I write to express my profound discomfort with various aspects of the Church of England’s conduct over the past few days, as the news story regarding the ‘Just Pray’ advertisement has unfolded.
Firstly, I note that the DCM agency was entirely within its rights to run or not to run any advertisement it chose. I think that its blanket policy to avoid religious or political material is sensible, and, one assumes, designed to avoid exactly this kind of mess. It is no great effort to imagine the reaction in the tabloid press had another faith group or a secular body attempted to run a similar advertisement. I consider that the Church’s attempt to present this decision as a ‘ban’ and an ‘attack on free speech’ is dishonest and I am ashamed to be associated with this disingenuous act.
Since the agency’s policy is to avoid religious or political content, the question of whether the advert is, in fact, offensive, is not particularly relevant, and I have been equally disappointed by the Church’s emphasis on this aspect. However, I would take this opportunity to make it clear, from my perspective as a practising Anglican, that I would have been extremely uncomfortable had I been in a cinema where this advert had been played. I find the idea of involving non-consenting strangers in my religious practice distasteful in the extreme.
I find the attempt to attack the agency’s decision by using the Equality Act 2010 hypocritical, to say the least, given that the Church has obtained several exemptions from it (much to the distress of myself and numerous other Anglicans). I am equally disappointed that the Bishop of Chelmsford has mooted the possibility of taking advantage of his position in the House of Lords to place political weight on the question – an abuse of privilege, so far as I am concerned, which contradicts any assertion of ‘persecution’.
Lastly, I have been deeply concerned today by the sight of some emails between DCM agency and Rev Arun Arora which give the impression that the Church of England was aware of the likelihood that the advertisement would not run as early as 3 August this year. If these are genuine, this gives the lie to its claim to have been ‘bewildered’ on 22 November, and the hypocrisy and cynicism is revolting.
I would urge the Church to make the true position clear as swiftly as possible.