A lap dancer, a lesbian, and a lapsed Christian with a pregnant girlfriend are among the participants on the U.K.'s newest reality show, Make Me a Christian, where Christian leaders attempt to bring a group of unlikely candidates to the faith. The show's premise is to find out if Christianity can help repair the moral fabric of British society.
The volunteers aim to live by the teachings of the Bible for three weeks, guided by the Rev. George Hargreaves, outspoken political activist and leader of the Christian Party, and his team of mentors. The participants take Communion, get their own Bibles, receive lessons on the correct way to view sex, and learn about service in soup kitchens.
The three-episode show has been airing Sunday nights on Britain's Channel 4. The final episode airs Sunday night.
"I was pleased at first to hear that the producers were trying to make Christianity accessible to people who might not usually watch religious programming," said Charis Gibson, senior press officer for the Evangelical Alliance. After watching the first two episodes, however, she said, "I'm starting to think I would prefer spending my Sunday nights being bashed repeatedly in the face with a large, leather-bound King James Version."
Other British Christians are reacting with similar dismay.
"The program says little about relationship and a great deal about regulation," said Melvyn Cooke, minister of Gillingham Methodist Church. "While there is a slim chance it may promote conversation, by and large my view is that it is damaging to the gospel."
Even the Christians on the show are unhappy. Joanna Jepson, chaplain at the London College of Fashion and one of the mentors on the show, agrees. Describing the show as "sensational," "irresponsible," and "contrived," she took legal action to compel the producers to remove her scenes from the last episode. Those efforts were rebuffed.
Jepson said the show's producers were only interested in fostering conflict and presenting Christians as people obsessed with sex and imposing Christian standards on everyone else, according to The Daily Telegraph.
"We were encouraged to take part on the understanding that we were dealing with a group of people who genuinely wanted to embrace Christianity," she told the newspaper. "But that was clearly not the case."
The producers at Channel 4 seem to be trying to get a grip on the lifestyle of Christians, not the foundation of the faith, said Malcolm Smith, director of Youth for Christ in Gillingham.
"In doing this they have edited a warped view of evangelical Christianity," he said. "There seems to be very little mention of Jesus, and little mention of love. The program portrays that you can't be a believer or follower of Christ until you get [the rules] sorted out. Surely that goes against 'whilst we were still sinners Christ died for us.'"
Christianity isn't the producers' first stop. Channel 4 aired Make Me A Muslim last Christmas, showing seven volunteers living according to Islamic teachings for three weeks. Their homes were emptied of alcohol, pork, inappropriate clothing, and other items forbidden by Islam. They were asked to pray and fast, and the women dressed in hijabs. Muslims objected, saying the show focused on the rules instead of the faith.
Great Britain has been an incubator for many shows that successfully cross to the United States, including Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, American Idol, (called Pop Idol in the U.K.), and The Office.
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George Hargreaves runs MakeMeAChristian.com for viewers who have become interested in Christianity.