NI Christian figures hit out at Lord’s Prayer ban

Rev Hamilton was Moderator from 2010 to 2011
Rev Hamilton was Moderator from 2010 to 2011

A decision to ban a pre-Christmas advert from cinemas because it is based on the Lord’s Prayer was last night described as “bewildering and hypocritical” by a raft of Northern Irish Christians.

Northern Irish Christians hit out at the decision to pull the advert from cinemas run by a trio of UK-wide chains amid concerns that it may cause offence.

It had been due to air prior to screenings of blockbuster film ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ from December 18, and is part of a campaign by the Anglican church to promote the practice of prayer.

The leader of the world’s Anglicans, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, yesterday called the decision “extraordinary”.

And despite the fact the advert is part of an Anglican-led campaign, the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland – the Province’s largest denomination – believes the message that it sends out to worshippers of all stripes is essentially the same.

He said that it illustrated a willingness to enjoy the commercial dividends which the Christmas season brings, “while avoiding the reason for there to be anything to celebrate at all”.

See the video by clicking this link.

Meanwhile, a Nigerian minister who recently spoke of his surprise at the state of Christianity in Northern Ireland said that if the Lord’s Prayer were to be examined “line by line”, nothing offensive would be found.

The one-minute advert itself – which shows a range of individuals reciting a line each from the Lord’s Prayer – had received clearance from the British Board of Film Classification and the Cinema Advertising Authority.

However the Digital Cinema Media (DCM) agency, which handles adverts for Odeon, Cineworld and Vue cinemas, refused to show it.

The Church of England (which commissioned the advert) has threatened legal action over the ban.

A Church spokesman confirmed the decision will apply to any cinemas in Northern Ireland which belong to the three chains in question.

One of the cinemas which would thus be affected is the Odeon at Victoria Square shopping centre, Belfast.

Former Presbyterian Moderator Norman Hamilton said he did not regard the banning of the adverts as an “attack” on Christinity.

Rather, he suggested it was indicative of an unwillingness to deal with the idea of faith in society.

He said yesterday: “Cinemas have policies on all sorts of things, and necessarily so.

“However, this policy is both bewildering and hypocritical, for as a leading cinema chain they are seeking to reap the commercial benefits of the Christmas season whilst avoiding the reason for there being anything to celebrate at all. Sadly, they are not alone.

“This case highlights once again the intense difficulty that our increasingly secular world has in relating to real faith of any kind.

“There is no difficulty in using religious subjects for commercial purposes to sell everything from coffee to films - as in Monty Python’s Life of Brian and The Devil Inside (2012).

“But when it is for real, commercial interests too often close their eyes and then close their doors.”

The head of the Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland, Peter Lynas, noted that in recent years many UK citizens opted to refer to themselves as “Jedi” on Census forms when asked their religion – in reference to a type of character in the Star Wars franchise.

He said: “You’re allowed to show the Jedi faith group in the movie, but not talk about Christianity before.”

He said adverts are constantly promoting products and ideologies, and questioned why churches should therefore be excluded.

He concluded: “Basically, I’d say the secularists need to stop being so easily offended.”

The advert opens with footage of the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, the Most Rev Justin Welby.

He told The Mail on Sunday: “This advert is about as ‘offensive’ as a carol service on Christmas Day.”

Nigerian minister George Okikiolu, who recently moved to Northern Ireland to do community work at St Jude’s Church of Ireland, Belfast, spoke earlier in the month about his surprise at finding Christianity “not as vibrant” in the Province as in Africa.

Last night he said: “I’d be happy if it could be reversed, because I think we all need the prayer...

“I don’t think it should be offensive to anyone. Everybody should be happy about that. I don’t see any offence in the Lord’s Prayer if you take it line by line.”

The Church of England has said the policy preventing them from showing an advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer did not exist at the time they were trying to get the video into cinemas.

A CoE spokesman said they were informed that, due to a DCM policy not to run adverts which could potentially cause offence, the video would not run.

When asked for a copy of that policy, CoE was told there is no formal policy document but that it had been agreed with the DCM’s members.

A formal policy on the DCM’s website now states that adverts should not be “political or religious”, adding that “religious advertising means: advertising which wholly or partially advertises any religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief (including any absence of belief)”.

DCM were unavailable.