I’m a few days behind with a review of part two of Make Me a Christian – the series that a review of episode one said would have â€œChristians enthusiastically smashing their foreheads against the wall with delight at the way they’re representedâ€?, something that most Christians would be doing even more after the second round.
Once again, the overriding theme that comes through from George Hargreaves is â€œThou shalt notâ€?. Most importantly, â€œThou shalt not question Georgeâ€?. This contrasts sharply with courses like the Alpha Course, which although it is underpinned by some similar theological beliefs to those George expresses, is very much about being non-judgemental, and allowing participants to be free to question.
Some of the prime targets this week were the participants who were in unmarried sexual relationships – fornication according to George. First off we have lap dancer Faye, who having been told that she is a practising witch last week, was visited by 27 year old virgin Hester who was there to give Faye and her boyfriend tips on how to avoid having sex. Her tip? A game of Pick-Up Sticks. Needless to say that didn’t work, so she moved on to Kevin who lives with his girlfriend, but has multiple partners behind her back. The suggestion here was a bit of boxing, and again didn’t go down overly well. The third couple had the dubious honour of having George rather than Hester. On the retreat, George bans Aaron and his pregnant girlfriend from sleeping in the same bed, something that has Aaron threatening to walk off the programme. In all three cases, George and co banging on about sex takes the focus away from the core beliefs of Christianity. Whilst all Christians would probably consider the ideal to be marriage, most Christians I know given the three weeks of the programme would happily accept a couple in a committed but unmarried relationship and spend the time focusing on something more important.
Another example of George banging away on a secondary issue was the dealings with lesbian Laura. Not surprisingly given George’s attitude to the unmarried couples, Laura gets a really rough ride. It is worth bearing in mind that even given the much mentioned splits over the issue of homosexuality in the episcopate, the Church of England has the following to say in the Bishops Statement on Civil Partnerships:
…the Church did not want to exclude from its fellowship those lay people of gay or lesbian orientation who, in conscience, were unable to accept that a life of sexual abstinence was required of them and instead chose to enter into a faithful, committed relationship. â€˜The House considers that lay people who have registered civil partnerships ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and communion.â€™
The differences between the mentors show up a bit here too, as after being hammered over her lifestyle, Laura goes to talk to Church of England priest Joanna Jepson. What is interesting is that in the final cut she doesn’t directly contradict George, and in what comes over as a deft little bit of political spin, she instead presents George’s attitude as being about wanting to give Laura some space to experience the course. Although that changes somewhat when you read that Joanna tried to take legal action to get her scenes removed from the programme, and states that:
â€œThere was clearly an agenda behind making the programme designed to make Christians look obsessed with people’s sex lives and intent on imposing Christian behaviour on everyone else. Christian behaviour is only possible after a spiritual transformation.â€?
The impression then is that this is very much the George show and the others are there to add some sort of credibility to his opinions by some deft editing, rather than to show that there is a breadth of belief over some topics.
Having said that, George doesn’t get it all his own way. In a rather ironic demonstration of another way to evangelise, practising Muslim William, whose religion George equates to devil worship manages to get militant atheist Martin, someone who wouldn’t even go into a Church in the first episode, to participate in prayers, not by bashing Martin with the Koran, but by giving him the opportunity to participate without forcing the issue, and by answering his questions. This, as I mentioned before, is exactly the same principle under which the Alpha Course operates, and perhaps is a demonstration of how the programme should have spent it’s three weeks, rather than haranguing the participants over their sex lives. Needless to say George is not at all pleased with this turn of events, and gives William a telling off worthy of a headmaster – throwing in some insulting comments about Islam for good measure.
Thankfully we’ve only got another week of this to go – and I’d be surprised if many of the participants will have got much out of the programme other than a totally skewed opinion of Christians, and equally I dread to think what some of the viewers will have thought by the end. What perhaps could have been a good exploration of the Christian faith has sadly been edited to highlight the most confrontationist and hard-line elements of Christianity, and in much the same way as Muslims are misrepresented by being associated with Islamic fundamentalists, Christians are misrepresented by this. If you want to see real Christianity, you’d do a lot better looking at programmes like The Monastery.