Wells Cathedral challenged over screening of 'The Last Temptation of Christ'

Wells Cathedral's plan to screen "The Last Temptation of Christ" has been condemned by the advocacy group Christian Concern.

The group claims that the decision by the Dean, the Very Reverend John Clarke, to show the film "will be interpreted as the Church endorsing a blasphemous film which distorts the Gospel message".

The controversial film, which Christian Concern has described as "blasphemous", was directed by Martin Scorsese and is planned to be shown on 25 January as part of the Bath Film Festival 2014.

While the film's opening sequence does include a disclaimer making clear that it is not intended to be a faithful representation of the Gospels, the film has generally been given a wide berth by Christians because of objectionable scenes.

These include a dream sequence showing Jesus tempted by the Devil to leave his ministry and the cross behind to go and live a family life, married first to Mary Magdalene and then Mary and Martha, the daughters of Lazarus.

The film also contains sex scenes between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and a violent scene of Jesus removing his own heart.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, head of Christian Concern, said in a statement: "In an age when many people may have the sketchiest knowledge of the Gospel and history of Jesus Christ, the screening of this blasphemous film which challenges the perfection of the life of Jesus ...by introducing an offensive dream sequence, will spread misunderstanding of the tenets of the Christian faith and give the impression that the Church endorses such false teaching."

Christian Concern said it had been contacted by local parishioners who object to the screening.

"We have received calls and correspondence from concerned churchgoers, not only in the Somerset area, and the Western Daily Press has reported that some worshippers have described the film as 'appalling' for introducing the 'theme of debauchery'," she said.

"It is difficult to understand how screening such a film in a hallowed cathedral serves the Kingdom of God. For that reason we have urged our supporters to make their views known to the Dean, who is principally responsible for the administration of the Cathedral."

In a statement, Cathedral officials defended the decision to host the screening, saying the film offers only "a partial view of who Jesus was" and stressing that it was "not designed to be a biography".

"Much has changed in public perceptions of faith over the last 25 years [since the film's initial release]," read a cathedral statement.

"In this more sceptical age the church should not hide from controversy and part of the task of the cathedral is to promote an intelligent faith that is capable of attracting men and women to follow in the way of Jesus in the twenty first century.

"[The Cathedral staff's] hope therefore is that an audience who do not normally think about Jesus will spend time thinking about his significance for us today."

The day after the screening, a talk is planned on the subject of 'Jesus' as part of a series in the cathedral called 'What can we believe today?'. It will be hosted in the Education Room of Wells Cathedral on Sunday 26th January from 4.30pm.

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