Crimes of Passion

Methodist Church in Oxford
by Motacilla (Opera propria) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], attraverso Wikimedia Commons

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Crimes of Passion

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Native-speakers’ ignorance of the intricacies of the English language and religious tradition caused a stir in Oxford this week when a local councillor prevented the performance of a play about the crucifixion from taking place in a Methodist church. From the title “The Passion”, the councillor wrongly assumed it would be some sort of lewd peep show, and had it banned on grounds of indecency.

It’s not the first time secular society has failed to see eye-to-eye with the Methodist church; in fact in Oxford it’s almost a tradition. The Methodist movement was born here in the eighteenth century when brothers John and Charles Wesley, sons of a Puritan family, began to meet with like-minded students every evening to pray. They fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays and took communion every Sunday instead of three times a year as decreed by the church. Such religious devotion was unusual at that time and members of the “holy club” were derided as fanatical. None the less the Methodists’ ideas gradually began to gain currency among the lower classes, largely because of their emphasis on social justice, caring for the poor and the sick, and the welfare of widows and orphans. The Wesleys eventually became a widely respected influence for social justice and pioneers in education, also campaigning for prison reform and the abolition of slavery.

This Friday, readers posting comments on the local paper website were pretty unanimous in criticising the cultural ignorance of the red-faced and apologetic councillor, and expressing incredulity at the idea that a Methodist church would put on a live sex show on Good Friday. Some held the incident up as an example of what they consider to be a growing disregard for the Christian faith while “foreign” religions such as Islam are treated with kid gloves. Another reader suggested a sex show would be less offensive than the re-enactment of brutal torture and agonising death.

For me the incident brought to mind my primary school headmaster, a devout and evangelical Baptist who attempted to drum both the times tables and the fear of God into us with equal verve. His best advice: if you’re reading and you come across a word you don’t understand, always look it up. Amen to that.


agonising = extremely painful
apologetic = sorry
brought to mind = reminded, evoked
campaign = activities such as public speaking aimed at achieving change
cause a stir = create a sensation
come across = find by chance
devotion = veneration, dedication
disregard = lack of respect
drum (something into somebody) = to teach through repetition
fast = abstain from eating
gain currency = to become accepted
Good Friday = The Friday when the crucifixion of Jesus is commemorated
headmaster = the teacher in charge of a school. Feminine: head mistress
intricacy = complexity
lewd = lascivious, obscene
like-minded = compatible, similar, having the same ideas
none the less = even so, this notwithstanding
on grounds of = basis or reason, often legal
pretty = quite
see eye-to-eye = agree
slavery = forcing a person to work without pay
times tables = series of numbers multiplied together e.g. 1x2, 2x2, 3x2 etc
treat with kid gloves = to be very careful with something
welfare = health, prosperity and well-being