Concerning those British battles about 'Star Wars' and the Lord's Prayer

Imagine this scene in a London movie theater, moments before the archetypal fanfare signaling the Dec. 18 arrival of the new "Star Wars" epic.

Imagine a beautiful, dignified advertisement appearing onscreen in which Muslims -- workers, refugees, artists and imams -- each recite one of the opening phrases of the Quran.

"In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds. Most Gracious, Most Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek."

How would this be received in modern England, a tense land rocked by decades of debate about multiculturalism and whether it remains "Christian," in any meaningful sense of the word?

That's an intriguing question, after the decision by the dominant managers of British theaters to reject a Church of England advertisement -- targeting throngs at "Star Wars" rites -- in which Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and others recite phrases from The Lord's Prayer. It's important to ponder this comparison, argued theologian Andrew Perriman of London, at a website called "An Evangelical Theology for the Post-Christendom Age."

"Context is everything. It seems to me that the assumption that the Lord's Prayer is culturally and religiously innocuous points to some complacency on the part of the church," wrote Perriman, author of "The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church."

The decision to use this symbolic New Testament prayer in this public-square context, he argued, suggests that, "we have not let go of the Christendom mentality that expects everyone in this country to be, deep-down, innately, whether-they-like-it-or-not Christian."

Leaders of the Church of England hoped to run the 60-second ad -- with millions expected at early "Star Wars" screenings -- to promote the campaign to promote prayer in the highly secularized United Kingdom.

However, church publicists released emails in which Digital Cinema Media leaders cited a "policy not to run advertising connected to personal beliefs, specifically those related to politics or religion. Our members have found that showing such advertisements carries the risk of upsetting, or offending, audiences."

Welby bluntly told The Daily Mail: "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. … This advert is about as 'offensive' as a carol service or church service on Christmas Day."

Anglican leaders received strong support from several surprising voices, including the outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, who has, in the past, called himself a "cultural Anglican." He told The Guardian that he strongly objected to "suppressing the ads on the grounds that they might 'offend' people. If anybody is 'offended' by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended."

Actress Carrie "Princess Leia" Fisher told critics of the ad to "get a life" and, on Twitter, proclaimed, "I don't find it offensive … even if I did it shouldn't be banned. You can't ban everything that may offend someone."

Leaders of England's Equality and Human Rights Commission released a statement noting: "We are concerned by any blanket ban on adverts by all religious groups. … There is no right not to be offended in the UK; what is offensive is very subjective and lies in the eye of the beholder."

Lost in the media storm was the poignant fact that the struggling, aging Church of England tried to hitch a ride on the "Star Wars" phenomenon in the first place. After all, "The Force" at the heart of this pop mythology is precisely the kind of "spiritual but not religious" symbolism that has been embraced by many "nones" who have been cutting their ties to traditional religious institutions, noted movie critic Stephen Greydanus of and The National Catholic Register.

"Which is bigger in England, Star Wars or the Church of England? … There may be more practicing Anglicans these days than there are members of the Jedi faith, but it says a lot that we can even ask that question with a straight face," he said.

"It's safe to say that more young people in England are familiar with the details of the Star Wars mythology than with the contents of The Book of Common Prayer."