DARTH VADER’s quotation from the first Star Wars film, "I find your lack of faith disturbing", is now being printed on a mug. It might have formed the basis of the Church’s response to the decision by the DCM ad agency not to show the Lord’s Prayer advertisement before the latest Star Wars film. Yet in the midst of the row, there is an unconscious agreement between the two parties. The agency is saying, in effect, that prayer is no longer the norm, and therefore cannot be shown without the risk of offending cinemagoers. The content of the ad suggests the exact opposite, showing ordinary people (the Archbishop of Canterbury would probably like to be included in this category) in normal situations, each with a phrase from the prayer spoken in voiceover. At a deeper level, however, the existence of such an advert suggests that the Church acknowledges that prayer is increasingly uncommon in the UK, and therefore needs promoting.
Much has been said about the place of the Established Church in recent days, but this ban should not be taken too personally. Overheard in a Bristol pharmacy on Monday: "I suppose, though, it’s good that they banned it. Otherwise we’d get all those Muslim prayers next." The chances are that the agency ban — whenever introduced — was to protect it from approaches by less mainstream bodies. The ban stems from fear and ignorance, but was not devised with the C of E in mind.
The Church has not been able to decide how to deal with these sorts of attacks. Should it unite with other faiths, as when Lord Williams was archbishop? Or seek to distance itself from them and stress its English history, as it seems to be doing of late? In reality, it might not have much of a say in the matter. As the Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, told Synod members on Tuesday in relation to Christian unity: "Our persecutors already see us as one." What should most trouble church communicators is an inability to distinguish between good and bad religion.
WHILE thinking about evangelism, we return to the report Talking Jesus, discussed by the General Synod this week, and what it says about the degree of ignorance about Christ in the prevailing culture. Of those surveyed, 22 per cent thought Jesus was fictional and another 18 per cent were unsure. The challenge might be greater than has been thought. The old jewellery-shop anecdote is well known: "Do you want a plain cross, or one with a little man on it?", overheard in places as far apart as New York and Nuneaton. We now hear of a student on a prestigious art-history course in the UK. The class was shown an Old Master. "Who’s that?" the student asked. When the cross and the crown of thorns were pointed out to her as possible clues, she replied: "Oh, well, it could have been just some random skinny guy."