Church to hold special service in response to ‘blasphemous’ play

editorial image

Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church in Mossley has hit back at a controversial play staged recently at Theatre at The Mill.

The church has condemned ‘The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)’, which it claims makes “a mockery” of Christian beliefs.

The play went ahead at the council-run venue last month despite controversy.

Newtownabbey Borough Council’s artistic board took the decision to axe the play following complaints from some councillors and church representatives that the production was “blasphemous and offensive”.

The move sparked a furore, with the council being accused of “political censorship” and branded a “laughing stock”.

The board then voted to reinstate the show just two days before it was due to begin, with the result that it played to packed houses on both nights.

In response, the Doagh Road church is holding a guest service on Sunday, February 23, at 7pm.

It will be based on the theme ‘The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Unabridged)’.

“It’s for anyone who wants to know what the message of the Bible is really all about,” said Rev Warren Peel, minister of Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church.

A leaflet advertising the guest service is being distributed to homes across Newtownabbey.

“Every right-thinking person understands that there are some things you just don’t laugh at. Of course we believe in freedom of speech, but aren’t there limits set by taste and decency,” Rev Peel added.

“For tens of thousands of Christians in Northern Ireland, this play ridicules what is more precious to us than anything in the world.

“So many people seem to think that Christian beliefs are trivial little things and that getting upset when they are ridiculed is as unreasonable as getting upset by the mockery of the ‘Three Little Pigs’.”

‘Such interference with freedom of speech and artistic expression should be of concern to freedom lovers everywhere’ is one of the typical responses noted by Rev Peel.

“Surely tolerance means showing respect for the views of others and not holding them up to be laughed at in a shared public space like our community theatre?”, he stated.

“But far more seriously, the Reduced Shakespeare Company haven’t just deeply offended Christians; their play is an offence against God. Just to get a few laughs they have misrepresented Him and twisted His truth; and one day they will stand before God as their Judge and answer for what they have done.

“At Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church, we take the Bible seriously,” he said, urging a “grown-up look” at the Bible.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the council’s artistic board, Cllr Billy Webb, has hit back at criticism from Rev Brian McClung of Newtownabbey Free Presbyterian Church and DUP Cllr Robert Hill of the “tactical” decision taken by the board to cancel the play before later reinstating it.

In a letter to the Times, he said: “There are two issues arising from the article last week about the play ‘The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)’ which, as chair of the Artistic Board, I must address: these are the comments made by the Rev McClung and DUP Councillor Robert Hill’s ridiculous comment that the Board is unaccountable.

Whilst I uphold Rev McClung’s right to his views, as I would expect him to uphold that right in others, I fail to understand why he takes exception to the Artistic Board decision, to withdraw the play, being described as ‘tactical’.

As it would seem Newtownabbey DUP councillors, and others, seem to be suffering from amnesia, or selective memory, I think I should point out:

(a) on the 20th January it was a DUP proposal to ban the play.

(b) on 22nd January the Artistic Board, at a pre-arranged meeting, recognised that their function of programming for the theatre was under threat from the DUP.

As this would amount to censorship, the Board agreed that ‘tactically’ the best action would be to establish control of programming and reluctantly withdraw the play.

(c) on 27th January the Artistic Board held an emergency meeting and restored the original programme.

(d) that same evening the DUP, having scored an own-goal over their attempt at censorship, ‘noted’ the Artistic Board’s decision to restore the original programme. In doing so they airbrushed their attempt at censorship and tried to deflect any responsibility for the mess they created by blaming everyone else.

In days prior to the meeting, comments on social media demonstrated their attempts to shift responsibility to Alliance, and to me, as chair of the Artistic Board.

I now turn to Councillor Hill’s comment that the Artistic Board is an ‘unaccountable body’ and remind him that: (a) the Board was established, and its function agreed, by the Council in June 2010; (b) the Leisure Committee on 4th November 2013 noted the programming for the theatre as agreed at the Artistic Board meeting on 16th October, which contained the Bible play - he and nine other DUP councillors were at the Leisure Committee meeting; (c) the minutes from the Leisure Committee were approved at the Council meeting on 25th November 2013. He and 11 other DUP Councillors were at that meeting, in fact a DUP Councillor proposed the minutes for adoption, and a DUP Councillor seconded the proposal.

Far from damaging the reputation of the theatre, as alleged by Councillor Hill, this whole incident has exposed the archaic attitude of the DUP.

Councillor Hill would be well advised to apply the maxim ‘when in a hole, stop digging’ or to comply with his party’s dictat to go to ground and avoid comment, except through the appointed spokesperson, Paul Girvan.”