Sunday, March 9, 2014, 730/930/1130AM – Preacher
Women’s Emphasis Month
Friendship Missionary Baptist Church
Sunday, March 16, 2014, 11AM – Preacher
Mt. Zion Baptist Church
Sunday, March 30, 2014, 530PM – Preacher
Evening Vespers Service
Morehouse College – King Chapel
Thursday, April 3, 2014 – Panelist
“Cultural Codings in Black Religious Thought”
Society for the Study of Black Religion
Sunday, April 27, 2014, 11AM – Preacher
Monument of Faith Church
Wednesday, April 30 – Friday, May 2, 2014 – Revivalist
Greensboro Cluster Revival
Sunday, May 18, 1030AM – Preacher
Oakdale Covenant Church
Sunday, June 22, 11AM – Preacher
Preachers & Pumpkins in LA
While reading a bedtime story to my 4-year old nephew the other night, I had a revelation. Cinderella, Snow White, and the Frog Prince have absolutely nothing on the modern-day tales being told by the likes of the so-called Preachers of LA.
Oxygen’s newest series claims to reveal the interior lives of six Los Angeles-based male megapastors. Five of the six preachers are black men whose charismatic ministries and high-end, celebrity-like lifestyles have impressed the lives of thousands of believers with a “get money” gospel that is more reminiscent of a popular 1990s rap anthem, than resonant with the Christ of 1st century Palestine.
The Preachers of LA suckles a peculiar and longstanding Western voyeuristic compulsion to “watch” black bodies be religious, while shamelessly implicating Jesus as the ultimate provocation for black performance as capitalist acquisition and uninterrogated gender bias in the church. Although touted as “reality TV,” an oxymoron par excellence, this series is no more than a televised faith fable that, for the sake of ratings, employs black men to peddle money, cars, and clothes as the harbingers of faith.
The impulse to watch black religion is nothing new. In fact, Oxygen is really on to something. In my capacity as the assistant minister of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, I was constantly exposed to the gaze of those who wanted to see the “gospel,” and who would travel to Harlem Sunday after Sunday, from thousands of miles away. They line up outdoors in the dead of winter and the sizzle of summer because their swell was too great to accommodate in the sanctuary all at once.
People would wait sometimes for hours on end for the chance to glimpse for themselves a live take of what they saw on TV, the presumed drivel of the black sacred. Sure, some came to experience worship; but many others came to experience the frenzy, the boisterous, the unruly, the mad; and when the facts of black worship did not align with the image in their minds, many would depart with barely a word.
This historical and still very present presumption of the irrationality of black worship is what in many ways helped to give birth to the “invisible institution,” the black church, born in the brush arbors of the American South, beyond the gaze of the arbiters of power.
The innards of black religion and the black church were neither available for public consumption nor display, but functioned as an ebony holy of holies, a sacred space wherein the socially marginalized and dispossessed could come to know a God of mercy and love, apart from the watchful eye of those who exploited their bodies and labor.
McClendon, Haddon, Gibson, Chaney, and Jones have pronounced on several occasions that the visibility of the show itself is an exercise of faith, an opportunity for evangelism, a chance to demonstrate the saving love of God in households across the nation.
But with JJ, Bishop Jones’ beloved dog, tenderly tucked under his arm in Paris Hiltonesque fashion, Minister Haddon’s perplexing recitation of his theological sophistication honed in his assumption of an honorary degree granted from an unaccredited institution, Bishop McClendon’s macho preserved by non-negotiable male travel companions who give evidence of his anointing, and Bishop Gibson’s absurd “shacking” anxiety, it appears that these preachers are merely performing tragic and laughable choreography that has nothing at all to do with saving souls, but perhaps everything to do with selling them.
What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his soul? Mark 8:36
No – - – there was nothing right or righteous about the most recent “Preachers” episode that more than anything else cloaked the complexity of black church women’s identity with a shroud of simple-mindedness; a simplicity so entrenched that it would dare kiss a frog and really think that it would turn into a prince.
In my book, Toward a Womanist Ethic of Incarnation: Black Bodies, the Black Church, and the Council of Chalcedon, I have dealt rigorously with the theological and social implications of afro-patriarchy and afro-misogyny in the church. At this point, the presumption of 21st century pastoral and preaching ministry as a male and heteronormative phenomenon is just tiresome. The flaunting of the role of “first lady” as the most significant position for a woman in the church is merely aggravating.
But what is downright infuriating is the fact that the wives and women of the Preachers of LA are paraded as desperate, lost, helpless, and self-negating. They are positioned as haute models of Christian womanhood but only insofar as their moral agency is effected in service to the man of God, indeed, the knight in shining armor, who chose them as a partner, married or otherwise.
I could hardly believe that while playing a game of chess and discussing the direction of their long-term friendship, Bishop Jones actually offered a word of counsel to Loretta, a woman who is obviously desperate for his affections and pressing for his hand in marriage. He subversively stated that the only role of the Queen is to protect the King.
I guess Jones and friends forgot that the first preachers were women, the first deacon was a woman, and many of the first churches in the ancient world were started in the homes of women who did not “protect” the King, but who proclaimed a new and coming kingdom full… and free.
Needless to say, while watching the first episode I almost choked on my own breath.
But thank God that during a peaceful story time moment with my nephew I was reminded that even in the best of fairy tales, the clock always strikes twelve and the golden carriage is seen for what it really is…a big, old pumpkin.
HAVE DR. EBONI MARSHALL TURMAN
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