The Most Reverend Justin Welby has occupied the throne of Canterbury for three years, so this Easter is as good a time as any to examine the condition of the Church of England under his leadership.
Some years ago, the Church irritated many when, in an advertisement, it depicted Jesus as Che Guevara. It seemed shocking at the time, but it was a gesture of piety compared with the blasphemous atrocity produced this year. In the advertisement, a former drug addict takes the place of Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns made from syringes. The Church hopes this will attract new worshippers this Easter.
Rob Jones, 46, from Halifax, West Yorks, who spent years living rough punctuated by time in prison before turning his life around, plays the central role in a short film modelled on a traditional passion play.
He appears with, among others, a former white witch who converted to Christianity, in the video made as part of the Church’s “Just Pray” campaign.
It follows a previous advert, featuring the Lord’s Prayer which was banned from cinemas last year for being “too religious.”
The Church’s latest publicity stunt is based on the text of Psalm 22, in which the Psalmist utters his despair and asks, “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me?” These words were repeated by Jesus from the cross.
All the main parts in the film are played by people who have recently found faith through an informal church in Halifax called “The Saturday Gathering”.
In the central scene, Mr Jones is grabbed by a crowd and has the mock crown, made from the plastic tubes and syringes used by drug addicts to inject themselves, forced on to his head.
It then cuts to a scene in a church, in full colour, accompanied by a message about resurrection.
To describe the whole performance as inappropriate is something of an understatement but, whatever else it is, it is inappropriate too – because inaccurate. It fails as an analogy.
The central character Mr Jones is a reformed drug addict. Jesus, the original wearer of the crown of thorns, was never a drug addict. It is thus entirely misleading to make the comparison between an addict who claims to have been redeemed by his encounter with Jesus, and the Jesus who does the redeeming.
But you may well ask what has this obscene parody of the faith performed in Halifax to do with the Archbishop residing in Canterbury? Much. Of course, the Archbishop is not to be expected to micromanage everything that takes place in the Church which he leads. But his role in the governance of the Church of England is like that of a minister of the crown. The departmental minister is not occupied in the minutiae of the day-to-day running of his department, but he is the person ultimately responsible for the integrity of his department. This is why, when a section of his department is found to be seriously at fault, the minister resigns.
There is a lesson here for the Archbishop of Canterbury