Directory info for church use only

Posted in Religionon Nov 3, 2011

When you are asked at church to provide contact information, such as a phone number or email address, it is generally expected that the contact information is only to be used for church use, not for political or commercial purposes.

This gets a little fuzzy when “church use” mingles a little bit with political or commercial purposes. Suppose you found a great sale on bibles, and wanted to share the info with other members of the congregation? Or perhaps a church leader wants to remind people to fulfill their civic duties by voting in an upcoming election?

It also gets confusing when other members of the congregation are also personal friends. While it may not be appropriate to approach church members with a commercial or political cause, approaching a personal friend may be acceptable.

To help clarify the confusion with this issue, may I suggest the following guidelines:

Points that may indicate acceptable use:

  • The individual also provided directly to you their contact information.
  • The topic of your conversation is directly related to a recently or frequently taught principle at church.
  • The topic of conversation is directly related to a church sponsored or church encouraged activity.
  • You frequently associate with the individual away from church encouraged activities.
  • The individual has contacted you previously for a commercial or political cause.

Warning signs for unacceptable use:

  • You or someone you directly know would materially benefit from the conversation.
  • A political candidate or political cause (which hasn’t been officially endorsed by the church) would benefit.
  • You have to use a church published directory in order to find the contact information.
  • You are using an email list or a set of email addresses which has been created by a church official or created for church use.
  • You are specifically mentioning the name of a business, the name of a political candidate, or a ballot measure title.

Of course, these guidelines are to clarify the confusion that may occur with “church use” verses “commercial use.”  It leave the topic of “church use” verses “personal use” undiscussed.  Can you use the church email list to invite everyone to your backyard BBQ?  I’ll leave that question unanswered.

To further clarify any remaining confusion, let me give my opinion about a couple of scenarios:

A member of your church congregation wants to have a tupperware party.  If the person intends on selling tupperware at the party, or to create interest in tupperware in order to sell product later, the person should be very careful not to use any contact information that was provided to the church and not to the individual directly.

Amazon.com is having a sale on copies of the Bible. If a person just wants to let you know about the sale, it may be ok for them to send the link to the Amazon.com product page.  If the link includes a referral code such that the person can earn a commission, then it is not appropriate for them to send the link to a church provided contact list.

A member of the congregation is running for political office.  Since sharing accomplishments of members of the congregation isn’t irregular, acknowledgment of the fact that the member is running wouldn’t be inappropriate, unless people were being encouraged to vote for the person.  Stating the candidate’s platform or political views is inappropriate because it is encouraging votes.

There is a ballot issue on a topic addressed frequently at church.  It would be ok to let people know about the ballot issue, especially if it was explained how the ballot issue is connected to topics addressed at church.  It would be ok to encourage people to vote on the issue. Unless church officials have endorsed a particular stance on the issue, it would not be appropriate to tell people to vote a particular way on the issue.

It is important to be very careful when using church provided contact information.  Not only do we need to keep church, political and commercial subjects separate for legal and ethical reasons, but it is important to respect people’s privacy by not misusing contact information they provided for church use only.

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