IT is “extraordinary” that cinemas are refusing to show an advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
The minute-long film features Christians, including a police officer, a body-builder, and Archbishop Welby, reciting one line each of the Lord’s Prayer while they are at work, putting flowers on a grave, working out in a gym, leading choir practice, or patrolling the streets.
It was made to promote a new C of E website — www.justpray.uk — and was intended to be shown just before cinema screenings of the latest Star Wars film on 18 December. Digital Cinema Media (DCM), an agency which handles adverts for the UK’s three biggest cinema chains, however, has rejected the video.
Archbishop Welby said: “I find it extraordinary that cinemas rule that it is inappropriate for an advert on prayer to be shown in the week before Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.”
Billions of people pray the Lord’s Prayer every day, he said, and they would be “astonished and deeply saddened” to discover that it has been deemed inappropriate to show in cinemas.
“As a church we are a Jesus movement and this is the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples. I think people need to watch the film and come to their own conclusions as to whether it is offensive or upsetting. Let the public judge for themselves rather than be censored or dictated to.”
The director of communications for the C of E, the Revd Arun Arora, has added his own criticism, saying: “We are bewildered by the decision of the cinemas. The Lord's Prayer is prayed by billions of people across the globe every day and in this country has been part of everyday life for centuries.
“In one way the decision of the cinemas is just plain silly, but the fact that they have insisted upon it makes it rather chilling in terms of limiting free speech.”
In a series of tweets on Sunday, DCM said that it had a policy of not accepting “political or religious advertising” because it could cause offence to people of “differing faiths and indeed of no faith”. The tweets also linked to an online version of the group’s policy.
In a series of emails between Mr Arora and DCM in the summer, seen by the Church Times, the finance and operations director of DCM, Paul Maloney, said that the agency’s policy which bans religious adverts was not in a “formal policy document”. The online version linked to by the tweets was created on 20 November, two days before it was revealed that it had rejected the Church’s advert. The emails also revealed that DCM had offered the C of E a 55-per-cent discount.
The advert has been cleared by the Cinema Advertising Authority and rated U by the British Board of Film Classification. The funding for the new website came from the Allchurches Trust, the charitable arm of Ecclesiastical Insurance. Money from the Trust which had been earmarked to pay for the cinema advertising campaign has been returned.
Some have backed the cinemas’ stance. The director of the National Secular Society, Terry Sanderson, said: “The Church of England is arrogant to imagine it has an automatic right to foist its opinions upon a captive audience who have paid good money for a completely different experience. The church does not hesitate to ban things that it deems inappropriate from its own church halls — things like yoga. The cinema chains are simply exercising the same right.”
But others, including Richard Dawkins, have criticised the decision to refuse to show the advert. “If anybody is offended by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended,” he told the Guardian.
The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Steven Croft, wrote a blog suggesting the Lord’s Prayer was a challenge to “boardrooms of consumer culture”, and the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, told the Daily Mail that the ban was a “knee-jerk reaction to anxiety that somehow Muslims or others are going to be offended by it — and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Mr Arora has also indicated that he believes the decision not to show the advert might even contravene anti-discrimination legislation, and added that he would welcome a change of heart from DCM.