A Bishop accused the BBC of deliberately provoking Christians by screening a documentary on Good Friday suggesting that Jesus had a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene.
The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former bishop of Rochester, said the programme, presented by Melvyn Bragg would be “hugely offensive” to devout Christians because it amounted to the “sexualisation of Christ”.
He said it was all the more upsetting because it is being screened at midday on Good Friday – the moment the Bible says Jesus was put on the cross. Last night one Christian group issued an alert to its supporters urging them to contact the BBC’s complaints line.
Lord Bragg, who describes himself as “no longer a believer”, argues that Mary’s close relationship with Jesus was effectively airbrushed out of the accepted Biblical account by “misogynist” Romans.
He points to a series of ancient writings known as the Gnostic Gospels which were not included in the agreed list of books which became the New Testament.
They include references to Mary being “kissed on the mouth” by Jesus, being his favourite and even, as one passage suggests, his wife.
The suggestion that Mary had a sexual relationship with Jesus lies behind the storyline of the Hollywood film The Last Temptation of Christ, which provoked a scandal, and more recently the Da Vinci Code, the best-selling novel by Dan Brown.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph last week, Lord Bragg said: “She was acknowledged by other disciples as his favourite and there is one taunting scrap of record which may well lead to the conclusion that she was his wife.
“What then? What then for the celibacy which has led the organised Church into so many abuses and crimes and distorted lives?”
But Bishop Nazir-Ali accused the corporation of deliberately causing offense to Christians and questioned whether other groups would be treated in the same way.
The Pakistan-born cleric, who was the fist non white bishop in the Church of England, added that the programme could cause particular problems for Christians in Muslim countries where they are already facing persecution.
He said: “This is going out at 12 o’clock on Good Friday which is exactly the time that Christians are thinking about Christ on the cross, this highly provocative stuff that really encourages a sexualisation of Christ with references to him being kissed on the mouth by Mary Magdalene and it refers to her being his wife.
“I am concerned about the misuses of very obscure Gnostic gospels to impugne the integrity of the Bible.
“It is highly provocative in terms of its content for Christians on Good Friday and it attempts to sexualize Christ in the most offensive way.
“Biblical Christians are not given any kind of response to this.
“They can say whatever they like on Good Friday and nobody it seems is going to put the Biblical point of view about who Mary was and what her relationship with Jesus was.
“Why is the BBC doing this on Good Friday and why is it doing it in such a provocative way.”
“There will be huge offence, here must be some way of putting the other point of view across.”
Last night the group Christian Concern emailed its supporters urging them to contact the BBC’s complaints line and offering links to online complaint forms.
Andrea Williams, director of Christian Concern, said: “Noon Good Friday is the precise time Christians are remembering Jesus’ crucifixion.
“To air a programme which questions the purity of Christ is at best insensitive and at worst offensive.
“Who is making such bewildering decisions in the BBC’s religious programming department?
“A programme redressing the balance based on sound scholarship – rather than pseudo-scholarship popularised by Dan Brown novels – needs to broadcast.”