With days to go before it was due to screen 'Jerry Springer - The Opera', a programme that it knew would cause massive offence, BBC executives listened to polite representations from the Evangelical Alliance (EA) and church leaders. By then a record number of protests from licence holders had arrived asking the BBC not to go ahead with the broadcast. The day before the broadcast was due, a member of staff at the BBC phoned Premier Christian Radio and pleaded with the chief executive to stop his presenters giving out the email and phone number of the BBC switchboard because their systems were jammed. Even the Sun newspaper, best-known for its topless page three models, ran an article and leader column arguing that the profanities and insults to Christianity made the musical inappropriate for a public service broadcaster to screen. All to no avail. We failed.
Beforehand the BBC's own listings magazine 'Radio Times', had trumpeted a story on the controversy (8-14th January, 2005) entitled 'Fanning the flames' predicting the BBC switchboard meltdown and admitting that the decision to go ahead was, 'frankly astonishing complete with all 3,168 uses of the f-word and 297 incidences of the c-word…’ This profanity word count was later shown to be inaccurate, something some media commentators later mocked Christian protestors for, suggesting the exaggeration was typical of an 'over the top' response by believers to a 'bold and adventurous' programme.
The BBC's decision to broadcast 'Jerry Springer - The Opera' was a calculated insult to Christians and others faith communities who revere Jesus. The BBC knew it would offend and alienate, but because the target was the person of Christ – they went ahead anyway. Apart from a small extreme fringe group, who in their anger at the indifference of the BBC, put the home phone numbers of BBC executives onto their websites, the Christian protest was done 'according to the book'. And yet we failed miserably to change BBC hearts and minds. William Rees-Mogg writing inThe Times was one of many commentators who noted that the BBC would not dare mock Muslims in a similar way.
This is the landscape we live in. Our faith is under attack in a way that it has not faced for hundreds of years. In the school playground, in the world of business, in university, in politics, in the workplace and on our TV screens, it is open season - we are fair game to be shot at. The prejudice against us is breathtaking.
The EA, Churches Together, the bishops and responsible organisations like Care - who seek to represent the views of Christians with policy makers in government and public bodies like the BBC, should stop, pray and ponder long and hard about where we go from here. We need to ask hard questions about whether it's worthwhile fighting a rear-guard action, or is the BBC's decision our Dunkirk? Maybe it's time to fight a different sort of battle. I'm not advocating illegal tactics - but I do think we need to wise up and detect the spiritual climate we are in. Asking 'What's next?' rather than blindly treading a familiar but fruitless furrow makes sense. Is funding advocacy organisations and protesting in the usual channels the best strategy? Fact is - our current tactics ain't working.