Tag Archives: Joanna Jepson

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…

Make Me a Christian Part II

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 “Christians 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 “Thou shalt not�. Most importantly, “Thou shalt not question George�. 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. ‘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.’

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:

“There 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.