The Church of England have brought out this fantastic video, showing many people from many different backgrounds, reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The idea is that prayer is for everybody, not just for a select few.
Digital Cinema Media (DCM), the ad agency who supply the UK’s three largest cinema chains, have decided not to show this ad, scuppering the plans to have it shown before screenings of the new Star Wars movie. Their decision is based on their policy of not showing adverts for political or religious organisations in order to avoid offending those of different persuasions.
The Church have, predictably, expressed their disappointment with this decision. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called for the public to Be allowed to “judge for themselves rather than be censored or dictated to”. Many Christians have taken to Twitter and other social media to attack the decision to, in many people’s words, ban the advert. Many comments involve claims that the decision has “backfired” as it has led to extra publicity for the “offensive and subversive” prayer.
As a Christian, you may think I agree with the outrage. After all, the Lord’s Prayer is the example Jesus himself gave when asked how we should pray. It is a beautiful prayer, recognising the Kingship and glory of God, whilst asking for and offering forgiveness and demonstrating a reliance on God for all of our needs. It has been used by all denominations for 2000 years and will endure for much longer.
However, when I saw the National Secular Society tweet the hashtags #JustPray #whatifidontwantto, I was in agreement with them and DCM’s decision. DCM, and the cinema chains they supply, are secular businesses. Their business is to show films and one of the ways they are able to do this is to show adverts beforehand. You may not approve of certain adverts, based on the product, company or even tone of the advert, in which case you can mentally switch off or ignore.
When the advert is for a particular way of life, even for the Way of life, this response differs. Imagine being an atheist, or humanist, or even an adherent to another religion settling down to watch a movie you have spent way to much to watch. You expect to sit through the usual fare of trailers, and adverts for fizzy drinks and perfume, when you are suddenly confronted by something overtly Christian like this video.
Put yourself in their shoes, if you are a Christian. Imagine one of the “there is probably no God” style adverts appearing on a cinema screen near you. Imagine how that would make you feel. Imagine what sort of complaints would be directed at Cineworld et al as a result of it. “What is a cinema chain doing promoting this. It’s not their job.” would be the likely line trotted out.
And it isn’t their job. Just as it isn’t their job to promote prayer. It is the church’s job, both on a corporate level (by using things such as this video, for instance) and on a personal level (maybe by sharing it). It is not the job of a company who flogs cola, insurance and cars. And they know it. They know the likely negative impact on them and their clients by showing this video, just as they recognise why showing any religious, political or other potentially divisive material is not good business sense.
They haven’t “banned” the video, they have just taken a business decision not to show it in line with existing policy. They haven’t branded it as “offensive”, they just said that some people may take offense at it being shown in that specific context. They haven’t “censored” anything as it is still readily available.
Yes, Christians should share this video. It is a wonderful demonstration of the beauty of prayer and its value for all. Getting our knickers in a twist over cinemas not showing it, though, is likely to undo any good work the video itself does, by showing us as being to ready to complain at the slightest thing. So let’s forget about the rights and wrongs of bringing prayer into cinemas and get back to bringing it, and God, into people’s lives instead.