The recent release of a three-minute video teaser of the show featuring Bishop Noel Jones, Bishop Clarence McClendon, Pastor Jay Haizlip, Pastor Wayne Chaney, Pastor Ron Gibson and Grammy-nominated gospel recording artist/preacher Deitrick Haddon, already has the internet buzzing, with viewers mixed on what works in reality TV when it comes to the church.
“We are called to be separate from the world,” commented one churchgoer. “It is okay to be transparent, but this is giving the enemy ammunition to be used against them and ultimately the church of God. Where do you draw the line?”
Michael H. Cottman of Black America Web observes, “Like many viewers, I’ll watch the show with an open mind and see what revelations are presented and hope—and pray —that the show isn’t a mess. Some say the concept of a show about black pastors is “madness”…
Earlier this year, TLC announced the cancellation of “The Sisterhood” after it triggered a great deal of backlash from Christian audiences around the country. Lifetime fared no better with the airing of their “Preacher’s Wives” pilot in May, which executives opted not to green light. “Preacher’s Daughters,” on the other hand, was picked up for a second season on Lifetime; BET is experiencing success with “The Sheards” and this fall, “Mary Mary” will return to WeTV for a third season.
Producers Holly Davis-Carter and Lemuel Plumber—who have teamed with Oxygen to air the docu-series—believe they can offer a platform of messages that inspire and the opportunity to reach a more mainstream audience with the gospel.
“To show,” Carter says, “the human side of these people who have so often been viewed as untouchable in the hopes they can lead others to their own truth.
“There is a risk as it’s definitely going to engage conversation,” Carter acknowledges. “But this show doesn’t mean to expose, we want to expand. It will also show how ministry works—not just in the pulpits, but in the streets, in the crackhouses…at a skate park. What Oxygen committed to do was to give us the opportunity to really show them in ministry as well as them in life.”
“Some are going to watch to see what calamities we bring on ourselves,” states Bishop Noel Jones, senior pastor of City Of Refuge and an in-demand speaker on today’s religious circuit. “Some are going to watch because they genuinely believe we need to be protected and they’re going to order their prayers. Others are going to watch because they’re nosy and want to see how far we go and how open we will be. Others are going to look for a message.
“The whole church is nervous as it relates to my doing a reality show because everybody seems to be so ridiculous on a reality show, but I’m not about to embarrass anybody. I’m in the business of saving souls. People get hung up on all different kinds of things. I’m doing this show because I believe it’s necessary for people to realize that preachers are human beings. It’s either the Bible is a book of fantasia we read to our children and pastors operate as some sort of mystical Harry Potter of sorts, or it’s real life.”
For Bishop Clarence McClendon of the Full Harvest International Church, the notion of a Christian doing a reality show is not all that foreign.
“If you read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, eighty percent of the ministry we see in Jesus was not public discourse to masses, it was individual encounters with single people. The gospels are a reality presentation of the person of Jesus. And at least the undercurrent of what is attempting to be done here is to present men of God in real life.”
Aside from being invited into their lavish homes, the show will key in on their ministry outreach, from witnessing on the streets of South Central and Orange County to feeding people at their churches and helping ex-convicts.
More importantly, as pointed out by Lavette Gibson, wife of Pastor Ron Gibson, “They are men that love the Lord, but men with issues and how they resolve those issues through the Lord, through the word.”
Such is the case with Jones’ brief stint with alcoholism, with Haddon’s having child outside of wedlock and Gibson and her husband of 31 years’ quest for a child.
“My husband is a living testimony that you might get stuck, messed up, but through Christ you can be redeemed and have a good, full life,” says Gibson, referring to her husband’s past as a drug addict and one time gang-banger on the streets of Compton and Watts. “It’s one thing to say it, but through the show, they will see it and if they see somebody doing it, maybe they’ll say, ‘I can do it.’”
Prayer was a huge part of Pastor Jay Haizlip’s decision to join the cast.
“I’ve got a lot of years in the ministry,” he says. “I’ve got a good track record behind me, there’s no crazy stuff in my life, when you put that many years that have been put into developing your image your reputation your character, and you kind of put it into somebody else’s hands, that’s a huge risk and I didn’t know these people prior to this.”
What he did know was reality TV. In 2008, he was featured in The Uprising, a reality TV show on INSP centering on how he used his background as a professional skateboarder to spread the gospel.
While the two shows were on entirely different platforms, Haizlip—who just planted his second campus and is about to plant a third— doesn’t believe it coincidental that the show landed on Oxygen.
“Oxygen implies breath and I believe what God is going to do through this show will be a breath of fresh air,” says Haizlip. “People’s point of reference to six pastors doing something like this on the onset may not be a correct point of reference, but as they watch it unfold, the proof will be in the pudding. That it will be edited and play out in such a way that people genuinely see Jesus through all of us.”
One of the pioneering greats of competitive skateboarding, the Gadsden, Alabama native collected big trophies, bigger paychecks and high-end sponsors, before becoming addicted to drugs. Today, as Senior Pastor of The Sanctuary of Huntington Beach, Haizlip reaches out to troubled youth, finding them in prisons, skate parks and the same crack houses he once shot dope in.
In a shifting culture, Wayne Chaney feels that television might be the best way to begin to tell his story.
“At first,” reports Chaney, “I thought ‘Who would want to watch pastors?’ until I began to hear the angles, the stories unfold, the personalities that were going to be part of it. And after I saw the sizzle reel I realized this could be one of the hottest shows on television.”
At 34, Chaney—who pastors one of the leading African American congregations in Long Beach, Antioch Baptist Church— is the youngest.
“If you look at the personalities on the show,” he says, “they’re not your stereotypical pastors. They have charismatic personalities and have had a great deal of success. From the outside looking in, you can think that they played on that a bit to come up with the concept of rock star pastors, but it does not mean that any of us are more valuable in the body of Christ than the congregants we serve and I think they’re taking that angle.”
Chaney had a great deal of reason to pause. His wife, Myesha, was part of Lifetime TV’s “Preacher’s Wives” pilot cast, whose pilot on TV earlier this year, was lamblasted by viewers.
“I should get my doctorate in reality TV—after what I went through with my wife,’ Chaney reveals. “We got calls from around the country. And most of the women on the show—at least from the footage I saw—represented themselves well, but by the time they edited it, they butchered those ladies. So I was nervous as it relates to trusting folks with the final edit.”
TV is not new to any of them as most already televise their services. McClendon’s weekly international broadcast is available in 250 million homes worldwide.
“With modern technology, so many things can be taken out of context abd editorialized to make it sound like you said or did something you didn’t and all too often in today’s modern culture, you don’t have to be guilty, just accused,” McClendon notes. “So the issue of managing what it is that we do is important.”
To that end, Jones and the other preachers will rely on producers/creators Holly Davis-Carter and Lemuel Plumber.
Says Jones of Carter, “She grew up among and around preachers, and she understands the significance and the importance of preaching and the place of preachers in the lives of people.’
Carter, who holds a doctorate of divinity with an emphasis on marketplace ministry, is the daughter of a pastor and an industry veteran in faith and inspirational development and programming. The L.A. native—who also produces “The Sheard’s” and “106 & Gospel,” came up with the idea to do the show a year and a half ago and if successful, hopes to launch similar formats in other cities.
“My personal ministry and journey has always been to merge the sacred and the secular—giving a platform of messages of inspiration and the opportunity to speak to a more mainstream audience. To show the human side of these people who have so often been viewed as untouchable in the hopes they can lead others to their own truth.”
Partner Lemuel Plumber (“The Sheard’s”, “Vindicated”) also hails from this faith-based world, the son of a pastor, who owned Christian network stations.
“We understand the world and they felt really comfortable with our vision,” Plumber adds. “Obviously we’re going to be very transparent and show these guys lives, but we’re respectful.”
Pastor Ron Gibson attributes the failure of shows like “The Sisterhood” to the absence of Christian producers.
“They were looking at the church from the outside in,” Gibson observes. “We have producers who are looking from the inside out at our plight and our lifestyle and they’re guarding us to see that we don’t get exploited like they did.”
For Gibson, who’s watched everything from “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” to “Love & Hip Hop,” it’s all about changing the perception of the church and pastors.
At first, reluctant to do a reality show (“I wasn’t going to allow anyone to parody or make fun of me”), Gibson says, “Young people don’t like the way some of us preachers package Jesus. I believe this is a God thing—an opportunity for me to show the world that you can be a man of God and be blessed.”
That the show may one day compete with the reality shows he’s watched is no more than an interesting dichotomy.
“I went from sleeping from a park bench in Pershing Square in downtown L.A. to Park Avenue. That’s how life is,” says Gibson, who preaches to over 4,000 people each week his Riverside, Ca-based, Life Church of God in Christ.
“I’ve always been a transparent person,” he says, “but now that I’ve matured, I know how to filter my words. I really want to win the lost by every available means and encourage those who are discouraged about church.
Adds wife Lavette, “If we’re prayerful and watchful, we can let this be a very positive thing and reach people who will watch the “Kardashians” or “Bad Girls”—people who would never watch the church channel.”
If early response is any indication, the biggest criticism will target their lavish lifestyles. In the teaser reel, Gibson is shown in a Ferrari and McClendon is posed next to his Bentley in front of his Bel Air mansion. Yet, for Gibson, “Prosperity simply means having control over your circumstances. In my case, it was drug addiction, so I’m trying to convey that Jesus Christ makes the difference in our lives.”
Balancing the material may be a fine line for Carter and Plumber.
“We’re staying away from anything that feels salacious because that’s not this show. You have to be careful because you want them to be able to maintain their credibility in the pulpit, their credibility as men of God.”
That may prove to be challenging given a spotlight on the often provocative lives they lead away from the pulpit. Last year, unconfirmed reports of Jones dating actress Lisa Raye went viral.
The divorced father of three is the only single pastor of the six and his dating life will be prominently featured, while Jones’ famed sister, Grace Jones, is also expected to make an appearance.
In the words of Deitrick Haddon, the gospel recording artist who relocated to Los Angeles after having pastored a church in Detroit and is going to establish a church in early 2014, “You can’t have a testimony without a test”.
Over the last year, he has been embroiled in controversy following his divorce from gospel singer, Damita Haddon.
“It was a high profile marriage so it was a high profile breakup,” states Haddon, who will marry for the second time later this month. “And then on top of that, I messed around and had sex and with sex comes babies.
“I knew when the saints found out they were going to put me on the cross, but by the time my church found out, our baby was eight months and God had already dealt with me. Religious people will say ‘that’s a child of your sin’, but my child is no mistake. The sex was a mistake, but my child is a blessing.”
Haddon will no doubt also share the success and challenges of his foray into film, with two movies under his belt and a third in the making. Add to that his gospel recording career, which is in full swing as well
“All the aspects of who I am is going to be in this show—whether it be the films or the music most people know me by, but peaching is what I love to so. The music took me around the world, but I preached my first sermon when I was eleven years old.”
And make no mistake, there will be a lot of preaching on the show that sparked a bidding war between five to six cable networks.
“There are elements of what I do that are sacred…they’re intimate,” McClendon reports. “I’m not going to allow them to see my prayer time and study time but if they follow me, they’re going to see people coming to Jesus.”