DESPERATE PASTORS’ WIVES?: The women of ‘The Sisterhood,’ (from left) Christina Murray, DeLana Rutherford, Tara Lewis, Ivy Couch, and Domonique Scott. (Photo courtesy of TLC)
I’ve got to admit I do watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta just about every Sunday night. And now that True Entertainment, the company that produces the raucous reality show, is producing a new reality show about Atlanta “first ladies,” I will probably be watching that show when it debuts Tuesday, Jan. 1, at 9 p.m. ET on TLC. The Sisterhood features five preachers’ wives: Christina, DeLana, Domonique, Ivy, and Tara. From the trailer many saw of the show, these preachers’ wives are not the circumspect, stand-behind-your man type of women that many would expect preachers’ wives to be. In the trailer, Domonique is a former drug addict and shows the other preachers’ wives a home in Miami where she used to smoke crack; Tara is a fitness buff with a penchant for getting tattoos and convinces Domonique to get one too; Ivy is shown getting handcuffs as a gift from her husband Mark, pastor of Emmanuel Tabernacle Church, and proceeds to share about their relationship. In fact, the trailer is so controversial that a petition to get the show off the air was initiated on change.org.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution offered more in-depth descriptions of each first lady, which proved to be very interesting. For example, while Domonique Scott, 45, is a cast member, she is no longer technically a first lady, as she and her husband Brian had to close down their church after experiencing “hard times.” The website for Good Life International Church, however, is still up.
Christina Murray, 34, is married to Anthony, pastor of Oasis Family Life Church. The couple has two teenaged daughters who apparently will provide some drama for the show, as they are “as sassy as their mother.”
DeLana Rutherford, 37, is married to Myles Rutherford, pastor of Worship with Wonders Church. Apparently, the duo utilizes music as an integral part of their ministry, as they compose their own music and perform it each Sunday.
A former member of the ’90s R&B group Xscape, Ivy Couch, 35, is using her gifts for the Lord as a wife and mother to a 1-year-old son.
Like her fellow castmate Domonique, Tara Lewis, 41, is technically not a first lady either, as her husband, Dr. Brian Lewis, lost his position at a church after only working there for six weeks. As the couple and children recently located to the metro Atlanta area from Los Angeles, the show will demonstrate how the family is adjusting to all of these life-changing events. For future reference, this is the first lady who likes to get “tatted up” and was trying to convince Domonique to follow suit in the trailer.
After watching the trailer, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after watching a pre-screening of the first episode, I began to believe this show could potentially offer something more valuable than the latest over-the-top drama featured on many if not most reality shows. I was also able to interview Domonique and Ivy, and they admit the trailer for the show even rattled them.
“As you can imagine when my husband gives me handcuffs, I have gotten, it has run the gamut from shock to disappointment to ‘I cannot believe this’ to some people saying, ‘Thank God y’all do have a healthy intimate life.’ I have gotten it all,” said Ivy.
However, Ivy noted that what was shown in the trailer does not entirely represent all of what transpired with her throughout the course of the season.
“I think the trailer does its job in terms of stirring up controversy, making people want to watch the show, but God gave me peace about it, and I love Him because He vindicates in due time,” she said. “And when I use the word ‘vindicate,’ I mean He will reveal the truth of who you are over time. I’m not ashamed of that, but the whole scene has not been revealed.”
Dominique has also been challenged by reactions she has received from clergy friends.
“A lot of my so-called friends, clergy members or whatever, they are like, ‘Why are you on there on telling people you used to smoke crack and why did you get a tattoo?’ And I’m like, ‘God still delivers, He still saves, right?’ I’m not ashamed of what God has done for me. If you are ashamed of Him before men, He will be ashamed of you before the Father, so I’m not ashamed of what God has done for me,” she said. “They also said, ‘Well, according to the Bible, you are not supposed to mark yourself.’ I said, ‘That was Old Testament.’…We are under the new covenant, which is grace and mercy.”
In the first episode, I saw some angst as Domonique and her husband Brian visit Christina and Anthony’s church, which seems to be growing and thriving, while their own church had to be shut down due to some admitted financial irresponsibility on their part and decreasing membership. I don’t know how this particular story line will develop, but I like it because Atlanta is likely the mecca for many of the country’s largest megachurches. Still, there are many, many churches in the metro Atlanta area that have not grown as much as others, and I imagine that many pastor’s wives feel what Domonique appeared to have felt in the first episode.
Domonique likened the scene in the first episode to the Bible story about the two women who birthed babies, one of whom died. The mother of the baby that died falsely accused the other woman of stealing her baby.
“What you saw in that scene was a little bit like, ‘God, if we would have just held on a little bit longer, or we would have done this a little bit different, or we would blah blah blah, we could be holding our own living child,’” she said. “But nevertheless I’m going to celebrate and be happy for you and know and trust and believe that God is going to bring this around back to me.”
Viewers will also learn more about what it is like to be first lady of an inner-city church through Ivy’s experiences. As her church is on Dill Avenue, in one of the rougher parts of the city, many of their church members are former prostitutes, drug dealers and gang leaders, according to Ivy. Domonique also shares her experiences as a former drug addict throughout the season.
“You’re going to experience the journey that you would think I had experienced 20 years ago. We are trained as Christians to forgive, and I forgave everybody, but I didn’t take care of me. I’m grateful to TLC because they allowed me to go back and just really deal with some things full frontal,” said Domonique.
While those story lines seemed to be the more redeeming parts of the show, every reality show worth its salt has to have some drama. In this episode, Domonique and Ivy seem to be at odds with fitness buff Tara, whose husband offers a unique perspective as a Jewish man who converted to Christianity before entering the ministry. There are also many discussions among the other wives and husbands about what could have possibly transpired to lead to the dismissal of Dr. Lewis only six weeks after arriving at a church. Tara is often seen quoting Scripture at every opportunity (even while working out), while the other women want to reveal who they truly are outside of their roles as first ladies.
“It’s very challenging to deal with anyone who just don’t keep it 100,” said Domonique about her relationship with Tara on the show. “You have to see yourself—good or bad—for what it is. And when you can’t, then for me it is a challenge to walk with you because of the places that God delivered me from. I don’t know no other way. I need for you to be who you are all the time. Don’t be this way today and this way tomorrow and be this way in front of Bishop Tulalala and be this way in front of Scooby Dooby Doo.”
I spoke with some other metro Atlanta first ladies to get their perspective on the controversial show. Of course, I had to start with my mother, Alice May Holness, who has been the first lady of Central Christian Church for over 30 years. After watching the trailer, my mother said, “I don’t think I will watch the show because I didn’t see anything that drew me to it, maybe because of the age difference between me and the women. Also, I don’t even really like the term ‘first lady,’ because people think that being a first lady is about being into fashion and wearing big hats. There is a lot more than glamour. You have to have genuine love for people to be a pastor’s wife. Your main goal is to be supportive of your husband. It’s an awesome responsibility, and there is a soberness that comes with it.”
Rev. Elaine Gattis, first lady and executive minister of the historic Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Stockbridge, had a similar reaction to the show after watching the trailer.
“At first glance, I can say that I did not like that the show seems to play into a culture of superficiality and materialism that many other shows such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta breeds,” said Gattis, who admitted she watches The Real Housewives of Atlanta as a guilty pleasure. “As Christian women, I was somewhat disappointed that there did not seem to be any display of class and modesty that first ladies should display, not just in front of the congregation but behind the scenes in ‘real life’ as well.”
However, Madelyn Battle, who is the first lady of the Upper Room Church in Riverdale, said she is somewhat intrigued by the show.
“The way it seems that first ladies are portrayed on this show is not realistic,” said Battle. “But I would like to see the show for myself in order to have a clearer understanding and perspective of the show. I think that to be a successful first lady, we need to look at 2 John for the biblical guidelines of what a first or elect lady should look like. She should first be a success as a good homemaker and support to her husband. She should also have healthy self-esteem, being aware of her own purpose and her own calling.”
Ivy said that people should tune in before making a snap judgment after seeing the trailer.
“From the trailer, you really don’t get a full picture of who we are as women or who we are as wives, but you do get some very, very controversial pieces of who we are,” said Ivy. “Watch and see because it’s going to be a ride. It’s wild. It’s funny. It’s tear-jerking. It’s very emotional. It’s cathartic. It’s all of these things rolled into one.”
KEEPING IT REAL: Tina Campbell and Erica Campbell attending last month's New York City premiere of their new WE tv reality series, "Mary Mary." (Photo: Newscom)
Since gospel duo Mary Mary burst on the music scene with their crossover hit “Shackles (Praise You)” in 2000, sisters Erica and Tina Campbell, who named themselves after Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, have defied what it means to be gospel artists. And now with the arrival of Mary Mary, their new reality television show, the duo have another vehicle to appeal to audiences outside of the traditional gospel realm. The show recently debuted on WE tv, the same network that brought us the runaway reality TV hit Braxton Family Values.
However, outside of being network mates and powerhouse vocalists who happen to be sisters, that is where the similarities end. There are no dead-beat husbands, sisters on the verge of alcoholism, or sisters vying for breakout status by creating catchy one-liners which all end in “dot-com.” Their show is decidedly tame in comparison — which may be both good and bad. In the first episode, we get to see what goes into being a three-time Grammy Award-winning gospel act. For Erica and Tina (who happen to be married to unrelated men with the last name Campbell — now that’s some reality TV for ya), this means balancing their career ambition while being mothers to almost eight children between them (as Tina is pregnant with her fourth child) and wives to men who also have thriving careers. Warryn Campbell, married to Erica, is Mary Mary’s producer. Teddy Campbell, Tina’s hubby, is the drummer for Jay Leno’s Tonight Show band.
The duo is invited to perform at Macy’s “Great Christmas Tree Lighting” concert (a signature event for true ATLiens) on Thanksgiving Day in Atlanta. Their high-strung manager, Mitchell Solarek, appropriately frames this invitation as a good decision professionally and bad decision personally. Nevertheless, Solarek urges them to miss spending Thanksgiving with their families in Los Angeles because the Atlanta concert would give them exposure to 100,000 people and potentially garner new fans. And Atlanta is already Mary Mary’s number one sales and media market, Solarek points out.
Erica is excited about the concert and convinces her husband to forego their traditional Thanksgiving plans with extended family and pack up their kids and head to the A on Thanksgiving. Tina, who seems to be the more outspoken sister, is not as sold on the idea because her oldest daughter, Laiah, will be performing at a glee concert during that time and her husband’s work schedule may not allow him to travel with her.
In spite of her misgivings, Tina decides to perform in Atlanta and tries to explain her decision to 8-year-old Laiah. Their conversation yields the most real and tender moment of the show, as Laiah weeps on her mother’s shoulder and chides her for missing out on important family events. In the commentary, Tina admits feeling “guilt for having this lifestyle that I have.” Still, she also admits to loving her lifestyle and wanting to find a successful balance between career and family. She takes red-eye flights to her gigs to be able to tuck her children in at night, saying, “I can function on no sleep but them kids can’t function on no love.” I found it interesting that the sisters referred to themselves as Mary Mary when it came to career and Erica and Tina when they discussed their families. They appear to understand the difference.
Another opportunity for drama presents itself in the introduction of Goo Goo, Erica and Tina’s younger sister and the group stylist. Solarek readily admits that Goo Goo would not be his first choice as stylist but is forced to accept her anyway. Styling gospel artists is a tricky endeavor, he explains, as female gospel artists are either criticized for dressing like a church lady or like Jezebel. And Solarek’s confidence in Goo Goo getting it right — not to mention her reliability — is severely tested. We also get to meet Honey, Erica and Tina’s mom, who was their first choir director at their childhood church, Evangelistic Church of God in Christ in California.
By the time they arrive in Atlanta for the concert, Tina is in funky mood and reveals her resentment at being alone in a hotel room on Thanksgiving, particularly since her family seems to be having fun without her and Erica’s family are in a hotel room down the hall. “This freaking sucks,” Tina declares. I won’t reveal what happens next, in case you still have the episode on DVR, but let’s just say the show is clearly interested in affirming the positive.
What I like about Mary Mary is that it’s a real-life depiction of successful black women, who are married to good men and trying to do right by their families. It also helps that, though we see their faith expressed, the show — like Mary Mary’s music — isn’t too churchy or preachy.
A potential problem for future episodes? I fear the show may not have enough mayhem and dysfunction to satisfy today’s reality show audiences, who have been fed a steady diet of the raucous dealings of Braxtons, Kardashians, and Real Housewives. In fact, I checked my social media sites during the airing of the premiere and was dismayed to see little to no chatter. But, then again, Mary Mary’s signature hit “Shackles (Praise You)” broke the traditional gospel mold, so maybe their show will catch fire by flipping the script on the typical reality TV formula.
New episodes will air in the show’s regular timeslot, Thursdays at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, beginning April 5. If you’ve watched the show already, what do you think?
HOTLANTA MESS: "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" is one of the Bravo networks top reality shows. The cast (from left) Kim Zolciak, NeNe Leakes, Phaedra Parks, Sheree Whitfield, Cynthia Bailey, Kandi Burruss. (Photo: Bravo)
Sex, scandal, soap operas, and reality TV …
Those were my thoughts while reading through the book of Samuel over the past few weeks. Samuel is a book filled with murder, rape, and incest. In it, we observe power plays, betrayal, and unceasing war.
The injustices against women are evident. Throughout the book, women are tossed around like property to be used and abused in whatever manner the men of power see fit. Consider King Saul’s daughter, Michal, for example. Saul gave her away to David, which was a good selection for her since the Bible reveals that she was in love with David. Saul, on the other hand, simply used her as a pawn in his endless pursuit to capture and kill David. (She was actually the second daughter Saul tried to pass off to David. Read 1 Samuel 18.)
Nevertheless, Michal married David and proved herself faithful to him. David was forced to flee from the hands of a jealous Saul. Saul takes David’s absence as an opportunity to marry Michal off to someone else (1 Sam 25:44). By this time, David had married two other women. Are the reality show themes setting in yet?
After Saul’s death on the battlefield, David demands that his wife, Michal, be returned to him. Therefore, his wife is taken and returned to David, as her second husband goes weeping behind her. Finally, her second husband is forced to return home to grieve his lost (2 Sam. 3:13-16). Don’t believe me? It’s in the book, and this is just one of many scandals recorded. The poor guy was probably Young and Restless; David was suffering through the Days of Our Lives, and Michal was probably no longer Bold and Beautiful.
Which made me think … King Solomon, David’s son, was right when he wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). Look how far we have fallen.
Then I wondered, “What is the difference between the life stories recorded in Samuel and those shown in our current reality series, say The Kardashians franchise shows, The Real Housewives of … wherever (though most of them aren’t even wives), or The Basketball Wives shows?”
Seriously, people watch these shows for their entertainment value, and Christians read the Bible for a much deeper purpose. But is that all there is to say? We could tie a nice theological bow on this, but that would not promote dialogue, would it?
This question is an important one concerning culture and the church, and maybe how we can reconcile the two. It may also lead to questions as to why it’s important to read the Old Testament. Why did God choose to include this historical book in the sacred text that is the Bible? What does he want us to learn? There are history lessons of course, worthy of the notable phrase “Those who do not know their history are destined to repeat it.” But what are the other purposes to consider? Finally, we must ask the “So what?” question.
Is our reading of the Bible too restrictive? Do we consign the Old Testament to the static role of exotic history book without considering its instructive aspects for today? Are there insights in the text to be found about responding to the hot messes in our own families and communities? What do these messes reveal about God? What do they teach us about ourselves?
Here’s to seeing God’s Word in a new light, and taking it at least as seriously as we do NeNe’s latest outburst or Kim K.’s 72-day nuptials.
"Jersey Shore" t-shirts for sale in Seaside Heights, New Jersey
Here at the Jersey Shore, we’re none too fond of the way MTV’s reality show “Jersey Shore” portrays our generally bucolic region as a mecca for teenage and young adult hedonism. Now, along comes the Parents Television Council (PTC) with a report that says its portrayals of females, along with those on the network’s other youth-oriented reality shows, are overwhelmingly negative.
PTC found that “only 21.4 percent of language about or directed at females was positive” and only “24 percent of what females said about themselves was positive across all shows” (“Jersey Shore,” “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom 2,” “The Real World“). Additionally, conversations about sex on these shows rarely included talk of virginity (0.2%), contraceptives (1.4%) and STDs (2%).
On one level, this news is unsurprising. It’s what we’ve come to expect from the network and from this genre of television. But two of the shows, “Teen Mom 2” and “ and “16 and Pregnant” have been conditionally lauded by feminists like Slate editor Jessica Grose.
In a 2010 blog post, Grose said, “There is actually data to support the notion that a dramatic, narrative show like ‘16 and Pregnant’ could make adolescent girls more likely to use contraception,” and in a June 2011 post, she quoted data that said watching these shows makes people more likely to support legal abortion.
“For all the pro-choicers out there who are still complaining that the fecund high schoolers of ‘16 and Pregnant’ and ‘Teen Mom’ glamorize teen pregnancy—you should stop complaining. The elevation of the stars of these shows might help abortion remain legal for future generations,” Grose concluded, in what sounded to me like a slap in the face to both teen moms and their children.
The Jersey Shore "As Seen on MTV"
The popularity of reality television among young viewers has “generated greater interest among researchers and critics” with both groups “working to comprehend viewer motivations for watching as well as the impact of a genre rooted in stereotypical representations of gender and class, simplistic portrayals of social problems, and a disproportionate appeal to young audiences,” PTC’s report said.
Karen Dill, Director of the Media Psychology Doctoral Program at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California, is quoted as saying the stories media tells “make up much of our shared cultural ideals and therefore shape how boys and girls [feel] about themselves and their peers.”
In her 2010 post, Grose wisely noted the mixed message MTV communicates with its reality TV lineup.
“While MTV aims to send a good message with earnest shows about teen motherhood, the message gets muddled when it is in the context of the network’s other reality programming. Commercials for the current season of ’16’s’ sister show, ‘Teen Mom,’ ran around the same time as the reality juggernaut ‘Jersey Shore,’ which depicted consequence-free carousing. Why, a teenager may wonder, is [’16 and Pregnant’] Jenelle’s beach-bunny act so terrible when it looks like Snooki has so much fun behaving in a similar manner?”
Why indeed? And why, I wonder, do some feminists offer even conditional support for shows that portray young women and young mothers in such a negative light?
What do you think?
Is there anything redemptive to be found amidst MTV’s mixed messages or is its reality TV line-up pure trash?
PLAYING LOOSE IN ATLANTA: "Single Ladies" cast members Charity Shea, Stacey Dash, and LisaRaye McCoy portray a group of friends whose judgment is often questionable.
If you sit around a group of black women long enough, you’ll quickly see that honesty is the hallmark of relationship in African American culture. A black woman won’t just tell her friend whether or not a new pair of jeans is flattering—she’ll give unsolicited commentary on the shoes, top, and earrings too. And while she’s at it, she’ll tell you exactly why she thinks you should drop that new guy you’re seeing and which ingredient was missing from your chili at the church potluck. It’s just the way things are. Black women are the originators of “keepin’ it real.”
Which is why I’m so confused and disappointed by the depiction of black women on the new scripted drama Single Ladies on VH1. Since when did black women become so … well, fake?
I first caught Single Ladies a couple of weekends back with my fiancé during a replay of the show’s two-hour premiere. At the time we weren’t hip to the fact that the show was originally produced by Queen Latifah as a film, but promptly snatched up by VH1 as a 10-episode series. So we sat there every 30 minutes of those two hours waiting for the credits to roll, rejoicing that one of our favorite actresses, Stacey Dash, was getting work again, yet wondering why she was playing a character nearly half her age and definitely half her intelligence on TV.
If you haven’t seen Single Ladies, the title no doubt a nod to Beyoncé, the show is like an old school CW-network hybrid of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Sex and the City—except it’s on VH1, the network that brought us Flavor of Love starring Flavor Flav. The Washington Postcalled the series “embarrassing” and meant “for people who found Sex and the City too quick-witted and The Wendy Williams Show too intellectually stimulating” while The Root criticized the show for its lack of drama, calling it “knock-you-over-the-head obvious.” And while I agree with their critiques, my uneasiness with the show stems mainly from the Grand Canyon-sized hole in its moral center.
Like the pervasive urban pseudo-reality shows on TV today, and as with the show’s older mainstream sister Sex and the City, this new drama has the same inexcusable moral confusion that allows poor decision-making to be applauded as female independence. And while the show should be commended for giving work to black actresses like Stacey Dash and LisaRaye McCoy, who are often lost in the tiny creative crevice between our staple powerhouses like Angela Bassett and bombshell newcomers like Meagan Good, this urban soap does no favors for black culture by ignoring the very basic nature of what black female friendship involves—namely honesty and accountability. And beyond the cultural misrepresentation, the plotlines propagate an unhealthy example of what it means to be a loyal friend.
From the first episode of Single Ladies we see April (Charity Shea) cheat on her husband with the mayor, while Val (Dash) sleeps with two men within a short window leading to an almost-pregnancy, and Keisha (McCoy) dances in a rap video while stealing jewelry from the set. In each circumstance, the ladies cheer one another on in their bad behavior, covering, supporting, and empathizing with the consequences of their friends’ actions, but not holding them accountable to the role they played in bringing about their negative circumstances.
Maybe it’s a stereotype, but where is the tell-it-like-it-is and oh-no-she-didn’t we have come to expect as a basic tenet of how black women interact? For a group of supposedly best friends, how is it that no one is speaking the truth?
To the Galatians, Paul taught that tender rebuke is an appropriate response to sinful behavior in those we love. He wrote, “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. … Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” So it would seem that both culturally and spiritually, authentic friendship is filled with a healthy level of moral accountability.
VH1’s Single Ladies shows women co-signing on the bad behavior of those they love for the sake of being “ride or die” friends, but it doesn’t ring true. In a time when people are obsessed with reality TV, these fake friendships likely won’t make the ratings to stay on the air.