08.29.13

What’s Really Real about the new Reality TV Show “Preachers of L.A.”

Recently Oprah Winfrey’s television network, Oxygen, released a promotional video for a new reality TV series called, “Preachers of L.A.” The new program will follow six L.A.-area preachers: Bishops Noel Jones, Clarence McClendon, Ron M. Gibson and pastors Dietrick Haddon, Wayne Chaney, and Jay Haizlip. You can read pastor bios and the official statement from Oxygen show producers here.

Like most “reality” shows, this show attempts a behind-the-scenes gritty look at the true lives of these pastors. And like most reality shows, this show sinks to incredible levels of sin, worldliness, and depravity—all magnified by the fact that we’re viewing pastors.

If the trailer presents an accurate storyboard for the show, we can expect to see these men and their families in five settings.

Scene One

The trailer opens with a montage featuring each of the pastors (except Chaney) performing what we might think of as typical duties for preachers and pastors: preaching, praying, and evangelism. We hear Dietrich Haddon lead a congregation in a prayer of confession—“Forgive us every sin. Every sin of omission. Every sin of commission.” Next we see Jay Haizlip declaring to his audience that “Every chain can be broken! Every shackle can be broken! You’re part of the family of God!” McClendon is featured in a more intimate setting, praying one-on-one with another man with health problems. “We ask and we believe for your healing power and grace to touch his body and make it whole.” Finally, Ron Gibson appears on screen leading a man in a neighborhood through a version of the “sinner’s prayer”—“Lord Jesus (the man repeats each phrase)… forgive me for my sins… I believe in my heart… that Jesus Christ… died for my sins… in Jesus’ name… I’m saved.”

I suppose this opening scene is meant to introduce us to these men as faithful shepherds, men of faith. But it also introduces us to their particular brand of theology—one part prosperity gospel and one part American revivalism. The trailer suggests we’re about to see men who are one part Billy Graham or Billy Sunday and one part Benny Hinn or Smith Wigglesworth—which necessitates the next scene.

Scene Two

Another collage of images assault our eyes—Bentleys, classic Corvettes, Ferraris, mansions, tailored suits, golf swings, and security details. “Preachers of L.A.” will also provide a heavy dose of Robin Leach’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

They resort to comparisons with worldly entertainers and standards of success.

Now we see the men sitting before the camera and giving a defense of this incongruity. How can “men of the cloth” justify such lavish lifestyles? Just seconds into the promo video and already they’re advancing their claims that God wants you rich, healthy, and prosperous in every way.

The defenses take two forms—proof texting and comparison. McClendon and Haizlip quote biblical passages. McClendon recites , a favored text for word-faith preachers, and simply states his belief in its supposed teaching of prosperity. Haizlip alludes to Paul’s words in , where Paul defends his right as an apostle to earn his living from the ministry. Haizlip refers to the sowing and reaping metaphor and concludes that pastors “should be taken care of.”

Robinson and Jones take a different tact. They resort to comparisons with worldly entertainers and standards of success. Gibson stridently wonders why P-Diddy and Jay-Z are the only ones who can drive expensive cars or live in mansions. Jones concludes, “I like being successful.”

One suspects these preachers don’t have the same motivation Jesus had. After all, the Son of man had no place to lay His head (). From His birth the Lord’s family was poor, as proven by the poor Israelite’s offering His parents made when they dedicated Him at the Temple (see with ).

Scene 3

But before we can cross-examine their claims to a right to prosperity and wealth, we’re whisked away to another scene where we’re meant to feel the “danger” of being a pastor. What is the danger? Is it persecution? Is it angry mobs stoning them for their message and leaving them for dead? Are churches being burned down as in some parts of the world?

No. Apparently the “danger” is the very people they preach to. We’re told that being a pastor is dangerous because “people put you up on a pedestal that you can’t live on.” We’re told that pastors must be “perfect at all times.” Somehow their congregations are guilty of forgetting that “pastors are people, just like everybody else.”

But hold on. What happened to the man who “loves being successful” and the men who put themselves alongside the richest entertainers in the world and the men who claim this as a divinely given right? How difficult can life be when you amass a fortune off the hard-earned dollars of working-class and poor congregants taken in by your lavish lifestyle and twisted teaching?

The trailer does a good job of subtly blaming the victims by shifting the viewers’ attention from the false teaching and ungodly lifestyles of these preachers to those who have too high an expectation for these poor men. And just when you’re meant to feel sorry for these men…

Scene 4

We’re told just how human they are. Haddon appears on camera declaring that his life is all about truth now—the truth of a baby born out-of-wedlock, a divorce that “happened,” and the fact that “at the end of the day I’m a man.” Next comes Jones and Stacy Francis — who carried on an adulterous relationship with the divorced Jones and bore a daughter with him — in a scene where they argue about who loves the other least. Chaney makes a rare appearance, weeping about the pressures of ministry and life being too much. Then we’re taken back to Haddon and his baby’s mama. She informs Haddon—the pastor—that she doesn’t want to have another child unless or until they’re married and declares, “Don’t pastor me.”

Scene 5

The final scene shows the men back on their grind—preaching, praying, and declaring their intention to help people and change lives. They tell us they were meant to be pastors and they get their greatest joy from seeing others changed. Others….

What Are We to Make of All This?

In a comment to The Christian Post, Noel Jones responds to criticism by saying the show is “no evangelical tool”. He explains:

“My original intention was (for) it to be a tool to help bring the minds of Christian people to the place where they give some balance to who their pastors are and how they deal with their pastors,” said Jones. “The only reason I signed up was to help to reduce the iconoclastic proclivities that church members have about their pastors to the point where if they break any of the rules that the church members are breaking, they completely throw them away.”

To be clear, an “iconoclast” is someone who destroys icons. A “proclivity” is a strong tendency, a bent, a habit, usually toward something negative. What Jones intended to say is he wants to reduce the tendency to idolizing—making idols of—pastors and church leaders. That’s a good aim. There’s not much “iconoclastic proclivity” on display in these churches—just the opposite.

Nor is this show and these men’s ministries about smashing idols. They make much—an idolatrous much—of themselves, their possessions, their abilities, and their rights. They do this full-time before the congregation, telling the congregation it deserves the same “blessings” and “prosperity” they enjoy. If they would only believe more, give more, sow more. If it were about not being on pedestals they would regularly illustrate their brokenness in their preaching. They would dress modestly, drive modestly, and live modestly. The people would be able to get close enough to them to know they’re human, and they would make sure that were the case—without a television audience and whatever royalty or fame that comes from serving. It would be an everyday part of their life and ministry.

I wish congregations were in fact iconoclastic. Then men like this would have no audience in the pew and no way to fleece the sheep.

Not only is this a very bad idea for a TV show, it’s also an indication of how desperately sick certain quarters of the Church have become. To put it plainly: because of their love of money, because of their failure to be one-woman men, because of their inability to manage their homes well and the lack of proper respect they’re shown in their homes, because of their poor reputation with outsiders, these men are not biblically qualified to be preachers or pastors. They are disqualified. People should not follow them. And people should not watch this train wreck of a show.

One day we all may come to realize that “reality TV” includes very little reality. My prayers are with those real preachers of L.A. who remain faithful to our Lord and His word. In the next post we hope to bring a little attention to them.

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. (ESV)

11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? (ESV)

20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (ESV)

“But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. (ESV)

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) (ESV)

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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