On October 9, 2013, the Oxygen network premiered its new reality show (aka “docu-series”) “Preachers of LA” to mixed reviews. Social media sites were abuzz leading up to, during, and after the airing of the debut episode. The show has quickly become fodder for much social commentary on The Church in general and The Black Church in particular (considering that all but one of the pastors featured on the show is African American).
Preachers of LA features six high-profile, successful pastors in the Los Angeles area: Bishop Noel Jones, Bishop Ron Gibson, Bishop Clarence McClendon (not pictured above), Pastor Jay Haizlip, Pastor Wayne Chaney, and Minister Deitrick Haddon. There are many who challenge the opulence flaunted by the show’s “stars” and the so-called “fight” scene where two of the pastors engage in a verbal confrontation. It is not my intent to join the many voices who have excoriated the show for these and many other perceived transgressions. I think that has already been done and some have done it very well. (I highly recommend you read Rahiel Tesfamariam’s blog entitled “Pastors Gone Wild”.)
What struck me while watching the show (yes, I did tune in) was the passionate responses the show garnered on social media; so much so that I posted the following on my Twitter timeline:
The responses to my tweet were vast and varied – ranging from “Isn’t that so 100% true” to others telling me to “have a sit [sic]”. However, the most common response had to do with pointing out that Scandal is a fictional, scripted show while Preachers of LA is reality. In fact, several people reminded me of the age-old adage that you can’t compare “apples to oranges”.
Before we even address the fact that most “reality” shows employ writers and are scripted, let me first say that I never fully understood or agreed with the maxim that you can’t compare apples to oranges. Let’s see…they’re both fruit, they both contain vitamin C, they both grow on trees, etc. We compare “apples to oranges” all the time. We compare cats to dogs, men to women, and Republicans to Democrats. So you see, apples can be compared to oranges.
However, the persons who gave this response missed the whole point of my tweet. I wasn’t comparing the two shows, rather I was comparing our REACTION to the two shows. The shows are not the units of analysis – we are. (Notice, I said “we”.) If we wanted to compare the two shows, for my “apples and oranges” people, both shows discuss infidelity, both shows display the trappings of wealth, and both shows depict tense and heated arguments. Now, of course there are differences. That is undeniable. The question is why are so many of us are highly entertained by one and and highly enraged by the other?
Why is it that many of us who call ourselves Christians can celebrate a “fictional” character actively engaged in an affair with a married man. The character may be fictional, but the character flaw is certainly real. Many of the “apples and oranges” crowd likely also celebrate other “reality” shows that depict degradation and debauchery, but still find it far too easy to crucify the six men on Preachers of LA. Again, the question is why?
I am certainly included in this group. I tweeted that while I respect the ministries of the men on Preachers of LA, ultimately, I think this show will do more damage than good. (Almost on cue, one of the shows stars, Bishop Clarence McClendon, released a “damage control” video online explaining his part in the show.) My goal is not to defend, nor to denigrate the show, nor the men (and women) featured in it. My goal is to get each of us (myself included) to take a look in the mirror and understand why we judge some things and people harshly and why we give other things and people a pass.
As I stated immediately following the show’s airing, a show like Preachers of LA wouldn’t have been made if they didn’t think that people would watch it. Perhaps the preachers aren’t the problem – maybe we all are. We all to some extent are culpable for the celebrity culture that permeates our parishes. Collectively, we are guilty of putting some people on a pedestal and tearing others down. That says more about us than it does them.
There is perhaps no word in the English language that church people hate to hear more than “hypocrite” (well, except maybe “tithing” ). However, I believe that it is the height of hypocrisy for us (myself included) to excoriate sin on one show and excuse it on another – whether it is deemed as “fictional” or not. Perhaps the real scandal doesn’t lie with the persons who are on the screen, but with those of us who are on the couch watching them.
It may not be good to compare these apples and oranges, but they are all fruit from a poisonous tree – and we all know what happened the last time someone ate fruit from the wrong tree!
P.S. The breakout stars of the debut episode of Preachers of LA for me were the Gibsons. They modeled a great balance between life, love and ministry. Mrs. Gibson gave wise, biblical counsel to her husband when she admonished him to take his ought with Deitrick Haddon directly to him as a brother instead of bringing it up in front of a group of people. Bishop Gibson was also shown driving his cherry red low-rider into the ‘hood to reach out to some gang bangers. He said that he sees himself like Jesus going back into Nazareth. Of course, I don’t ever recall Jesus rolling through the Southeast Nazareth in a low-rider sitting on dubs – but still. It was a great ministry moment (one of the few on the show).
Bishop Gibson preached at our church’s holy convocation several years ago and said a word that could have easily ended up in one of Dave Chappelle’s “When Keepin’ It Real Goes Wrong” sketches. Nevertheless, I gained newfound respect for him and his ministry as a result of the debut episode. Here’s hoping that somehow, the show finds a way to do more of the same moving forward.
Anyway, I’ve gotta go set my DVR…Scandal comes on tonight