Our faith is being bombarded, now time to call 'cut'
For too long Christianity in the UK has been marginalised. But the cinema chain ban on an ad featuring the Lord's Prayer is a line in sand, writes Alf McCreary
When senior Church figures in Northern Ireland express something as being "both bewildering and hypocritical, mystifying, overbearing and a case of unparalleled political correctness", it is time to take notice.
Some of our Churches' statements are bland to the point of boredom, where the objective appears to be not to annoy anyone.
But this time the clergy from the major denominations are totally united in their strong opposition to the decision by some of Britain's biggest cinema chains to ban an advert containing the Lord's Prayer because it might cause offence.
The minute-long video, produced by JustPray.uk, shows the Lord's Prayer being recited by members of the public, ranging from bodybuilders to children, and it also features Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Justin Welby.
The short advert was to be played in cinemas from December 18 and was passed by the British Board of Film Classification and the Cinema Advertising Authority.
But the Digital Cinema Media (DCM) agency, which handles adverts for Odeon, Cineworld and Vue cinemas, has refused to show it because it could potentially cause offence.
The Archbishop has led the counter-rally for the faith and has described the decision as "extraordinary".
He told a Sunday newspaper: "This advert is about as 'offensive' as a carol service on Christmas Day.
"Billions of people across the world pray this prayer on a daily basis. I think that they would be astonished and deeply saddened by this decision, especially in the light of the terrorist attack in Paris, where many people have found comfort and solace in prayer."
Presbyterian Moderator Dr Ian McNie has sent a message of support to the Archbishop, whose rallying cry needs to be taken most seriously by the Christian community everywhere.
This controversy is a clear wake-up call to people of all denominations to encourage them to make a public stand for their faith.
For decades the Christian faith in the United Kingdom has been marginalised to the point where many Christians are reluctant to say anything in public in case they might cause offence.
The Churches have been criticised and lampooned by many outsiders who speak, write and broadcast from a fog of fear and ignorance.
Sadly, however, the Christian doctrine of turning the other cheek has not stemmed this flow of ill-informed attacks on Christianity and, in some cases, outright abuse.
Across the land Christians have been challenged for wearing a cross, prayers have been dropped from council meetings, and even saying Grace at official dinners has unwisely been abandoned for fear of causing offence to non-Christians.
This absurd marginalisation of Christianity is in stark contrast to the respect that is rightfully given to people of other faiths, but the time has come for the Churches to be more forthright and courageous in defending their faith in public as well as in private.
This targeting of the Lord's Prayer is a clear example of an intolerance that sees Christianity as a soft target.
The cinema chains' lame excuse was their reluctance to carry political or religious material in their adverts, but the Lord's Prayer is beyond and above politics and no one of any faith or none could seriously object to the sentiments of something that is known and cherished the world over.
The point was well made by Methodist President the Reverend Brian Anderson, who expressed himself as "mystified" at the banning of the advert.
He told me: "I wonder if those of no faith, or of other faiths, would be offended by a prayer that requests forgiveness, acceptance and a measured life.
"I am increasingly concerned that the Christian faith is being sidelined from public debate, when my experience suggests that people of faith or of no faith appreciate a prayer."
Some people, not surprisingly, are less tolerant of religious beliefs. Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, accused the Church of England of "arrogance" in imagining that "it has an automatic right to foist its opinions upon a captive audience who have paid good money for a completely different experience" in the cinema.
Such comments from the president of the National Secular Society are not surprising, and it is noticeable that, in recent years, other critics of the Churches have shown a knee-jerk reaction of opposition any time that Christianity is mentioned.
Significantly, however, these critics, who point to dwindling congregations and membership, fail to recognise that very many people still have their own connection to a personal religion - even if they go to church only at Christmas or Easter, or not at all.
In times of national and international crises, including the massacre of 130 innocent victims in Paris, it is noticeable how people from all religious backgrounds and of none gather together at a church service for prayer and comfort in the aftermath of terrible evil.
Even the exhortation to "Pray for Paris", which seems to have risen from out of nowhere, is a tangible example of people doing what mankind has done for centuries - namely trying to rise above the most horrible of circumstances and to move into a different sphere where, somehow, their deepest wounds can be soothed and their worst fears dispelled.
Prayer is very much a part of life and death, and none more so than the simple but deeply profound, wordsof the Lord's Prayer, with its exhortation towards forgiveness, and, as Fr Patrick McCafferty has said recently, "giving voice to the most deeply felt emotions, needs and longings of human beings of all religious beliefs and of none".
Christians of all backgrounds have an urgent duty - and, indeed, a deep need - to defend their beliefs, to speak up and speak out in a level and non-aggressive fashion, and to remind themselves and others that the Lord's Prayer is a precious heritage of our civilisation, and that it will always be so until the end of time.
- Alf McCreary is the Belfast Telegraph's religion correspondent