I’ve grumbled before about Christian Voice, the organisation probably best known nationally for their campaigns against Jerry Springer: The Opera, that included publishing personal contact details for BBC executives, and their associated arm twisting of Maggie’s Cancer Centres, and the way that following the Springer complaints, the BBC have given significant airtime to the organisation. Quite often Stephen Green has been included in panel discussions as the sole Christian, and will be portrayed as giving the ‘Christian opinion’.
What always bugs me about these appearances, is that it totally fails to acknowledge that there is a breadth of Christian opinion on many topics, and also runs the risk of mainstream Christianity being associated with a number of the organisations more hard-line, and in many cases offensive campaigns and press releases, such as this release from last year release in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, stating that it was a judgement on the city of New Orleans.
I have to say that I wasn’t alone in my opinion that they were getting a lot of coverage. It all came to a head when Stephen Green appeared on Question Time on the BBC. This resulted in a statement from Rev Dr David Peel, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church:
It is a matter of some regret that â€¦ the BBC should choose to undermine the reputation of Question Time by giving a platform to a small, self-selecting group distinguished mainly by its absurd claim to represent Christians in this country.
That was until this morning. Heaven and Earth, the BBC’s Sunday morning religion and ethics show were doing a special programme from Edinburgh Fringe, which this year has a high proportion of religious content. As a result the topic of religion and comedy was up for discussion.
The first person they introduced was comedian Ed Byrne, who describes himself as atheist – although it is worth noting that the BBC had originally invited the altogether more controversial Jim Jeffries, but as reported in the Independent and on Mediawatch, Stephen Green refused to appear with him. Then we had Stephen Green. Before I could get really annoyed by it, they introduced the other two panellists were introduced, Larry Jay Tish, a Jewish comedian, and Canon Robin Gamble from Manchester Cathedral. At this point things started to look a bit better – at least they are now not bringing Stephen Green on as the sole representative of Christianity.
Despite the somewhat less controversial replacement comedian, the discussion still did not exactly go Stephen Green’s way. It started with Ed Byrne making the point that many comedians use religion in their acts because it is a concept that many in the audience would understand, but that is controversial – many wanting to do something controversial in order to attract publicity – indeed going back to the Springer episode, the programme got a much higher audience than could have been expected thanks to the Christian Voice publicity. However Stephen Green fairly swiftly got on to the topic of judgement. This produced and interesting reaction from Ed Byrne who commented on the content of the Christian Voice website and questioned how Christian it actually was. Several panellists, including the Canon from Manchester raised the question of whether with war in the Middle East, and all over the world, God would really be worried about a few jokes? The Canon also made the point that if comedians are making jokes about Christianity, it is a positive thing because it keeps religion in the public consciousness.
All in all I thought it was a pretty good discussion, and the Canon from Manchester was a good representative of a more mainstream Christian opinion, providing a strong counterpoint to Christian Voice. Whilst obviously I’d prefer if the BBC stuck to their decision to not include him at all, at least by providing another Christian more obviously representative of mainstream opinion, it stops the misunderstanding that Stephen Green represents all Christians.