Bishop Rachel Treweek says lack of religious TV over Christmas is 'offensive'

Rachel Treweek said she finds the proposed lack of religious broadcasting over Christmas "offensive".

The first woman diocesan bishop has slammed the BBC for not having enough religious programming scheduled over Christmas, branding it "offensive".

In a Christmas message, Bishop of Gloucester Rachel Treweek said "there's been a lot of talk recently about people being offended by expressions of religious faith. And now it appears the BBC have scheduled only six hours of new religious broadcasting on the TV over the Christmas week.

"If true I find that offensive. Presumably the decision was taken in order to reduce the possibility of offending people with too much God stuff over the holiday."

She criticised the majority of Christmas advertising for painting the 25 December as picture-perfect. "We don't want all that upset by Jesus intruding on our lives," Treweek added.

"The world is a messy place and we've had a bucket load of fear and anxiety this year, not to mention all that water crashing through flood defences. We want to escape from the turbulence and forget our fears... And by the way, we certainly don't want one minute of the Lord's Prayer preceding all that. Please keep religion out of our Christmas. We don't want to be offended."

The Christmas story, of God coming to earth, "is pretty offensive," she continued. "Particularly if you are on the side of fear not love. And I won't begin to pretend that the message of Christmas isn't intrusive. It's deeply personal."

"This tiny vulnerable baby lying in the mess of a feeding trough in a Middle Eastern animal shed two thousand years ago, is God come among us in human flesh. In Jesus, God knows what it's like to be one of us. Knows intimately what it's like to feel pain, sorrow, joy and hope. Through that baby, who grew up to be an adult like you and me, God knows all our weaknesses, understands all our fears and rage. And yet God never deserts us. God is with us, for us, loves us and knows us by name," Treweek said.

"If you want to deny your uniqueness, be just another person in the cinema, a nameless shopper in the supermarket, or just another face in the Christmas crowd, then I can see that you'd want to steer clear from the Christmas story. It's pretty intrusive.

"But if you want some Good News then be assured that Christmas is all that – for it's about good triumphing over evil. It's about the light being stronger than the darkness and hope being stronger than despair. This is about life stronger than death, but if you're not on the side of the angels then I admit that's pretty offensive."

Treweek's comments come in the wake of the Equality and Human Rights Commission announcing that it will investigate the ban on an advert featuring the Lord's Prayer from being shown in UK cinemas.

The decision will be examined as part of a major report on the adequacy of the law protecting freedom of religion or belief in Britain to be published early in 2016.

According to the Commission, the ban has "generated significant public concern about freedom of speech".

Chief executive of the Commission, Rebecca Hilsenrath, said, ""We strongly disagree with the decision not to show the adverts on the grounds they might 'offend' people. There is no right not to be offended in the UK; what is offensive is very subjective and this is a slippery slope towards increasing censorship."