Watching the saga of the Church of England’s attempt to bring prayer into the public arena I find myself left with a number of irritating questions.
First and foremost, I just wonder what market research we did before deciding to create an ‘advert’ (for that is what, inevitably, if is perceived to be by many people) for the Lord’s Prayer? Did no one consider that the most precious prayer, that gift of the Lord, would be treated with such disrespect and disdain? Did anyone stop and wonder how people might react at a time when religion is held in suspicion by many, seen as divisive by some and rejected as anti-social by others? Whilst a one-minute recitation of a prayer can hurt no one, to present it in front of some people who cannot (or will not) recognise the difference between ‘death cults’ and the way of the Lord is asking for derision from those for whom the church focuses their hatred. Prayer, for some, is the expression of those who engage in child-abuse, homophobia and bigotry and I fear what might happen if the Church of England decided to pursue the matter of perceived discrimination.
WWJD? I can’t help but notice that, apart from Liturgical worship in the Temple, Jesus prayed in private. It was not until his followers asked him how to pray that he revealed to them the secret of his intimacy with God: “Our Father…” Is it enough to present that expression of intimacy to an unsuspecting public without recalling that Jesus preceded that teaching with the instruction not to publicise what His followers should do: … whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt.6:6)
The cinema chain state that they refused to show the advert because they decided not to accept any adverts which “in the reasonable opinion of DCM constitute political or religious advertising”. That seems reasonable to me. Am I alone in not wanting the Church to regard itself in the same light as a business? Do we really want rich and powerful religious groups to promote themselves through advertising in the cinema or on TV?
Many of us question the way some define religion and faith as a private matter - it’s no more ‘private’ then railways which carry a minority of the population, newspapers which are read by increasingly few people or Social Services which not all use. Religious faith, an aspect of the identity of most people on this planet, is a social – not private – matter for it is available to all, not least in a country that is still rooted in its Christian heritage.
The choice of advertising the Lord’s Prayer is not the same as advertising a list of services or even a set of beliefs. It’s about advertising a relationship with God to a world that is deeply suspicious of how some have been abused, manipulated and radicalised – brainwashed – by corrupt relationships. And I, for one, am sorry that the Church to which I belong decided to use this prayer in a way that has led it to be vilified. Lead us not into the temptation to advertise our Faith... and deliver us from evil. Amen.