By Kim Cain
An Easter crucifixion re-enactment in an Australian shopping mall so upset some consumers that police were called in to shut down the display because it was considered offensive.
Yet, five days after the action, the police were said to have apologised for their handling of the situation.
Some Christian believers said the police action raised questions about the freedom of religious expression, especially as the re-enactment took place on the Saturday of the Easter weekend.
The day, known by the Church as Holy Saturday, was one of four designated public holidays for Easter, including Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday from 2 to 5 April.
Members of the Pentecostal, Heaven on Earth Christian Church in the city of Geelong in the southeastern state of Victoria were mid-way through their public re-enactment of Jesus’ crucifixion when police unplugged the microphone and ordered the participants to leave the shopping mall.
The leader of the Heaven on Earth Church, Pastor Sarah Kenneally, told Ecumenical News International that the police later apologised for their actions, and promised a series of discussions to ensure clarification on the legal boundaries of what constitutes offensive behaviour.
The police back-down came after a media storm broke on the rights of religious expression, and what constitutes offensive behaviour in the area of religion and spirituality.
“This is the second year we have had this re-enactment. Last year we were not offensive but apparently this year we were,” remarked Kenneally. She said one police officer was “very reactive” and “acted without first discussing the matter with us. They just came up and yanked the microphone chord out, and told us to leave.”
The scene included a semi-naked man on a cross. Although not nailed to the cross, he was smeared in theatrical blood, and moaned and groaned as if in unbearable pain.
The Age newspaper in Australia reported that police intervened because of complaints from the public about offensive behaviour. It is believed some parents with children had been concerned about the frightening nature of the display. The man acting the role of Jesus on the cross, Leigh Clough, was quoted as saying, “We were just bringing the Easter message to the people, and it is a happy Easter message.”
Clough, a gymnastic instructor, said although Australians get four days of public holiday for Easter, “our society is becoming less and less aware of why we do things.”
The re-enactment and the action of police also triggered comments from the president of the Uniting Church in Australia, the Rev Alistair Macrae, who said that he had “mixed feelings about the graphic and bloody portrayal of Christ on the cross”.
Macrae told Ecumenical News International, “At one level it was an effective reminder that the heart of the Christian story is a suffering God ? as scandalous today as it ever was. ” He added, “But without any context, [for a secular audience] a well-intentioned attempt to tell the Easter story may have caused offence for the wrong reasons, appearing more like gratuitous sensationalism than effective communication.”
A local Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Kevin Dillon, told the Australian-based Web site CathNews, “I have no doubt that the people who organised it had the best intentions but I think in the public arena this could certainly cause distress.”<