Every Christian who watched C4's "Make me a Christian" on Sunday evening must be having a *headdesk* moment.
I tuned in because it was the only channel working on Sky and was ever so sorry I did, but it had all the compulsion of watching a car crash. The star of the show was the evangelical Reverend George Hargreaves, whose fortune comes from the gay club business. (Yes, you read that right.) Playing his little Christian poodle ministry coterie were Rev. Joanna Jepson (CofE), Fr John Flynn (Catholic) and Pastor Wale Babatunde.
The group to be brainwashed - oops, I meant helped - ranged from an affluent family of four looking to spend time together (hint: no need to be Christian, just turn off the damn Gameboy) to an atheist biker who'd had a Christian school education and, in describing it, gets the award for the best quote of the episode: "There was as much love as you'd get from Fred West at a patio party."
One member of the group was a pagan lapdancer obsessed with her physical image, which led to lots of money being spent on how she looked - surgery, clothes, shoes, you name it. She joined the group because she knew that deep down she was unhappy and she was looking for something more. You'd think Rev. Hargreaves would find this promising, right?
Instead, he went into her house and removed all her books and her pagan paraphernalia. Fine, she needs to live as a Christian for 3 weeks. But the derogatory running commentary, with the Cotton Mather classic,"You're on a trajectory to hell," made me want to jump through the screen and push him out the window. It wasn't so long ago, Reverend, that you were on that same trajectory. Her self-esteem is as fragile as spun glass; a little more compassion might be in order, perhaps? How about "You know, this is where you are, but you know you're not happy and you're looking for a better way. Let's try to find that way together - and remember, Jesus is crazy in love with you no matter what you've done and where you've been. Let me tell you a little bit about where I was 25 years ago..."
Ah, but this isn't about her finding HER way to Christianity. It's about her finding YOUR way to Christianity. Mea culpa. So the deal is that you destroy what's left of her self-esteem, then pat her on the head and tell her what to believe, then praise her when she behaves and tear her down again when she doesn't. How very David Koresh of you.
But, erm, not very Christian.
The Catholic priest seemed inoffensive enough, shyly offering a picture of Our Lady and one of the Sacred Heart (read: Jesus in drag) for them to put up in their house. The girlfriend objected when a crucifix was put up, stating her discomfort with the violent image. Fair enough. I didn't hear much else he had to say, so more on him next week. You're off the hook, Padre.
Reverend Jepson - forsooth and forshame. I expected far more out of you as a woman priest; you have to be twice as good to get half the credit. First off, WHAT was with that first look - your shirt unbuttoned to your cleavage, with your collar around your throat like you were a stripper on her way to a bachelor party. Girlfriend, the GokFather, along with THE Father, would have given you a well-deserved smack. It was disrespectful to your office and didn't do you any favours when you were telling a randy young man to stop treating women as sex objects, while YOU looked like something out of a BDSM catalogue. You cleaned up later, but your words at the abortion clinic were just...crap, really. You didn't engage with the issues, you just quoted.
To be fair, neither did anyone else. There was no meeting the seekers where they were, showing them any kind of compassion, no acknowledging that maybe the issues weren't as black and white as they pretended they were.
The greatest crime? Not paying attention to what each seeker needed. The first lesson any good minister needs to learn is to *listen* and to hear what ISN'T being said, as well as what is. There was a lot of pain, fear and anxiety in this group, and the pastors either bypassed it or steamrollered over it. Pastoral skills: F.
I understand their anxiety that Christianity seems to be in trouble, that they only have three weeks, that they're on national television. But that's no excuse for treating people as possible spiritual punters rather than the spiritual *beings* that they are.
They could do worse than taking the example of their first Teacher. For a quick start, I'd recommend the following. It should be familiar:
"When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee..."