A week after the release of the trailer of the new Oxygen network show, "Preachers of L.A.," opposing groups and pastors are calling for its boycott when it releases in the Fall over its portrayal of the extravagant lives of six wealthy, Southern California megachurch pastors and the possible message behind their lavish lifestyles.
Ferraris, Bentleys and hilltop mansions are a few of the possessions held by cast members Noel Jones, Deitrick Haddon, Clarence McClendon, Wayne Chaney, Ron Gibson and Jay Haizlip. But a petition initiated by Christians against "Preachers of L.A." on change.org, a petition platform website, says their lives are a poor representation of the kingdom of God.
The group began their petition in an attempt to address Oxygen Network to cancel the show indefinitely. In three days, the group was able to get 24 supporters and is hoping to reach 76 more.
"These preachers lifestyles are NOT promoting Christ ethos but rather their cars, homes, relationships, and their justification on why they want viewers to see them as having fleshly desires as everyone else does," said the group, in their introduction statement.
If the show airs as scheduled, viewers will get a rare peek into the high-profile lives the pastors have aside from tending to their congregation. In the trailer, Bishop Gibson is shown cruising in a classic red Cadillac and says his life should be no different than secular celebrities.
"P. Diddy. Jay-Z. They're not the only ones who should be driving Ferraris and living in large houses," says Gibson, a former gang member who now ministers to 4,500 people each week at Life Church of God in Christ.
However, Gibson's type of lifestyle reflects negatively on the church, according to Orlando-based the Rev. Jacob Samuels, as reported by americanpreachers.com.
"Our preachers have blended in so well with the world, if you watch the trailer on mute, you can't tell if these are preachers or rap stars," said Samuels. "We have been called to be a light to the world," he added.
Although Samuels and other pastors do not oppose Christians gaining wealth, they are against the message it will evoke among audience members.
"First TV started banking from our young men and women through music and music videos; now they see a lucrative opportunity to have our men of God parade on television with no purpose. We have to be smarter," said the Rev. Michael Lorraine, to americanpreachers.com.
Weighing in with the same opinion is Zach J. Hoag, a minister and writer who published a blog post on the Huffington Post on Thursday with the intent to "call out" the trend of prosperity gospel. In his piece, he says that "Celebrity Christianity" is at an all-time high, boasting in popularity and numbers in the midst of a North American Church in decline.
"To be clear, Celebrity Christianity is not merely notoriety or prominence, because it is possible for people who are sincerely and deeply following Jesus or leading in the church to attain a level of notoriety," wrote Hoag.
"Churches may grow. Book deals, record deals, speaking engagements, and interviews may come. A platform may develop. A platform, in and of itself, is not Celebrity Christianity. But a platform becomes Celebrity Christianity as soon as it begins to deny the substance of the subversive gospel of the kingdom by an adherence to the systemic, superficial, self-indulgent values of celebrity culture," he added.
Bishop McClendon is the quintessential Christian celebrity that Hoag writes about. In a press release from Oxygen, McClendon's bio says, "When challenged about what many have called his prosperity Gospel, Bishop replies, 'There is no other kind of Gospel.'"
This gospel, according to Heather Eastman, a supporter of Christians against "Preachers of L.A.," "represents the juxtaposition of leaving your treasure to follow Him," she writes, referring to the biblical passage from Matthew 19:21.
Although the cast members tend to their flock and evangelize among gang-ridden neighborhoods, Christians against "Preachers of L.A." say the pastors' riches are not in line spiritually because "biblical prosperity is not about wealth building." For this reason and more, their plea is to simply avoid people from losing sight of the true gospel.
"We as Christians face daily ridicule and this show will only tear down our churches and keep non-believers away as opposed to bringing them to Christ," they said.