They might as well just rename the show, “Celebrity Christianity” instead of Preachers of L.A.
Because this is the definition of celebrity values corrupting the very core of the gospel to the degree that it is really no gospel at all.
In my previous post on the topic, I argued that despite the spiritual claims and the apparent concern for compassion causes among many participating in this trend, Celebrity Christianity is really a counterfeit. While supposedly seeking to help disadvantaged people, it takes advantage of them in order to enrich ministries/leaders and, in the process, only widens the systemic gap between the privileged and the underprivileged, the haves and the have nots. It is brazenly materialistic, calling on the marks of celebrity success – fame and excessive wealth/lifestyles – as proof of the favor of God and the ultimate goal of every Christian’s life. Thus, it perpetuates cycles of poverty by applying the band-aid of material wealth to the leaders and some privileged members while so many remain impoverished and struggling. And it lifts ministries/leaders into exceptional arrogance toward those who might try to bring reform and equity.
Really, Preachers of L.A. certifies the phenomenon, at least in the Pentecostal/charismatic evangelical church in America. That’s not to say that the pastors and churches profiled in the show are representative of most Pentecostal/charismatic churches; but there is important overlap here. While well-known younger charismatic pastors and churches try to distance themselves from the blatant “prosperity gospel” of their forebears (and perhaps of the churches in Preachers), they struggle to make a complete break. They are still connected to the same system, still products of the same excessive, materialistic culture.
A scene toward the end of the first episode demonstrated this. Dietrick Haddon, the young gospel singer and preacher who seems to be the most problematic character at the beginning, with a bit of scandal on his pastoral resume, gets into a heated debate with the older prosperity gospel superstar Bishop Clarence McClendon. At one point, Dietrick interrogates the good Bishop on why he charges a fee to minister to churches, including payment for his “entourage,” when so many churches can’t afford it, and the gospel is supposed to be free, and this kind of thing is why the church is in such bad shape. McClendon is furious and storms out.
Of course, for all of its obvious insanity – the Bentleys, the mansions, the almost-comical preaching theatrics (which seem so absurd when placed up against scenes from the “reality” of the cast members’ lives) – the show is also giving a sympathetic glimpse at the humanity of these preachers and their families. Maybe ex-gangbanger Bishop Ron Gibson really does help some of the homies in Compton. And maybe the moral failings of young Dietrick are the product of a religious upbringing gone wrong, and he is sorry for messing up. Still, what reigns on the screen is the unquenchable thirst among all the cast members for more of that money.
And the engine of Celebrity Christianity revs and hums and bounces like Bishop Ron’s convertible candy apple red Cadillac.
How about you? Did you see the first episode? What were your thoughts and feelings about what you watched?