The Church of England produced an advert promoting their new website JustPray.uk, which seeks to create a digital place for prayer with advice on what prayer is and how to pray. The site also provides a ‘live prayer’ feed of prayers being prayed across the globe via Twitter, Instagram and Vine. The promotional 60-second advert features Christians from all walks of life praying one line of the Lord’s Prayer, and includes weight lifters, a police officer, a commuter, refugees in a support centre, school children, a mourner at a graveside, a festival goer and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was to have been shown in cinemas from 18th December as part of the ad reel before ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’.
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But despite receiving clearance from both the Cinema Advertising Authority and British Board of Film Classification (a ‘U’ certification, no less), the country’s three largest cinema chains, Odeon, Cineworld and Vue – who together control 80% of cinema screens around the country – have refused to show the advert because they believe it “carries the risk of upsetting, or offending, audiences”. Which is a bit odd, when you think how many films they screen which carry the same or greater risk.
The Church of England has said it is “bewildered” by this “plain silly” decision. The Rev’d Arun Arora, Director of Communications for the Church of England, has issued a statement:
“The prospect of a multi-generational cultural event offered by the release of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ on 18th December – a week before Christmas Day – was too good an opportunity to miss and 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. Prayer permeates every aspect of our culture from pop songs and requiems to daily assemblies and national commemorations. For millions of people in the United Kingdom, prayer is a constant part of their lives whether as part thanksgiving and praise, or as a companion through their darkest hours.
“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. There is still time for the cinemas to change their mind and we would certainly welcome that.
“In the meantime people should visit the site, see the film themselves and make up their own minds as to whether they are upset or offended by it.”
The issue that seems confusing at the moment is the role played by the Digital Cinema Media (DCM), jointly owned by Odeon and Cineworld and which handles the majority of cinema advertising in the UK. Initially they were very receptive to the Church of England advert, and even offered a 55 per cent discount for a slot in the ‘ad reel’ that is screened before the seventh Star Wars film when it opens on December 18. Three months later, the agency told the Reverend Arun Arora, the Church’s director of communications, that Odeon, Cineworld and Vue had vetoed the film, saying they could not carry ads of a religious nature.
DCM have now stated that in their advertising policy document all religious advertising is prohibited:
Religious Advertising means… advertising which wholly or partly advertises any religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief (including any absence of belief) or any part of any religion, faith or such equivalent systems of belief.
What is interesting is that it isn’t clear when this policy was created – was it before or after the Church of England first went to DCM with the advert? Given that they have allowed adverts for the Alpha Course it does seem to be a recent addition.
Giles Fraser hits the nail on the head with his comments:
Of course, we can guess what those execs were really saying to each other. If we allow Christianity we are going to have to allow others, even – heaven forfend – Islam. You can feel their panic, their bureaucratic cowardice. We want to be left to get on and make our Christmas profits without getting drawn into such complicated altercations, they are saying.
I’m sorry, but the whole thing stinks. If you are offended by the Lord’s Prayer you are too easily offended.
Interestingly even, Richard Dawkins agrees.
On the plus side though we should reflect on how many more people will have heard of the ‘Just Pray’ campaign and the Lord’s Prayer – perhaps for the first time – courtesy of the media who have picked up on this.