There's a show coming this fall to Oxygen that is already sparking controversy. The reality program "Preachers of L.A." will follow the lavish lives and booming careers of six mega pastors -- Clarence McClendon, Deitrick Haddon (one of the show’s producers), Jay Haizlip, Noel Jones, Wayne Chaney and Ron Gibson.
A description on Oxygen’s website boasts: “Known for their fiery sermons, community outreach and passionate followings, pastors 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.”
As the official trailer reveals, the docuseries shows these men of faith “inside and outside of the church” as they shop, golf, vacation. Bishop Clarence McClendon said, “The Bible says that I wish above all things that you will prosper and be in health, even as your soul will prosper--I believe that," expressing a view that all of the preachers seem to hold in common. And when it comes to the men's lifestyles there's no shortage of controversy.
“P. Diddy, Jay-Z -- they’re not the only ones who should be driving Ferraris and living in large houses,” said Bishop Gibson, who is himself the product of a past characterized by struggle and redemption. The show’s blog gives a brief overview of Gibson’s background as a former gang member, and explains how his life was transformed by the Christian message:
“Although he was raised by a Christian mother in the Church, Ron succumbed to the pressure of the streets and became a Compton Crip by the age of sixteen. This led to a life of crime and drug addiction, until Christ changed his life. He started Life Church Of God In Christ with nine members, which has now grown to a congregation of approximately 4,000 members.”
Watch the trailer, below:
Pastor Jay Haizlip, a former pro skateboarder had wealth prior to his career as a preacher, but he longed for something more. The blog shares that Haizlip, who once found himself in the crack houses of Huntington Beach and Long Beach California, has used his ministry to reach out to individuals caught in the same hole of despair and addiction that was once his own life.
But a show of this nature is bound to generate criticism. Many feel that the MTV Cribs-style reality show gives the wrong idea about what faith can offer individuals, and that these pastors are skewing scripture to fit their own materialistic desires.
Charisma recently covered a Christian group’s movement to cancel the show on the grounds that "Preachers of L.A." offers a poor depiction of true Christian leadership, and instead serves to glorify the covetous pursuits of narcissistic individuals.
Another concern is that Preachers of L.A. will provide the IRS reason to reprimand non-profit church organizations by lifting tax exemption policies, a practice that has undergone critique in the past.
Craig Parshall, Senior Vice President & General Counsel of the National Religious Broadcasters association released a statement expressing his concern about the effect the new show could have on “legitimate Christian ministries” that would suffer as the result of an IRS crackdown on “lavish spending” among select non-profits:
“Preachers of L.A. will just add more fury to the consistent cry for an anti-clergy crackdown in Washington and more bricks to the infamous ‘wall of separation’ of Church and State,” he wrote.
Apart from their grandiose display of wealth, some of these pastors have been singled out by members of the faith community as hypocrites unworthy of the spotlight they have.
Photo Credit: Oxygen/Facebook
But what are the faith leaders hoping to convey through the show?
In the promo video, one pastor shared, “Being a pastor is very dangerous because you have to be perfect at all times.” The pressure to be a role model for thousands of congregants is significant, and every lapse is sure to welcome criticism.
Pastor Deitrick Haddon preaches that perfection is not realistic, and that even pastors are fallen people. His hope is that the show will not cause viewers to deify faith leaders, but rather that it will allow them to empathize with the struggles they face as religious teachers. Haddon, who divorced his first wife Damita in 2011, recently married Dominique McTyer, the mother of his first child.
An example of this is the scandal that surrounded Bishop Noel Jones’ alleged romance with former X-Factor contestant, Stacy Francis, who came out last year and admitted that Jones is the father of her second child.
With countless critics and rumors, along with thousands of dedicated followers and success stories that inspire hope, there is a wide-range of possibilities for which direction this show could take.
“The reason I’m involved is because I believe it is going to give people who would not come to my church...who don’t watch Christian television, another glimpse of what Christianity actually looks like from the inside,” Bishop McClendon shared in an interview on the Lift Your Voice gospel show.
If nothing else, "Preachers of L.A." is unprecedented and it promises a viewer experience that is unique to the genre that is reality television.