Scripture teaches us to “Love thy neighbor.” For many of us, that means checking in on a senior, dropping off a meal to a family with a newborn, watching a child for a single working parent, helping with chores when someone is ill or offering a word of encouragement when someone has lost a job.

But would you ever imagine that caring for your neighbor means helping them get access to the Internet?

It does. And let me explain why. The Internet now dominates the way we communicate, obtain information, seek employment, education and healthcare, find products and services and use entertainment.

For the vast majority of our neighbors, quick and easy access through a high-speed broadband connection is a way of life. But for the 30 percent of Californians who have no access to the Internet, there exists a digital divide that cuts them off from pursuits far more consequential than email and online shopping. It means that for millions of our neighbors, there is no way to apply for a job, to find government services, to expand their educations, to apply for benefits or even to find a doctor.

Black and Hispanic households are far less likely than White and Asian households to have broadband Internet access.

Why, you may reasonably ask, is a pastor talking about access to the Internet? It’s simple: this is not just a matter of convenience or frivolity. If you think about it, this is about social justice. Those on the other side of the digital divide are often the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, the handicapped, the unemployed, and the uneducated.

The people most in need of financial assistance, employment and educational opportunities, government services and healthcare are the ones least likely to find it because they are cut off from the main artery of information in American life. And in 2011, that’s just not acceptable.

President Obama has made it our nation’s goal to connect every American to affordable high-speed broadband Internet by 2020. Those of us in the faith community are uniquely suited to help this worthy campaign. We know how to reach those of us in the faith community who are uniquely suited to help in this worthy campaign.

We know how to reach those who are vulnerable, isolated or struggling to make ends meet. We know families with children yearning to learn and teenagers seeking financial aid for college, low-income working families who would benefit greatly from social services.

That’s why my congregation has joined the Race to Close the Digital Divide, a federally funded program that helps provide computer education, equipment and low-cost broadband Internet access to our congregants. Costs have fallen dramatically and the technology is easier than you might imagine. We can learn and move forward together as a community.

In fact, Bishop T.D. Jakes in an address titled “What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You” told those attending his Pastors and Leaders Conference at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., that they should become familiar with other social networking media. In an interview with the Trice Edney News Wire, he posed these questions:
“What would your church do if there was a natural disaster or long-term weather-related shutdown? Would the ministers and deacons know how to get the word out over the Internet?
“Is your church savvy enough to make a mass announcement over Facebook, Twitter or Scream?”
The answer for many, if not most, is no.

The church is still using agrarian methods of communication in a multimedia global environment. It’s time for us to come off the farm, and we have to bring our congregants up to speed, as well.
The church that enrolls the most new subscribers will win a free computer lab and training. But more importantly, we will have the satisfaction of knowing we have not only helped our neighbors, we have empowered them by providing an essential tool of modern American life.

I encourage you and your congregation to join us in the Race to Close the Digital Divide.

The Rev. Mark E. Whitlock II is the pastor of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, Calif.

For more information about the Race to Close the Digital Divide, please call toll free 1-888-235-1541 or email gc2day@gmail.com