If you are based in the UK, it can’t have escaped your notice that the Church of England has produced a video on prayer which has been “banned” from being shown in cinemas. The first thing to say is that the video is absolutely excellent, and I’d love as many people as possible to see it. The second thing is that I reckon that outraged response of many Christians to the “banning” of the video is completely misplaced.
Was it Banned?
Andrew Greystone of the Church and Media Network tweeted the following:
Fact check on #JustPray 1: The advert has not been refused by cinemas or chains but by DCM Media Ltd, a big advertising placement agency..
— Andrew Graystone (@AndrewGraystone) November 22, 2015
The advert was placed with an agency who have a policy that prohibits them placing religious adverts. It is hardly a surprise that they didn’t accept this one.
Edit: the Church Mouse has commented at length on Andrew Graystone’s tweet’s below; the story is clearly a complex one. However, this is the least important of the issues surrounding our reaction to the video. The next two points are much more key in my mind.
The Video is Offensive
To get a little preachy, if you don’t think that the phrase “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven” is offensive to people, then you’ve not thought through what it means. God reigning on earth is a threat to all of the powers that be. The early Christians were sent to the lions because they declared that Jesus and not Caesar was Lord. At a point in history where we are being urged to buy into “British values” (whatever they are) as an answer to extremism, to say that we believe in God’s rule, not British values, places us in the extremist camp.
Christianity is a challenge to all societies and it does offend people, the sad thing is that many Christians don’t realise how radical this prayer is.
Religion is Bad
In one of the first posts I ever wrote on this blog, I talked about religion being harmful. I’d urge you to read the whole thing because it is very relevant to this discussion. However, for the moment, let this quote stand for a longer argument:
The bottom line is that Christians and other people of faith are no longer seen as ‘good’ people. At one point a Christian might have been thought of as morally upstanding and a good member of society – someone you would cheerfully lend your lawnmower to, now they are more likely to be thought of as sexist bigots.
Given the way that religious people are viewed by much of society, why would we assume that the cinema would show adverts that promote our priorities? We are the bad guys, the extremists, the bigots, the homophobes; of course no one is going to show our adverts. This is how much (most?) of society sees us and we need to get used to it.
One of the things that cross-cultural missionaries must learn is that you have to present the Gospel within the culture you are working with. You can’t start off by turning everyone into Brits or Americans and then evangelising them in that light. You have to find ways to present the message of Christ in a way which speaks into the language and culture of the people you are trying to reach.
We are faced with the same situation in the UK. We have to learn how to be cross-cultural missionaries; how to present the Christian message to a society which has not only rejected it, but which is broadly hostile to it. This is one of the hardest missionary situations in the world. We have been used to having a high-profile platform for our beliefs, to being accepted by the government (local and national) and the media, but increasingly that support will be withdrawn. Learning to do mission in this new situation is the most pressing task for the church in the UK today.
By all means, complain that Christian videos aren’t being shown in cinemas, but bear in mind that this is only a symptom of much more profound changes and it is the underlying changes which are the real challenge. Perhaps an unintended consequence of all of this is that the storm kicked up around the advert means that more people will have watched it than might have seen it in the cinema. Who knows?
Anyway, to add to the hits on YouTube…