Broadcasting Watchdog Rejects Complaints Against Rowan Atkinson Sketch (Jan 2009)
In the Jan-Mar 2009 edition of the Ulster Bulwark, we drew attention to a grossly offensive comedy sketch by well known comedian Rowan Atkinson at the Royal Variety performance held in London last November to celebrate the Prince of Wales' 60th birthday. Atkinson parodied the account of the miracle at Cana in Galilee in John's Gospel. One of our EPS Council members, Ian Loughrin, lodged a formal complaint with the Broadcasting Regulator Ofcom. Ofcom has now published its finding, which concludes that, in broadcasting the sketch, ITV was not in breach of its Code. The full text of the finding is as follows: We Are Most Amused was a special comedy gala performance held to mark the sixtieth birthday of the Prince of Wales. The show included many of the UK's leading comedians. Ofcom received 540 complaints concerning a sketch, included in the programme, featuring Rowan Atkinson. In the sketch, Rowan Atkinson played a Christian clergyman delivering a comedic version of a biblical miracle story - the Wedding Feast at Cana. The complainants considered the sketch to be offensive and blasphemous, and some complainants questioned whether a similar sketch would be permissible if the subject had been one of the world's other religions, such as Islam. There was evidence that the complaints were part of an orchestrated campaign. Playing the clergyman, Rowan Atkinson delivered the sketch as if reciting from the bible to a congregation. He described Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana, and said: "And when the steward of the feast did taste of the water from the pots, it had become wine. And he knew not whence it had come. But the servants did know, and they applauded loudly in the kitchen. And they said unto the Lord: 'How the hell did you do that?' And inquired of him: 'Do you do children's parties?' And the Lord said: 'No.' But the servants did press him, saying: 'Go on, give us another one'". Further on in the sketch, Ofcom noted there were the following passages: "and he did place a large red cloth over the carrot and then removed it. And lo, he held in his hand a white rabbit. And all were amazed, and said: 'This guy is really good; he should turn professional'. And there came unto him a woman called Mary and Jesus said unto her: 'Put on a tutu and lie down in this box'. And took he forth a saw and cleft her in twain". "And he did go unto Jerusalem, and he did his full act before the Scribes, and the Pharisees, and the Romans. But alas, it did not please them in their hearts. In fact they absolutely crucified him". Ofcom considered these complaints under Rule 2.3 (material that may cause offence must be justified by the context). Decision Many complainants accused ITV of blasphemy. Ofcom is not required to determine whether the ITV committed blasphemy, but whether, in this case, the provisions of its Code had been breached. Comedy has a long tradition of tackling challenging and sensitive subjects, such as religion. It is important and necessary, in line with freedom of expression, that broadcasters can explore such matters. Therefore broadcasters are free to include treatments, comedic or otherwise, of any religion, as long as they comply with the Code. In dealing with such material, broadcasters must ensure that they apply "generally accepted standards" by ensuring that members of the public are given adequate protection from offensive material. Ofcom considers that the context of this programme was clear and justified the broadcast of this item. In particular, this was a comedy sketch, by a performer well-known for his depictions of clergymen in comedic situations. The sketch was an absurd interpretation of a well-known biblical miracle story, and was not intended as a serious interpretation of Christian belief, nor would it be realistic to make such an inference. It superimposed onto the original story, the concept of how some people might react today, if Jesus were to appear in modern society. In making an analogy between miracles and magic, the comedian used the well-known comic device of placing theological figures in a contemporary and everyday human situation. The overall tone of the sketch was affectionate and not abusive of the Christian religion. Ofcom considered that the approach would have been well understood by the vast majority of the audience and would not have gone beyond what would normally be expected in a programme of this type. Therefore, the programme was not in breach of Rule 2.3.
Not in Breach
SHAMEFUL SERVICE IN BELFAST CHURCH (June 2009)
In a further reminder of how far certain sections of the professing church have departed from Biblical truth, a service to celebrate homosexuality was held inSt George'sChurchofIrelandinBelfastcity centre in May. It was part of the "International Day Against Homophobia" and had as its theme, "Don't Throw Stones". Organisers said it was an important step in protecting the interests ofNorthern Ireland's gay community.
The rector ofSt George's, Rev Brian Stewart, said people were supportive of the service. "To protest against homophobia which is the irrational hatred of gay people is no less or no more significant than a protest against anti-semitism," he said. "If we can, as a church, stand up and say that hatred of Jewish people is wrong, we must stand up and say that hatred of gay and lesbian people is wrong as well." Mr Charles Kenny, a member of Changing AttitudeIreland, which works for a welcome to all sorts of people including gay people in the Church, was also present. "I participated in the first ordination of a woman into theChurchofIreland," he said. "When I was a little boy, I wouldn't have expected to live long enough for that. There is evolution all the time. This is another bulwark that has to be won."
Whatever bulwarks he might win or wish to win, he will never succeed in overcoming the bulwark of Biblical truth. God's Word, in both the Old and New Testaments, makes it very clear that homosexuality is an abomination in the sight of God. No amount of revisionism or semantic somersaulting by the advocates of homosexuality within the church can change that fundamental fact.
WOODWARD INVITES POPE (June 2009)
A papal visit to Northern Ireland is back on the Vatican agenda, after a meeting in Rome between Pope Benedict and Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, in May. In echoing the Prime Minister's invitation to the pope to visit the UK, Mr Woodward expressed the hope that he would be able to come to Northern Ireland as part of that visit. Mr Woodward, of course, merely wishes use such a visit as a cynical manoeuvre to further cement the devolved political arrangements. However, we must make it clear (yet again) that the evangelical Protestant people of Ulster are strongly opposed to any papal visit, and we call on all Protestant politicians, churches and organisations to unite in opposition. We also urge our brethren on the mainland to raise their voices against a papal visit to any part of the United Kingdom.
IS LIVING IN SIN NO LONGER A SIN? (July 2009)
The Church of England continues apace on its journey away from the Bible and its teachings. It has now declared that while sex is best kept for marriage, couples who live together and have children without marrying will no longer be regarded as living in sin. Instead, they will be encouraged to adopt traditional values at special new services in which they will be able to get married and baptise their children. They will exchange vows and then present their babies for christening. As one newspaper reported, "The new services - dubbed "hatch 'n' match" by church insiders - mean the church is openly accepting sex before marriage among worshippers". This is yet another pathetic effort by the Church of England to be seen to be in tune with the times, but as it tries its hardest to be popular with the world - something the true church will never be nor should ever attempt to be - it is in danger of losing all respect. Indeed, it is fast becoming a laughing stock. We fully accept that increasing numbers of couples are living together and having children outside of marriage, and that these arrangements no longer carry the same social opprobrium they once did. However, just because something is acceptable doesn't necessarily make it right, and it is the duty of the church to declare without equivocation that the current trend away from marriage is contrary to God's law and therefore sinful and wrong. The fundamental problem is that the church is presenting a distorted view of God and sin. It portrays God as an elderly and paternal grandfather figure in the sky who will never punish us because He loves us. This caricature of God encourages people to live as they wish. They are understandably comfortable with a situation in which the emphasis is on God's love and where there is rarely any mention of His wrath and anger against sin. We rejoice that God is love. However, the apostle Paul in his great chapter on love says that true love "Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth" (1 Corinthians 6:13). In Romans 1:18 we read, "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men". These are solemn words, but they need to be proclaimed today. God "now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30). God's love is based on His righteousness, and He will not tolerate sin. Jesus Himself often warned of judgement and hell. Indeed, he spoke of hell more than he spoke of heaven. The true church will warn of judgement and of wrath. It will not condone, justify or legitimise life-styles that are clearly sinful and wrong. On the contrary, it will call on people to repent. But it will reach out to all in love, and declare the good news that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life". (John 3:16). We rejoice that, although we are sinners, Christ died for us. He has paid the price for our sins, but in order for us to make peace with God, we must repent of our sin and put our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. Instead of condoning sin as the Church of England is doing, it is the duty and privilege of the church to preach Christ crucified to a society gripped by spiritual darkness and confusion. May we not be found wanting.
NO POPE HERE! (Sept 2009)
Now that plans seem to be advancing for the Pope to visitNorthern Irelandnext year, we must make it clear once again that the evangelical Protestant people of Ulster are resolutely opposed to any such visit. in view of our commitment to civil and religious liberty for all, we would very much wish to be neutral about a visit by the head of a particular religion to the members of his flock who live inNorthern Ireland. Unfortunately it is not as simple as that. The Pope makes very significant spiritual and temporal claims about himself and his church. He regards himself as Father of princes and kings, Ruler of the world, and Vicar (or substitute) of the Lord Jesus Christ. The present Pope has also reasserted his church's claim to be the only true church.In the face of such arrogant claims, it is essential that the voice of evangelical Protestantism is heard loudly and clearly. Wecall on all Protestant politicians, churches and organisations, including the Loyal Orders, to unite in opposition to a papal visit, and we will be doing all we can to continue to encourage and develop such united opposition. We will also work closely with our Protestant brethren on the mainland.
EPS SUPPORTS IAN McCREA (Oct 2009)
We fully support the statement issued by DUP MLA Ian McCrea in opposition to any visit by the Pope toNorthern Ireland. We commend Mr McCrea for his courageous and principled stand and urge all Protestant politicians to follow his lead. Whether the pope comes toUlsternext year, or the visit is deferred to 2012, now is the time to galvanise opposition to any such visit, and it is incumbent upon all Protestant leaders, in church and state, to nail their colours to the mast. As evangelical Protestants, we believe in civil and religious liberty for all, and we accept that a religious leader has the right to pay a pastoral visit to his flock. But the pope is no ordinary religious leader, and his visit cannot be merely pastoral. Indeed, the planned visit toGreat Britainwill be the first state visit by a pope since the Reformation. The Popemakes very significant spiritual and temporal claims about himself and his church. The Pope of Rome arrogates to himself power over princes and kings and claims to be Vicar (or substitute) of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Protestants from the days of the Reformation onwards have identified the pope as the antichrist, and this doctrinal position is enshrined in, for example, the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is the position held by Ian McCrea, and it is the position held by the Evangelical Protestant Society as an inter-denominational organisation. We therefore utterly reject the accusation by SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone that Ian McCrea's comments were sectarian. Of course the Church of Rome regards any opposition to her teachings or her claims as "sectarian", so we should not be surprised by Mr McGlone's remarks.
Meanwhile, we in EPS will be doing all we can to co-ordinate united Protestant opposition to any papal visit, and we will work closely with Protestants not only in Northern Ireland but across the United Kingdom.
EPS CHALLENGES MORROW, McWILLIAMS, COLLINS TO DEFEND RIGHT OF CONSCIENCE (Oct 2009)
A week ago in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance and Green Party voted in favour of a very sinister motion. Basing their argument on the statement by Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister, Mr Nelson McCausland, that he would not attend a service in a Roman Catholic church, these parties have signalled that if people hold public office, they are not allowed to have a conscience, especially if it is a Protestant one. By their logic, evangelical Protestant beliefs, and those who hold them, have "no place in an inclusive society".
Such intransigence is completely unacceptable in a democratic society, and if it had been directed against any other faith group there would have been a deafening outcry by now - and rightly so.
Instead, there has been a deafening silence from those organizations with a legal responsibility to challenge and address this sort of intolerance.
We would therefore challenge Duncan Morrow, Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council, Monica McWilliams, Chief Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, and Bob Collins, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission, to unreservedly condemn the sentiments contained in the Sinn Fein motion, and to indicate what steps they intend to take to reassure the evangelical Protestant community.