A few months ago Oxygen released a trailer for their new reality show “Preachers of LA.” From the looks of the trailer, the show was going to be all about the prosperous life of six Los Angeles-based pastors: Bishop Noel Jones, Minister Deitrick Haddon, Bishop Ron Gibson, Bishop Clarence McClendon, Pastor Jay Haizlip, and Pastor Wayne Chaney.
At first glance it looked like the men could be sized up into caricatures of pastors:
Bishop Noel Jones, the older single pastor who enjoys his toys
Minister Deitrick Haddon the young pastor and musician trying to make a comeback after a fall from grace
Bishop Ron Gibson the reformed gang member who still visits the ‘hood
Bishop Clarence McClendon the pretty boy pastor who is about his Father’s business, emphasis on “business”
Pastor Jay Haizlip the former skateboarder pastor with the sleeve tattoos to prove he was radical
Pastor Wayne Chaney the pastor who is out to prove that you can be saved, sanctified and sexual.
But in the show’s premiere, the aforementioned caricatures were less interesting than the people themselves and, I found, the categories I could place these men in are the very categories they are trying to break out of–at least on camera. The show’s premiere gave viewers just a snapshot of the pastors luxurious lives and more of a close-up at some of the issues these men face.
Deitrick Haddon is trying to break free of his past mistakes. The gospel artist and pastor is making a comeback and the show is his platform. Yet his comeback is intricately tied up in everyone’s perception of him given his failed marriage and having a child out of wedlock before the ink on his divorce papers dried. Haddon admits that he fell from grace but is working his way back to the throne of grace. In the premiere he shared an intimate moment with Dominique, his fiancée, who remarked that his comeback concert—a focal point for the premiere—was going to be their re-introduction to the kingdom. Haddon’s response to this was that they never left the kingdom, a poignant moment that could also be a word for those of us ready to put people out of the kingdom because of their mistakes, and for those of us who may have felt put out of the kingdom because of our own mistakes.
Bishop Ron Gibson is the pastor for those living in a “Gangsta’s Paradise” which is not too far-fetched since he came out of the same context. Gibson was raised in South Central, Los Angeles, was a member of the Compton Crips and was addicted to PCP before Christ changed his life. The premiere frames Gibson as a man who hasn’t forgotten where he came from and follows him as he travels between his new ‘hood and his old ‘hood to preach the gospel to those still in the gang life. Gibson also appears to be the chief earthly reconciler of the show, bringing men together across the divide as demonstrated in an altar call and his “Man Cave” gathering on the first episode. Awareness of the past and reconciliation aside, I wonder if anyone else caught Gibson telling his wife that he would bring Christ but he would also bring the law–in a form of a gun–in case things got sticky in his meeting with some young gang members. Isn’t this counterintuitive for a pastor or is it just common sense for a pastor in his position working in a gang context?
Pastor Wayne Chaney’s most poignant line on the premiere might have been, “Christians can be saved, sanctified, and sexual” but I dare to think that it is helpful as a statement for Christians who are struggling to understand the sexual side of themselves. I, for one, am hoping that he carries his talk of being “saved, sanctified, and sexual” forward in ways that open up a discussion on the topic for young and old Christians alike. It will be interesting to see how a pastor, who is clearly outspoken about this topic, lives it out in a way that others may be able to follow. I really hope it isn’t just ratings bait.
Pastor Jay Haizlip is the lone white pastor on the show. Hailing from Alabama but raised in Los Angeles, he claims the skateboard as a formative part of his life. It is on the skateboard that he experienced great highs—he is considered a pioneer in the sport of skateboarding—and lows—he was addicted to drugs for twelve years. Hitting rock bottom is what brought Haizlip to God and from the snippets that we’re shown of his ministry, it is clear that both he and his wife Christy have a heart for young people. But we also see that there is something of a fracture in their relationship, particularly in Christy balancing her role as wife, mother, and first lady. In the season to follow it seems that their issues will be dealing with marriage and identity.
Bishop Noel Jones is the lone single pastor on the show with a trip down the aisle nowhere in sight. This seems to be fine for Jones who has been divorced for 20 years and has had his fair share of women approaching him because he is in a position of power. Jones was nearly absent in the premiere episode so it is unclear what his role will be. However, it will be interesting to watch how marriage and relationships, though seemingly not a central concern for him, may play a role in his life on the show. Like every other pastor, Jones was introduced with a woman by his side, although this woman is just a friend—a friend of 15 years whom also appears single. We may witness an unfolding of the age-old question of whether men and women can be “just friends” or some big reveal of two friends finally realizing they are madly in love with each other. If we are lucky though, we will witness none of that and we’ll see who Bishop Jones is apart from a pursuit of love and the notion that a single pastor should be interested in getting married.
Bishop Clarence McClendon is last, but not least. Of all of the pastors on the show it seems that McClendon is most caught up in the trappings of a luxurious lifestyle and the persona of an entrepreneurial pastor. He has a beautiful house, a beautiful wife, beautiful children, and if people are willing to admit it and not blush, he is beautiful. But what may come to a head for him in this show is his businessman image. A hint at this was provided in the concluding minutes of the premiere when McClendon and Haddon argued about the role of a pastor when other churches request his or her presence as a guest speaker/preacher. Of this McClendon said, “If somebody comes and asks me, ‘I want you to come and speak at my men’s fellowship,’ I may not be the guy—just because you are asking me.” Haddon disagreed with McClendon and told him, in a response that I believe resonated with many, “You are always the guy to come because you have a word and God has anointed you for the people.” Unfortunately this response didn’t diffuse McClendon and he and Haddon argued until the “On this season of ‘Preachers of LA’” preview reel rolled.
Now I confess that all I have written is mere speculation about the direction of the show. I may be seeing more than is actually there and more than will actually be there, but I am hopeful. I say this as someone who saw the show’s trailer and despised what its marketed premise was—a show about prosperity gospel preachers prospering. I, like many, have questioned the motives of the network for showcasing these men and focusing any attention on their material wealth when what the world needs to see is the substance and fruit of their ministry. My hope is that throughout this season we will see more of the latter than the former and that none of us would forget that each of these men are human and prone to every temptation and mistake that we laypeople face. I think it will be interesting to watch these men flourish or fade in the spotlight and it will be just as interesting to see how believers accept or reject these men in the public sphere. I know that there are many people railing against this show, saying that it is a disgrace to the kingdom and that these pastors aren’t being true Christians and I understand almost every argument that could be waged against the show at this point. But I also think there is something to be said for taking the time to watch the show and let these men and women tell their stories, the whole story—or as much as we can glean from a season—before we judge them.
As with all reality television there will be a fair amount of editing to create situations that might not look authentic and are all for the ratings. We know that is the case for every Housewives show and yet some of us are glued to our television sets to watch what happens next–and judge of course. We have given catty women with largely fictitious lives the benefit of the doubt by way of our continued support of their shows throughout the years, now we should make the same allowance for these men of God–or at least men who perceive themselves as men of God. Men some of us actually know minister and bless some of God’s people behind the scenes regardless of whether we agree with their theology or not. We should do so all the more because our hope is that they will represent something bigger than themselves, God. And we should do so because we hope that by the end of this season, someone might come to learn something about God, particularly God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy. My hope is that people won’t walk away from this show thinking about the prosperity gospel or that God blesses those who serve God with material wealth because that is–in my view–not the best gift that God gives to those whom serve and preach the word of God. And to aspire to preach the Gospel for any reward aside from that which is beyond us is a vain hope at best. In all of this, my hope is that we might see more in these men and this show than prosperity and that our critique will leave some room for hope that a change can still come.