BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Coming soon from Oxygen, the network that brings you "Bad Girls Club," "My Shopping Addiction," "Jersey Couture," and "Dance Your A** Off," is "Preachers of L.A.," and it might be the hottest new reality show to air this fall. Judging from the trailer, the show could just as well have been called "Preachers Driving Big Cars & Living in Big Houses," or "Pimped-out Preachers of La La Land."
"Preachers of L.A." is generating a huge amount of buzz. Since the program was announced, the Oxygen trailer has been viewed more than 475,000 times, its Facebook page has over 27,000 likes, and it has more than 950 Twitter followers, and garnered more than 13 million hits on Google.
It is also causing some in the evangelical community to express grave concerns about the show.
Some evangelicals are worried that the lavish lifestyles of the "Preachers of L.A." may lead to another round of Senate investigations of so-called prosperity preachers. Others are concerned that it will resurface memories of other tarnished preachers: the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart's dalliances with prostitutes; Jim and Tammy Bakker's bilking of its flock; Ted Haggard's drug and truthiness problems; Bishop Eddie Long's sexual shenanigans; and televangelist and faith-healer Benny Hinn's moral lapses.
The show has a colorful cast of compelling characters, including "the son of an evangelist who was shunned by his church after a divorce; a pastor whose church is 'full of celebrities'; a bishop whose weekly broadcast reaches 250 million homes worldwide; a pastor whose greatest obstacle comes from 'within his own family'; a bishop who was a gang member and drug addict before turning to God; and a pastor who was a pioneer of competitive skateboarding," according to ABC News.
According to Oxygen's website, the six preachers -- Pastor Jay Haizlip, Deitrick Haddon, Bishop Noel Jones, Pastor Wayne Chaney, Gibson and McClendon -- are "Known for their fiery sermons, community outreach and passionate followings, pastors [and] have become iconic, beloved, and sometimes polarizing figures in modern culture. Yet, few people have access to these larger-than-life men away from the pulpit. Until now.
"We're thrilled to introduce 'Preachers of L.A,' a rare glimpse into the lives of six high-profile pastors from Los Angeles. From pro skateboarder Pastor Jay Haizlip to Grace Jones' brother Bishop Noel Jones to Bishop Clarence McClendon, who reaches 250 million homes via international broadcast each week, Preachers of L.A. will explore the human side of these ambitious and very powerful men of faith."
"The Bible says I wish above all things that you would prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers. I believe that," declares Bishop Clarence McClendon, in the show's trailer. When challenged about this prosperity gospel, McClendon replies, "there is no other kind of Gospel." Cast member Bishop Ron Gibson, a former gang member who now ministers to 4,500 people each week at Life Church of God in Christ, says:
"P. Diddy, Jay-Z, they're not the only ones who should be driving Ferraris and living in large houses."
In early July, in a posting at thegospelcoalition.org, Joe Carter, editor of The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of "How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator," wrote "The heretical gospel of 'health and wealth' has been a staple of television for decades. But where it was once confined to obscure TV ministry channels like Trinity Broadcasting network, this new reality series will bring the prosperity gospel to a whole new audience. While it's tempting to think these gold-chain wearing, luxury car driving preachers can be easily dismissed, we shouldn't underestimate the powerful appeal of their message."
"Christianity has changed in this new millennium," David Vigil, CEO and founder of Healyourservant.com, wrote in a recent edition of charismanews.com. "The question we must all ask is, Is it for the better or for the worse? Never before has the church earned such a poor reputation as we have in this generation. It appears as if the current church in America has two gods—the god of attendance and the god of money. We are seen as superficial, arrogant, self-serving, unloving and unholy."
According to his bio accompanying his piece, Vigil, based out of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, has focused on "serv[ing] those who have been called of God and see to it that they are free to be exactly what they have been designed to be."
And Craig Parshall, the director and senior vice president and general counsel of the National Religious Broadcasters, is concerned that the lavish lifestyles displayed on "Preachers of L.A." might bring undesired IRS attention to these ministries. He is worried that an investigation of prosperity preachers, like the one conducted by Senator Charles Grassley (Rep.-Iowa) of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, might be coming down the pike.
"NRB's concern back then was, and continues to be, the surveillance of, and possible interference with, legitimate Christian ministries under the guise of cracking down on a few organizations that supposedly abuse their IRS non-profit status with lavish spending," stated Parshall in a recent NRB article.
"You cannot avoid the impression that these men are preaching and pastoring for the money," Frank Peretti, a best-selling author of Christian fiction, told ABC News.
If "Preachers of L.A." doesn't float your boat, the National Geographic Channel, will be carrying another reality-based religious program. Called "Snake Salvation," and debuting September 10, the show, according to AP/WATE (Knoxville, Tennessee), will feature Andrew Hamblin of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., and Gregory Jamie Coots of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church of Middlesboro, Ky. "Coots said the TV show will feature scenes from worship services where snakes are handled as well as church members' efforts to live out their faith daily."