The City of Angels isn’t exactly the Bible Belt.
So the preachers here aren’t necessarily out of central casting. Like so many others chasing the Hollywood dream, they have star power. Some of them clearly enjoy living the good life.
That’s the idea behind Oxygen’s new show debuting next month: “Preachers of L.A.”
Reality television has already brought us the drama and decadence of “Real Housewives.” Taught us the meaning of GTL on “The Jersey Shore.” And shown us it’s possible to be famous just for being famous, provided your last name is Kardashian.
So why not a series that focuses on the lifestyles of the rich ... and spiritual?
The show is generating controversy -- even before the first episode has aired. Some church groups, already denouncing it based on its trailer, even started an online petition against it.
"Preachers of L.A." are not the sort you’d expect to find at an old-fashioned tent revival.
“Lost souls, everybody is lost,” said Minister Deitrick Haddon. “L.A. is where all the lost angels are.”
There’s Ron Gibson, the bishop who used to be a gang-banger, who says “I’m bringing the Lord with me. But just in case I’m bringing the Glock.”
Now saving gang-bangers is a big part of his ministry.
And the bishop whose entourage is as big as anything from “Entourage.”
“If you want my ministry, then you want me, and I come with my team,” said Bishop Clarence McClendon. “I need my men around me.”
There’s Jay Haizlip, the tattooed senior pastor at The Sanctuary Church, who’s a former professional skateboarder and says that “God has taken a skateboard and turned it into a pulpit.”
Bishop Noel Jones’ flock at the City of Refuge church is one of the biggest in L.A. County.
“I didn’t think it was a reality show going in,” said Jones. “It was a docu-series, whatever that is. I hope people will understand that even the people you put on pedestals have to deal with the same problems you deal with. That they're human, without a doubt.”
Bishop Jones happens to be the brother of Jamaican singer and former supermodel Grace Jones. One of his human frailties: a weakness for fast cars. And the show suggests he’s a bit of a lady’s man.
“Of course women throw themselves at you in this business,” he explained. “When you get to my age, you think why can’t I have some fun? I like going fast in my cars. It’s about being successful.
“If a preacher is preaching health, wealth and prosperity, if his whole presentation is, ‘Love Jesus and you’ll be rich’ then how is he going to show it? He better drive a Bentley or Ferrari or whatever. But that’s not my message.”
Jones continued: “My message is to promote people to move in whatever their gifts are. And to operate intensely and to be appreciative of the opportunity, not only of life, but of being gifted. That's my message. You come in naked. You’re going to leave naked. Oprah came in naked. Steve Jobs came in naked. But Steve Jobs left naked. And everything in between really doesn’t belong to you.”
Some of the other preachers on the show preach that wealth can be a sign of God’s favor.
“The Bible says above all things that we prosper, and I believe that,” said McClendon.
For Haizlip, wealth need not be a barrier to salvation.
“The Bible says ‘It’s harder to put a camel through an eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ And the disciple’s response was ‘Well, who can be saved then?’ And Jesus said, ‘With God, all things are possible.’”
Perhaps that’s one reason why in some of these churches they pass the collection bucket not once, but twice. But in between conspicuous consumption, there are some actual moments of ministry both at the pulpit and on the streets.
As for Haddon, he’s not so much after fortune but fame. He’s a gospel singer and recording artist. He's also a preacher trying to bounce back after a scandal: an affair and a child out of wedlock. Haddon resigned from his church in Motown amid the scandal. But after moving to L.A., he married his baby mama.
“At the end of the day, we're all just human beings,” said Haddon. “We're all flesh and blood. Even with our titles and all the praises that we have and accolades that we have, we're all just highly decorated dirt, you know.”
So why not a reality show to dish it?