There will be a controversial new reality TV program this fall about church pastors. It will likely add further fuel to the smoldering cultural fires about the lifestyles of some Christian clergy. The Oxygen channel's promotion of its new show, Preachers of L.A., touts a "candid" program about six "mega-pastors" and their "sometimes provocative lives." Viewers can undoubtedly expect lavish houses, expensive cars, and outrageous situations. All of it promises to be a sad misrepresentation of what Gospel-preaching ministries are really about.
Several years ago, a member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee launched a very public and very troubling investigation into a handful of television preachers (none of them NRB members). NRB's concern back then was, and continues to be, the surveillance of, and possible interference with, legitimate Christian ministries under the guise of cracking down on a few organizations that supposedly abuse their IRS non-profit status with lavish spending. More recently, it turns out that even highly credible, squeaky-clean ministries like those of Franklin Graham and Dr. James Dobson were victims of the targeting of non-profit groups by the IRS. Christian groups are a favorite whipping boy of the secular press, some members of Congress, and a few well-known Washington advocacy groups. Preachers of L.A. will just add more fury to the consistent cry for an anti-clergy crackdown in Washington and more bricks to the infamous "wall of separation" of Church and State.
One example is the debate over a bipartisan bill proposed in the Senate called the "Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013," introduced by U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). When FEMA balked at affording the same federal relief to church buildings hit hard by Hurricane Sandy that was being provided to homes and shops in the same towns devastated in that disaster, those Senators stepped in with their proposed bill; the goal is to end the anti-religious discrimination against faith non-profit groups that, after all, provide a myriad of free services to their communities. But immediately groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the ACLU, and the Secular Coalition for America cried foul. Wait until Preachers of L.A. airs in a month or two. I can envision calls for all churches and Gospel ministries to be stripped of their tax exempt status.
Which brings me to my most important point: namely, the true-to-life, representative ministries that the entertainment industry consistently ignores. I can think of two sterling examples in my own life. I was led to faith in Christ by a career missionary and director of a local missions school. Bob Kaminisky lived in a tiny barracks-style apartment, drove a used car, and by all accounts lived a life as poor as the proverbial "church mouse." Yet his life was dedicated to indigenous tribes in South America, fledgling Bible school students and a wild, wayward youth like me. Or there was Pastor Bill Peterson, who took me under his wing after my conversion to Christ, led me to read some Christian theological classics, and encouraged me to take a prominent role in his church's Christmas program just a few months after my faith decision. He lived in a small house, on a humble salary, but was consumed in service to the Lord. It is people like these who are most representative of Christian clergy and Gospel ministers. One of these days the entertainment moguls might understand that. But even if they don't, there are plenty of us who already do.
By Craig Parshall
Senior Vice President & General Counsel, National Religious Broadcasters
Director, John Milton Project for Free Speech
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Published: July 25, 2013