An ad created by the Church Of England, depicting people praying the Lord’s Prayer, has been banned by the UK’s biggest cinema chain.
The church created the ad to be screened in cinemas leading up to Christmas, before the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, encouraging people to try prayer.
It portrays people from all walks of life praying as they go about their daily business – including police officers, taxi drivers, a minister, a farmer, commuters, gym junkies, gospel singers, school children and a man at a graveside.
Cinemas’ Original Plan Was To Support The Ad
The ad, part of the Church Of England’s Just Pray campaign, ends with the statement, “prayer is for everyone”, followed by the hashtag, “#justpray”.
According to Fairfax the ad was given the tick of approval by British film classification and other advertising agencies, with the ban only put in place by Digital Cinema Media – administrator of advertising across the UK’s leading film chains.
The Bishop of Chelmsford told Premier, the UK Christian media outlet that the company had previously approved the ad and even offered a discount on the fee.
It was only at the last minute that the cinemas “got cold feet”, Premier was told.
Digital Cinema Media put out a statement saying it had a policy of not screening political or religious advertisements.
Church Disappointed And Bewildered By Decision
The Church of England’s communications director Reverend Arun Arora said he was “bewildered” by the decision and concerned about what he believed to be a crackdown on free speech.
“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,” he said.
And the church’s Archbishop Justin Welby, who features in the ad, told the Daily Mail that he found the decision “extraordinary”, especially in the week before Christmas.
“Billions of people across the world pray this prayer on a daily basis,” he said. “I think they would be astonished and deeply saddened by this decision, especially in the light of the terrorist attack in Paris where many people have found comfort and solace in prayer.
“This advert is about as “offensive” as a carol service or church service on Christmas Day.”
Atheist Backs The Church, Secularist Backs Cinemas
Even the prominent atheist Richard Dawkins weighed in to the discussion according to the Guardian, but surprisingly he was in support of the ads being run. He Tweeted at one stage that the ban was a violation of free speech, and told The Guardian that “if anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended”.
The cinema chain won support from the National Secular Society, though, with its president Terry Sanderson saying the ban was a “perfectly reasonable decision” by a commercial organisation.
“The Church of England is arrogant to imagine it has an automatic right to foist its opinions upon a captive audience who have paid good money for a completely different experience,” he said.
“The Church does not hesitate to ban things that it deems inappropriate from its own church halls – things like yoga. The cinema chains are simply exercising the same right.”
Campaign Encourages Non-Believers To Try Prayer
The church’s Just Pray campaign consists of not just the ad but also a Youtube Channel and a website encouraging people to simply start praying, and to add their prayers in social media, using the hashtag #justpray.
It also features a number of interviews with the people featured in the ad, including Sam, the young man visiting his father’s grave (below).
Watch: Sam explains how his father’s illness and death affected his prayers.
The website explains prayer using excerpts from a book called How To Pray by Bishop Stephen Cottrell.
“The hardest thing about prayer is beginning,” the website says. “So just start.
“Wanting to pray is the beginning of a relationship with God that can grow and grow. Find the way of praying that is right for you. Explore different ways of praying.”
“Listen as well as speak. Give thanks as well as ask for help. Don’t just look for results. Don’t give up when it gets hard. Trying to pray is praying.
“Remember, God is present even in the darkness.”
Watch: Jonny shares his thoughts on prayer.
The website adds that “Praying can be woven into everyday life” and can be done any time, and place.
“It is living life in a relationship with God… The conversation starts here. Just start.”