– “Preachers of L.A.” documents the romantic lives of several prominent Los Angeles pastors along with the challenges of their “Christian leadership” and not unsubstantial bling. (Photo credit: Oxygen)
What do pregnant sixteen-year-olds, New York mob wives, Jersey Shore “guidos”, the Amish mafia, moonshiners, and Christian pastors have in common? Two words: Reality TV. Yes, even Christian pastors will be getting their own reality TV show this fall when “Preachers of L.A.” hits the airwaves on Oxygen. After the trailer hit the Internet, the show was roundly condemned, with one Christian group starting a petition to get it off the air.
It’d be difficult to summarize everything that appears to be wrong with the show, even with only three minutes of footage in the trailer. The major sticking point is that the six ‘Preachers of L.A.’ the show decided to highlight all fit a specific pattern; they’re all charismatic mega-church pastors who unabashedly defend living in mansions and driving sports cars. “P. Diddy, Jay-Z — they’re not the only ones who should be driving Ferraris and living in large houses,” says one pastor. Scenes from the trailer show the pastors driving sports cars, wearing gold watches, walking across dance clubs and their mansions, being escorted by security guards with earpieces, hitting the golf courses… you know, rich people stuff. Already, atheists have begun to use the show to attack Christianity. “‘Preachers of L.A.’ Only the Latest Display of Hypocrisy Within the Christian Church” declares one headline on Patheos’ Atheist Channel.
“Preachers of L.A.” must be recognized as part of a greater trend in reality TV. It’s been well-documented that in the rather uninspired world of reality television, producers seize upon common themes and subject matter and produce multiple shows based on the that subject matter in a short period of time. Previous trends include “rednecks” (Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, Swamp People, Hillbilly Handfishing, Rocket City Rednecks) the Amish (Breaking Amish, Vanilla Ice Goes Amish, Amish Mafia, Amish in the City), Italians from New Jersey (Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of New Jersey, Snooki and JWoww, Jerseylicious), Gypsies (American Gypsies, My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, Gypsy Sisters), and pregnant teenagers (16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, My Teen is Pregnant and So am I).
Reality TV has struck upon what Barnum and Bailey realized over a century ago; put a bunch of “freaks” in a box and people will line up to gawk at them. These reality shows are successful because they fed into their audience’s sense of superiority over the Other. The Amish are weird and backwards, “guidos” and rednecks are stupid and uneducated, gypsies are violent and conniving, pregnant teenagers are trashy and promiscuous. Unfortunately, it appears that reality TV stations are trying to make Christians, especially the families of pastors, the next freak show.
Earlier this year, TLC premiered its new reality TV show “The Sisterhood,” a look at the wives of preachers in the Atlanta area. The show presented a fair and thought-provoking glimpse into the duties and responsibilities that come with being a church’s first lady. Ha! Just kidding, it was complete trash. One episode had a pastor buying his wife handcuffs they could use during sex. Another featured a pastor’s wife taking shots. “I am on a Bachelorette’s weekend,” she said, “I’m expecting to see naked men, partying, clubbing…” In one interview after the show was cancelled, a cast member expressed her disappointment in what the show turned out to be: “The premiere episode one was so way off base for those professing to be Christians and the sensationalized sexual content so blatant, the arguments so tense and the doctrinal differences so outlandish…”
Also this year, Lifetime produced “Preachers’ Daughters,” a reality show about three rebellious hard-drinking, pot smoking daughters of preachers. In one episode, one of the daughters tells her pastor father that she wants to be a porn star one day. Another has to tell her parents that she’s pregnant, but has had sex with so many partners she doesn’t know the baby’s paternity. Lifetime also filmed a pilot called “Preachers’ Wives”, although it appears the show never got past one episode. I was unable to find any links to watch the show, but comments from those who did were almost universally negative. “These women are shallow, materialistic and manipulative,” said one commentator, “They aspire to be millionaires on the back of their congregations.”
The major thrust of all these shows is hard to miss: Christian pastors and their families are hypocritical, catty egotists who are no better than the Kardashians. Perhaps I’m naïve in thinking there are more than fifteen people in America who still think that reality TV is “real.” In any case, Christians should react to these shows by proving them wrong, by acting as witnesses to Christ in our daily lives, repudiating sin, and preaching through our kindness. But above all, my hope is that being unfairly targeted will move Christians to reject all shows that denigrate groups of people just to feed into viewers’ pride.