Why was the Lord's Prayer Advert banned ?
The Reverend Canon Charles Royden
Sermon looking at why the The Lord's Prayer Advert was banned
I went to the cinema this week to see Star Wars - The Force Awakens. An epic big picture tackling moral issues, ethics, showing the fight of good over evil. A brilliant film which I watched in 3D so I got to practically touch the Millennium Falcon.
What I wasn’t allowed to see was an advert before the movie which had been made by the Church of England about The Lord’s Prayer, encouraging people to just pray. It wasn’t an advert for the Church of England, it wasn’t asking for money, it was literally just encouraging people to pray.
The Lord’s Prayer advert was banned by Digital Cinema Media which operates advertising in the three big chains and they said that they do not accept as a matter of policy any political or religious advertising. This was in spite of the fact that they had previously been supportive and even offered the church preferential rates - an advertising discount !
What caused Digital Cinema Media to change their mind? Whay did they ban the advert ?
The film showed people like the Archbishop of Canterbury, a weightlifting bouncer and the London Community Gospel Choir whilst the words of the prayer were spoken. These are the most famous words spoken in all time and they are beautiful words by the most important human being who ever lived. Words now spoken by billions of people across the world every single day and which have been so important for generations of people.
The advert was passed by the British Board of Film Classification, the Cinema Advertising Authority passed it and gave it a U. Yet still it was banned and the ironic thing is that the advert should have been screened in the week before Christmas - which is lest we forget a special time for celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus, in the week that our Prime Minister Mr Cameron in his Christmas message tells us is still a Christian country. (that’s’ another debate)
Christmas is being reinterpreted away from the idea of the birth of the Christ Child towards a time for the family, a time for sharing. John Lewis is sending a balloon to the man in the moon. There is a secularism which seems offended by our faith and Digital Cinema Media did not want anybody to be irritated by seeing the film.
So what did I see instead, besides the predictable stuff about switching off my phone all manner of advertisements - lots of stuff which irritated me . There were adverts about alcohol, which I don’t mind but not everybody likes alcohol, they just have to get on with it. Adverts for Subway - in spite of the fact that obesity is said to be one of the greatest challenges to public health. I saw lots of adverts which promoted the idea that Christmas is not about Jesus but about spending money, not just secularism but materialism. Max Factor, Mercedes, Jeremy Clarckson - we can see all of this but not the Lord’s Prayer, in case it offends.
How strange then that this was the year of Charlie Hebdo, 'je suis Charlie’. Charlie Hebdo published cartoons which were by any stretch of the imagination tasteless, satirical etc. but to many people utterly offensive. Thousands went to the streets and to digital media to support freedom of speech by Charlie. Muslims were told that they did not have the right not to be offended. Just because they did not like to see things like nude cartoons of the prophet, didn’t mean that Charlie Hebdo didn’t have the right to publish them.
Yet in our democracy we are not allowed to see an advert produced by the state church on The Lord’s Prayer ! So this morning go back to Christmas and have lunch and discuss !
What does this potentially offensive advert actually say ?
Just Pray is asking people to open their minds to the possibility that there is someone greater than themselves, a God who listens and cares and who at Christmas time we believe became human, an action which gave meaning to human existence.
That is all -, its just about prayer. Whilst we are thinking of France, prayer is something which characterised the reaction of so many people in France to the massacres in Paris. It is a natural instinct at times of distress, but Just Pray are suggesting it could be so much more.
The point about Christmas is that Jesus is ‘God with us’. This is the Christmas story. That God becomes like us and so understands us and all that it means to be human and is alongside us.
The Shepherds come and visit Jesus and they are in awe at what happens that night. But then they go back to being shepherds. To what was a hard existence. The message of Christmas is that as we leave Christmas and go back to ordinary lives God is truly with us, the ordinary is consecrated, all of life is holy, important to God who is only a prayer away.