While the title of the book focuses attention on the African audience, the book itself is written with a global perspective, especially to benefit people of faith worldwide who are interested in the decent use of the tools of the new technology to interact, to learn, to teach and to find credible information.

About the Author

Rev. Father Jacob Zenom Dankasa, Ph.D., is a Catholic priest ordained in 2004 for the Catholic diocese of Kafanchan, Nigeria. He has served as diocesan director of communications and diocesan chancellor for the diocese of Kafanchan. He has worked in pastoral roles in parishes both in the diocese of Kafanchan and the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, USA. In addition to bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and theology, he holds a master’s degree in mass communication from St. Cloud State University, Minnesota, USA, with concentration in new media convergence, public relations, and global media. He earned a doctorate in Information Science from the University of North Texas, USA, with specialization in human information and communication behavior, and information theory and designs. His research interests include new media in organization; information behavior; social/community informatics; and usability/user experience in information systems. He has conducted research on the information seeking behaviour of the clergy, the use of new media and mobile technology for learning and for evangelization, and online social networking in faith communities. He has published several scholarly research papers in top international peer-reviewed journals on topics of information, communications, technology and the use of social media.

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Modern media have penetrated every sphere of human life, and they are influencing the way things are done. By modern media I mean the new media technologies (social media, smartphone/tablet technologies, apps, online games, etc.) which are convergent of the traditional media (television, radio, newspaper, etc.). Central to this convergent media is Internet technology. Because the influence of the modern media is both positive and negative, this article enumerates both the pros and cons of these modern media for the family. Young people of today are certainly born online and raised by technology. This paper is aimed at helping families, especially those raising children, develop a strategy for harvesting the benefits of the growing technology innovations and preventing their pitfalls. The goal is to nurture the family in an online environment guided by ethical and moral values of decency and respect.

The Positive Influence of New Media Technologies for Families

  • They create opportunities for networking among families to keep them together regardless of geographical distance.
  • They have provided families with tools that enable them to form family prayer groups online through group blogs, group chats and conference calls.
  • More families are able to own personal electronic bibles that can be used anywhere and anytime. These can be used for individual or family reflections to enhance and encourage growth in the spiritual life.
  • Modern media tools can be used to create small Christian support groups (e.g., WhatsApp and Facebook pages and groups).
  • They bring families very close to sources of information.
  • New media have exposed more grass-roots people to the process of engagement, especially in democratic and political landscapes.
  • Through social media and the Internet, more people and families find connections that lead to the acquisition of jobs, enrollment in institutions of learning and other opportunities which were previously not possible.

 The Negative Influence of New Media Technologies for Families

  • New ideologies can be spread easily through the Internet and the social media. These are mostly negative ideologies meant to mislead the gullible. They include atheistic ideologies, religious extremism, social behaviors contrary to faith and nature, and other ideologies opposed to family values. Those which promote false sense of independence from one’s culture and family are especially dangerous.
  • In the developing countries of Africa, for example, there is the eroding of cultural values which are replaced by foreign, and often, misunderstood, cultures because they appear flashy on the Internet. Losing the sense of respect in manner of speech, and the distorted understanding of beauty through immodest dressing and disrespect for the body are examples of this cultural erosion.
  • The new technologies provide more access to pornographic and obscene images and videos which takes away intimacy in marital relationships and replaces it with sensual pleasure derived from imaginary objects presented on a screen. A British newspaper carried out a survey which revealed that 66% of women have watched pornographic videos, while nearly nine out of ten men (88%) do the same, and a quarter of them watch such videos every day (The Sun Newspaper, April 2, 2009). This trend is growing worse with increasing access to the Internet through mobile devices.
  • There are many websites today that connect people for sex and immodest dating. These are connect-online-and-meet-offline-sex-matching websites. Through the Internet, cheating is now easier; for example, AshleyMadison.com is a website that facilitates extramarital affairs. When the identities of users were exposed several years ago, many were family people. Similar sex-matching websites are expanding to other parts of the world. These types of websites encourage adultery and destroy the family.
  • Pedophiles infiltrate the Internet and commit sexual crimes with vulnerable children.
  • The growing use of mobile phones and chat applications for sexting is a destructive trend. People send nude photos of themselves with others, sometimes with strangers. This is carried out by both children and adults. This is a dangerous trend that works against decent family values.
  • Modern media can take away good human relationships. Some people may relate more to their smartphones than to members of their family. In such situations, someone other than the parent or other family member, may have great influence over a child, a husband or a wife than his parents or spouse. Never underestimate the danger that such external influences can pose to the existence of a family.

How the Church Can Help Families

Despite the negative influences that the modern media are capable of exerting on the family, I strongly believe that the benefits of the new media technologies outweigh the negatives. We live in a generation that is highly influenced by the new technologies, and this trend will only grow, not slow down. Young people of today are born into this movement of technology take-over. In the future, that may be all they know and use. What is needed is to teach people how to use these new media technologies to engage in positive activities that will help, and not destroy, them. The challenges are even greater for African families because of the gap that exists between the young and the old in technology adoption in Africa. The gap between young Internet-savvy users and parents is presumably large among African families, considering the interest level difference between the old and the young and the age gap of Internet users in Africa. This gap between young and old Internet users is gradually closing in the Western world, though it is still wide. But the excesses of usage may even be more difficult for African families to control because many people in Africa access the Internet on private cellphones, not through computers that can be guided and controlled by parents or supervisors.

The negatives of the new media technologies pose some special challenges to families raising young children. The Church needs to come to the rescue, to help families develop ethical standards on the use of Internet technology guided by Christian values. Below are some suggestions for the Church and its functionaries.

  • Develop and engage families in educational awareness programs on the benefits of the new media and their potential dangers. Parents who are not familiar with how the Internet works are more likely to ignore the dangers. Organize diocesan and parish seminars that target parents and children. These events should be conducted by experts in this area.
  • Promote and encourage families to engage in the use of the tools of the new media. Parents of young children should communicate with their children and have access to their social media platforms. Parents should be encouraged to join their children in using the social media. It is not enough to give rules to children; parents must lead by example. Discuss issues with children in a way that is nonthreatening. Merely stating the right and wrong, or even cautioning young children on the dangers of the Internet alone, is not sufficient to keep them from engaging in unwelcome practices. Parents should teach family values to their children on the Internet. Therefore, participation of parents in social media is very important.
  • Families should be encouraged to organize family activities frequently to increase the bonds among family members (e.g. sports, reunions, and celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries of marriages). This may likely minimize dependency on media technology that may be harmful to family relationships. This type of dependency removes an individual from the family and places his interest more on a piece of technology or on an outsider. There should be a balance between the use of the new media and participation in family activities.
  • Families should be encouraged to use a variety of media and resources to check facts about issues. Not everything on the Internet is factual or true. Education on this aspect will minimize the dangers of indoctrination with the wrong ideologies of religion, culture or atheistic values that are often found on the Internet.
  • The Church should provide precise answers to issues that concern faith and morals and educate people on the best and most credible Internet sites or media to use when seeking relevant answers to their questions or concerns.
  • Church leaders (bishops, clergy and religious) must learn, understand and get acquainted with the knowledge of current social, moral and religious issues in order to provide informed answers to people’s questions. Families should be encouraged to seek counsel with their pastors on controversial issues, especially about the Church and society, that are often misrepresented on the Internet. This means that the pastor must be familiar with these issues. There is a need for continuing education for pastors on these issues.
  • Finally, church leaders must learn and practice how to best use the tools of the modern media in order to teach others. Our society is growing more sophisticated through the new technologies. Church leaders that ignore this fact may find themselves irrelevant and left behind in the future of evangelization.

This is an electronic version of an article published in the Journal of Religious & Theological Information, Volume 14, Issue 1-2, pp. 13-29. (2015). Click here to read this version.

Abstract

This paper examines the information seeking studies carried out on the professional roles of the clergy, their use of information resources, the place of the Internet in their information seeking behavior, and the studies conducted on the clergy across different religions. Results show significant relationship between clergy’s doctrinal position and their information seeking behavior, which changes with work roles of the clergy. The clergy use both formal and informal sources depending on the particular work role they assume. However, not many models of information seeking behavior have been tested in studies of religious professionals. The paper argues that most previous studies of the information seeking behavior of clergy resulted in similar findings because the areas of focus have been limited in scope. Hence, there is a need to look at the issue from different perspectives using diverse methods and contexts in order to broaden the understanding of the clergy and their information seeking habits. The paper points out areas for further research with recommendations of suitable theoretical frameworks, which if applied or tested in information seeking research with religious clergy, may add value to the understanding of this issue.

The published article is available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/pWTKFJRTrt7Mdx65MQBv/full. DOI: 10.1080/10477845.2015.1035196