How to Make a Christian

One thing I haven’t commented on so far is the final part of Make Me a Christian, the rumblings about which have even reached the hallowed pages of the Church Times, who published a news item about the programme last Friday.

The item treads a similar path to that of the earlier Telegraph article, focusing primarily on Joanna Jepson, who perhaps as expected has come out fighting against what she sees as a programme that portrayed Christianity in a wholly unbalanced way. Although she has apparently taken legal action to stop the programme, that failed to stop transmission, but apparently did have some effect on what was shown. A spokesman from Channel 4 described the purpose of the programmes as follows:

“The programme aims to demystify Christianity and introduce its basic teachings to a diverse group of people.�

Unfortunately Jepson hits the nail on the head with this comment:

“It was so destructive. The take-home message was almost that you can’t come to God unless you sort out your sex life.�

Perhaps one of the things to consider is that maybe with the way that Christianity gets portrayed in the media, especially with the massive arguments over homosexuality, the impression of the basic teachings of Christianity are being skewed in the public perception.

Anyway, on to the final programme. Interestingly it didn’t feel nearly so much like the George Hargreaves show. Thanks it seems to the intervention of Joanna Jepson and the Catholic mentor Father John Flynn, two of his targets from last week actually seemed to get a beneficial outcome.

Although it wasn’t shown in the programme, the Church Times report quotes a statement made by Joanna Jepson to the whole group about Laura, the lesbian participant in the programme. Jepson is quoted as saying the following:

“I said to all of them: ‘When God looks at Laura, he sees Laura, not a lesbian that we have labelled.’ I told Laura on the very last day, if you want to encounter God, forget about your sexuality for a moment; put that to one side, and then see what God says to you in the context of your relationship with him.�

The comment can be equally applied to a number of the other participants, all of whom were labelled to some extent by George. However, although there were a couple of scenes in the programme with George and Laura, Joanna Jepson’s influence seemed to be coming through. Initially Laura had discovered the Metropolitan Community Church, a small denomination which reaches out in particular to the LGBT minorities. Laura went to one of their services in London, but didn’t seem to get much from it – George of course dismissed the whole church. However after that Jepson suggested a retreat at a convent, to give Laura time to think. We didn’t hear the opinion of George on this, but from Laura’s point of view it certainly seemed beneficial, and by the end of the programme she seemed a lot more comfortable both with her sexuality, and her burgeoning faith.

Another significant change was again no thanks to George. Aaron, who had previously had an argument with George over sleeping with his pregnant girlfriend – being told that it was fornication – introduced Catholic mentor Father John Flynn to his mother, who was currently in the midst of a cancer scare. The big thing was that she was massively anti-Church, and really wasn’t that keen on her son being involved, however she was also obviously scared about the potential of having cancer. He didn’t try to convert her, or start preaching at her, all he did was sit and talk to her, and then wrote her a letter saying that he knew that she didn’t believe, but that did she mind if he prayed for her anyway. That seemed to open a door, and by the end of the programme she was sitting with the other participants in the programme.

There were possibly some successes that could be attributed to George. The badgering of Kevin, who was repeatedly cheating on his long-term girlfriend resulted in him admitting what was happening to her, and Faye, the lap dancer seemed to have made some changes too. The family included even threw a neighbourhood barbecue and sorted out a long time disagreement with one of their neighbours. The Muslim participant was largely forgotten for the final episode, which just leaves Martin, the atheist biker.

Certainly, George didn’t get very far with Martin in a religious sense, largely because George seemed incapable of actually discussing anything with him. The people who did repair Martin’s opinions of Christians were the Salvation Army. Despite some initial reluctance, he went along to a local Salvation Army old peoples centre, where he helped with transporting the pensioners to the centre, and then with serving them a meal. At the end of it he highlighted that these were one of the first groups of Christians he had met who were actually putting their faith into action.

There was also one final parting gift to Martin from George – a set of false teeth. One of the first things you noticed about Martin was his lack of teeth – this was because he had a massive fear of dentists, so much so that he had removed his own teeth with pliers rather than go along and have treatment. Whilst George singularly failed to make Martin a Christian, he did succeed in getting him to a dentist.

So did the programme teach anything about how to make someone a Christian? Whilst the overriding impression given is that Christianity will have a big thing about your sex life, hopefully for those people that stuck it out, the work by Jepson and Flynn maybe will show that there are other ways…

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