C4 documentary ‘shallow’, says cleric

20 August 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Unhappy mentor: the Revd Joanna Jepson, who appears in the Channel 4 documentary Make Me a Christian TELEGRAPH MEDIA GROUP

Unhappy mentor: the Revd Joanna Jepson, who appears in the Channel 4 documentary Make Me a Christian TELEGRAPH MEDIA GROUP

THE Revd Joanna Jepson, Priest-in-Charge of St Peter’s, Fulham, and chaplain to the London College of Fashion, has disowned the Channel 4 documentary Make Me a Christian (Media, 15 August) in which she ap­pears as one of four mentors to a group of volunteers appar­ently want­ing to embrace Chris­­tianity.

She described herself on Tuesday as “gutted” by the shallow and negative way that Christianity had been represented, and the way in which people and situations had been exploited. The volunteers had been sought out for their sex lives or the extreme situations they were in, suggested Miss Jepson.

The volunteers comprised Martin, a biker and atheist; Aaron, a man with a pregnant girlfriend; Faye, a lap-dancing manager delving into the occult; Sarah, a middle-class mother; Kevin, who said he had slept with 150 women; Will, a Muslim convert; and Laura, a schoolteacher who is a lesbian. The spiritual men­tors — Miss Jepson, Fr John Flynn, and Pastor Wale Babatunde — were led by the Revd George Hargreaves.

The programme was wholly un­balanced, said Miss Jepson, who, although failing in a legal action to have scenes excised in which she appeared, managed to have other episodes cut after she threatened to walk out of the filming. “All credit to them for that, but it was too late really,” she said. “It was so destruc­tive. The take-home message was almost that you can’t come to God unless you sort out your sex life.

“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.

“I felt I brought balance to the programme, and I think those were very important comments that should have gone into it, but they weren’t included. The TV company had a very shallow understanding of what the Christian religion is about.”

A good outcome for the volunteers had not been the first priority, Miss Jepson believed, and the mentors had been constrained by what the pro­ducers wanted. Having clarified in advance with Channel 4 that the volunteers genuinely wanted to embrace Christianity, she had been surprised to find a Muslim included who said he could not attend services because he would no longer be a Muslim if he did.

Taking part had been “an alto­gether bad experience”, she con­cluded, and the end result had been “a very mediocre and unremarkable programme which isn’t transform­ative and didn’t change lives”.

A spokesman for Channel 4 said on Tuesday: “We’re disappointed to hear Joanna’s remarks, but also sur­prised, because she saw the pro­grammes prior to transmission and did not raise these issues with us then. The programme aims to demystif­y Chris­tianity and introduce its basic teach­ings to a diverse group of people.”

The third and final part of Make Me a Christian will be screened on Channel 4 at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

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