Just a quick temperature taking of my social media portals confirmed what I suspected would happen when the Oxygen Network’s new reality show, Preachers of LA made its debut: there would be some very strong opinions about this show. You cannot have a reality show about Black male preachers with a Pentecostal feel and flair without also triggering a flurry of comments ranging from “I am too dignified to watch it” to “they are corrupting the Gospel message and shaming the church” and everything in between. I knew there would be some who would be quick to pull out the game board and pieces for the very popular game some Black believers play called “I’m a Better Christian Than You.”
I think the root of the backlash, and what is already tap dancing on some nerves even though only one episode has aired so far, is that the show provides a scripted glimpse into an area of Black worship that involves Black men, wealth, the Black church, wealth, ego, wealth, sex, wealth, consumerism, wealth, preaching, wealth…well, you get the point.
Any one of the above would be fodder for the cultural think tank that is Black barbershops and beauty shops, but in Preachers of LA there is also the issue of the Black church to contend with. This is why this show is problematic for some—Preachers of L.A. breaks the code, that code being the unwritten rule that many Black believers have with the Black church—that the church is to be shielded from taint at all costs. Many Black believers have an “understanding” that certain things about the church are just not up for discussion. Topics like the humanity of the men (and women) who lead our churches, the Black male/female ego in all of its delicate splendor, and the levels of sexual activity in the church can’t get a hearing because it is far easier to settle into the familiar terrain of respectability politics than it is to give any of these issues the discussion they deserve.
But we do need to talk about them. And Bishop Noel Jones, one of the preachers featured on the show, highlighted two important issues worthy of our attention, and that is the deifying of Black male pastors, and the level of sexual entitlement among some of them. Bishop Noel Jones touched upon this in an interview with syndicated radio host Sybil Wilkes of The Tom Joyner Morning Show. Wilkes queried the bishop about why he would allow cameras to film his frailties. She said, “showing the men of God as just regular guys is disturbing.” When Jones responded with, “I have always wanted to reduce the iconopathic proclivities that church people have towards their leaders. The problem is you put men on pedestals they can’t live on and at the end of the day we turn around and slaughter them, when nobody is perfect but Jesus Christ,” Wilkes retorted with “A lot of people think the preacher is God.”
And that right there friends, is a bigger problem than Minister Deitrick Haddon having a child with one woman in the midst of divorcing another, than Bishop Clarence McClendon probably unintentionally revealing that he might need to brush up on Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People after a heated exchange with Haddon, or than Bishop Ron Gibson having an enormous garage filled with so many expensive cars you’d think you were watching a Fast and the Furious movie.
The equating of the man/woman of God with God is problematic on many levels because ministry is not a monarchy…ministry is service to God and to others. Bishop Jones is right on point about that…but his segment on the show also introduced another topic worthy of discussion, and that is the matter of dating and the Black pastor. The first thing we learn about Bishop Noel Jones is that he has a female “friend.” Jones goes out of his way to tell us they are just good friends, but their body language suggests something a bit more than that is going on. Jones discussed how difficult it is to be on the road, lonely, and women are always coming up to you with numbers, pictures, emails…well, you know where I am going with this.
I do not have a problem with a single preacher dating. But the way the Jones segment was produced gave the impression that with all these women chasing after him, how could he possibly be expected to settle down with just one? That smacked of entitlement to me…as though somehow, because he is pursued (and yes, there are some women who will aggressively pursue men of the cloth) he is excused from exercising temperance. Watching the film of women with blurred faces looking like fans trying to get an autograph just reminded me once again that there needs to be some discourse about sex in the church. Is sex before marriage a sin? Can a sexually active preacher preach that? And how do we endorse safer sex practices if we’re not owning up to the sex we’re having, whether we believe it to be sinful or not?
To be Continued........
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