This is a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago in response to a media story about a cinema chain refusing to run an advert showing different people praying the Lord’s prayer.
The story itself was almost dead by the time I published the post (on the ThinkTheology blog), so I didn’t rush to post it here. Having mulled it over, though, I think the principle is wider than the issue at hand. How should Christians react when things don’t go the way we want them to, particularly at a public square level?
So here it is. Hope it’s helpful.
This morning, Andrew Wilson pointed out that The Lord’s Prayer is anything but inoffensive. It encapsulates a radical understanding of the world we live in and, if we’re going to argue for its right to be aired in cinemas, we’d also better be prepared to live the life it imagines.
Rev. Arun Arora, Director of Communications for the Church of England, reportedly said that the Church was “bewildered” by the “just plain silly” decision, but added that “the fact that they have insisted upon it makes it rather chilling in terms of limiting free speech”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who features in the video, added his perspective, saying,
I find it extraordinary that cinemas rule that it is inappropriate for an advert on prayer to be shown in the week before Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Billions of people across the world pray this prayer on a daily basis. I think they would be astonished and deeply saddened by this decision…
This advert is about as “offensive” as a carol service or church service on Christmas Day.
I have to say that I am more ‘astonished’ and ‘saddened’ by this kind of response than I am by the advertising agency’s decision. I’m usually a big fan of Justin Welby, but I think his tone here is misguided, as is the CofE’s official position.
The prayer is rippled through with the acknowledgement that God is God and we are not. So when we say things like ‘Thy will be done’, and when we, presumably, pray about what we should do to promote prayer, and follow God’s guidance, and then find our way is thwarted, what space does the Lord’s prayer give us for outraged ‘bewilderment’? That’s not to say that we should accept any opposition by just shrugging our shoulders and letting it pass, but passive-aggressive whining in the media (and for the benefit of our overseas friends, when a white, middle-class Brit says ‘I find it extraordinary that…’, he’s using pretty strong terms!) just doesn’t feel like a Godly response. A publicity-winning one, yes, but one that is likely to change the hearts and minds of the ad agency? One that demonstrates the life-changing joy, peace and hope we are trying to point people towards? Not so much.
And what about that little line about forgiveness? ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us.’
Do Arun Arora’s and Justin Welby’s responses ring with forgiveness? Do those of the outraged tweeters demanding their right to freedom of speech? If we can’t show radical forgiveness to those who make a decision we disagree with, how will we ever find the strength to forgive them for the really big things, the things that do harm us or those we love?
If our responses to the setbacks and obstacles in our lives and plans are not radically different from those of the secularists, atheists, agnostics and followers of other religions, we need to ask ourselves if the Lord’s Prayer has really shaped us as much as we think it has.
Father, lead us not into the temptation to whine and whip up outrage when things don’t go the way we planned. Deliver us from the desire to make our point and get our own way. Show us how to bring your Kingdom to earth through this setback. Remind us that the point is your glory not our freedom, and yours is the power through which it will be accomplished. Help us, O Lord our God, to practise what we preach.
PS Yes, I’m fully aware of the irony of ranting about Christians ranting. I hope and pray that my methods and motivations are helpful, uplifting and glorifying to God. I have the utmost respect for Justin Welby and believe that he is very committed to Godly wisdom and to being shaped more and more by the truths he believes. In all other public pronouncements I’ve seen from him he has been a model of gracious wisdom that speaks the truth in love. When I grow up I hope to be much more like him.