Just Pray - Or Just Argue About an Advert About Prayer

Is it safe to come out again? Or is everyone still up in arms about the Lord’s Prayer? According to the Daily Fail the Archbishop of Canterburywas “furious” about the decision of the Digital Cinema Media (DCM) agency, not to distribute the above innocuous 57 second advert to the  Odeon, Cineworld and Vue cinema chains. Really!? Furious!? Throwing teacups at the wall of Lambeth Palace furious? Certainly the little I have seen of Justin Welby would suggest that he doesn’t do furious the way I do furious, which, frankly, raises him in my estimation, and suggests that his particular discipline of prayer, including the Lord’s prayer, works for him.
But were I Justin Welby, I doubt I would be furious with the decision of this commercial company not to show this advert in accordance with its stated policy of not accepting political or religious advertising content in its cinemas. I would however be exasperated with its stated reason that "some advertisements - unintentionally or otherwise - could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith." But it’s not just religion and politics that causes offence… Today, with its usual tabloid hyperbole the Belfast Telegraph tells us that shoppers and various politicians are “very angry” at the omission of a shamrock or any other (Northern) Irish symbol from its “Taste of the British Isles” range of cakes. Now I can’t possibly imagine why M&S would not want to associate the words “Northern Ireland” and “cake” with their brand (maybe I will Google and find out)… but their decision/error has led to demands for an “urgent explanation” by at least one local politician… As if that should be an urgent matter for either M&S or politicians!
But anyway, it demonstrates that EVERYTHING can be offensive to someone, and as many others have already said, much of the crass consumerism, the glamorisation of alcohol  and trivialisation of gambling that goes on in cinema adverts these days, I find grossly offensive, never mind the content of many of the main features.
Some Christian commentators have picked up on the term and suggested that actually Jesus’ words are offensive if viewed from the perspective of secular liberalism and contemporary capitalism. But I don’t think that the DCM decision is as nuanced as that… It is, rather, a straightforward “ban all religious and political stuff” response, using the likelihood to offend as justification. Yet the thing is that many of those objecting to the ban would be the first to object to a similar advert featuring an Islamic prayer or Hindu mantra.
This decision is not an attack on prayer as some of the more excitable voices on social media have stated, nor, as some spokesperson for the CoE said is it “chilling in terms of limiting free speech. It is a simplistic commercial decision, based on an unimaginative if clearly articulated, non-discriminatory policy - take note those of you who have also used this case to jump up and down about the rights of a certain Northern Irish bakery to make a commercial decision based on their Christian faith (guess what that Google search turned up by the way?). But to suggest that the above advert could genuinely offend beggars belief (or un-belief). Actually, in this I find myself in the unlikely company of arch-atheist (but cultural Anglican) Richard Dawkins who is reputed to have said:
“My immediate response was to tweet that it was a violation of freedom of speech. But I deleted it when respondents convinced me that it was a matter of commercial judgment on the part of the cinemas, not so much a free speech issue. I still strongly object to suppressing the ads on the grounds that they might ‘offend’ people. If anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended.”
The key difference is that I don’t see prayer as trivial. Rather I am with Karl Barth on that where he said that, “To clasp  hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”
And the so-called Lord’s prayer is Jesus model for what that uprising should look like… a kingdom where God’s will is done, not the capricious will of earthly rulers… a kingdom where daily needs are met rather than greed encouraged… a kingdom where forgiveness is encouraged…
That is pretty offensive…
However, and this is what has niggled at me more and more over the past couple of days, when Jesus taught this prayer he suggested that prayer shouldn’t be a spectator sport. That we should go away into a private room, lock the door and pray
“Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name…”
He didn’t say…
"Go into a locked room and make a video of this prayer and distribute it to every cinema in the land…"
I don’t know who was behind this initiative… There are those who cynically suggest that they knew that it would be banned and that the publicity from that would be far greater than any that would have been generated by the distribution of the ad in the first place. Certainly the number of hits on the CoE website this week will far exceed the numbers who would have seen it in the cinema even if it had been shown before every showing of Star Wars VII in every cinema in the land.
But I hope that is not the case. Whilst Jesus tells us to be "as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves", I don’t like seeing the kingdom of God play by the rules of the kingdom it is seeking to subvert (that is too much like the plot of Mockingjay for my liking)…
For exactly the same reason I will not be joining in the boycott of the chains supplied by DCM that some Christians are advocating. I am actually going to one of the chains not supplied by DCM to see Star Wars VII, but I am not even sure whether a Church of England ad will be played in Northern Ireland (although they still insist on advertising Waitrose and Morrisons here despite their lack of presence in this province, so who knows)...  Such boycotts are only likely to bring Christianity into greater disrepute. 
Certainly this advert and the subsequent ban has generated a lot of verbiage on faith, prayer and the meaning of Christmas... It's even got me blogging again. But I do hope that it gets more people praying... 

ps for another alternative take on this issue read Kevin Hargaden's blog post. 


Anonymous said…
Outstanding commentary.

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