By RODNEY HO/ firstname.lastname@example.org, originally filed January 1, 2013
TLC hopes blending a little Bible Belt religion into a genre better known for backbiting, verbal and physical sparring and jealousy will create alchemy in a new reality program called “The Sisterhood,” which debuts tonight at 9 p.m.
Five metro Atlanta preacher’s wives give us a look behind the curtain of lives where they feel they are held to a higher standard. Ultimately, they want to show they are regular human beings with sex lives, financial problems and dark pasts.
I don’t get the impression any were close friends before they were put together for this program. Three of them work at existing churches where their husbands are preachers. Two are without a flock. All five are married. One was part of an R&B group for a brief moment. Two are in mixed-race relationships.
In the first episode, we meet four of the five women. Three ladies clash almost immediately. Domonique Scott, whose husband lost his church after they hit financial straits, and Ivy Couch, a newlywed who was briefly in the group Xscape, go at it with Tara Y. Lewis. Tara is part of an interracial couple that came to Atlanta from Los Angeles but lost their jobs at a Dunwoody church after just six weeks.
In their view, Tara comes across as holier than thou.
Tara keeps citing scripture. The other women tell to stop being so annoyingly dogmatic.
“I love the scripture… But when we come together like this, you don’t feel the need to reference the scripture,” Ivy told Tara in the opening episode.
“One thing you’ll learn about me is I’m kingdom,” Tara said. “You can’t evangelize without the scripture… God has really graced me. That grace is in ministry.”
Tara then said her “effectiveness” in church “is unquestionable.”
“Her communication skills need a whole lot of work,” Domonique told the show cameras. “She’s bananas.”
“I always knock people off their feet,” Tara said in an interview last month. She is aware the “wives” shows are popular but refuses to watch them, saying she only seeks “positive” shows. “I really think that so many people are saddened by what they see. There is popular culture interested in something new, something fresh, something inspirational.”
She is big into physical fitness and healthy eating. She is also into HGTV shows. She only listens to Christian music.
Domonique in an interview said “reality shows can be a form of ministry.” She actually embraces watching the other “wives” shows. “I’ve learned a bit of what to do and what not do to. What to wear, what not to wear. It’s all good to me. I believe what will set us apart is our ability to be able to move forward, to agree to disagree, to be honest. And we’re all married. But we aren’t perfect. We have tax liens. We have issues.”
She said her church was relatively small, with fewer than 100 members but the recession made it even harder on them. Ultimately, they had to shut their doors. The show will reveal how she and her husband Brian will try to get back on their feet.
Ivy, in an interview, is also a fan of reality shows. “It helps me as a release, when I need to step away from the daunting, hectic things in life,” she said. She realized doing her own reality show makes her vulnerable but feels “I’m an open book. I won’t be fake or pretentious or phony.” She said preacher’s wives are “supposed to be perfect and don’t have issues and God. That’s not the case. I’m not perfect. This is a daily struggle.”
Of all the women I talked to, she came across the most philosophical about her life.
Her past, she said, includes plenty of hard partying but doesn’t regret her past. “I’m grateful for the struggles and mishaps and grateful for what they deem as the non wholesome. It made me a real person, a person people can relate to. I can meet you where you are.” She has worked hard not to be a people pleaser, to have her own opinions and not judge others. She hopes people who watch her don’t judge her based on shallow impressions but to get to know her over time.
Her husband’s church, Emanual Tabernacle, is based in the inner city of Atlanta and has been around for ten years with about 1,000 members. She has learned that it’s difficult to be transparent as a First Lady, as they are often dubbed. They are often whispered about and any negative actions can be blown out of proportion. The toughest part of her job, she said, “is remaining consistent and putting other people before yourself. I think if you’re self consumed, you can’t be effective.” She said when a congregant tells her about their lights being turned off, about not having enough to eat, “my issues don’t seem so pressing.”
She hopes “The Sisterhood” will bring people laughter. “Humor is needed in the church world and the secular world,” she said. “I hope people come away with seeing church people are normal and God is real. It’s going to be an interesting ride, never a dull moment.
Christina Murray gets plenty of airtime in the first episode and comes across as sweet, grounded and loving to her husband and children. She and her husband Anthony opened Oasis Family Life Church seven years ago in Paulding County and now has a mixed group of 2,000 congregants and is growing rapidly. “I honestly feel that my husband and I are a little more cutting edge,” she said in an interview. “We’re not your typical traditional style church. My husband is transparent and real. There’s no sugarcoating.” She considers it a “very loving and embracing style ministry. The music is diverse and multicultural. It could be rock or traditional southern church gospel.”
The one lady who does not show up in the first episode but will presumably appear later is Delana Rutherford. Her church Worship With Wonders in Kennesaw is “very praise and worship. We have a soulful sound. It’s eclectic.” It opened six years ago and now draws 500 people a week on Sunday. It began in a movie theater but now has a 27,000 square foot facility. “The Word is not compromised,” she said. “The worship of spirit leads. We let God do what we have to do. People are hungry for that. People feel very free to worship and be transparent with stories and what they’ve been through and not be judged.”
Doing this show, she said, “is an assignment from God.” Like Tara, Delana avoids reality programs of similar ilk. She hopes people who watch “The Sisterhood” are “not just entertained but changed. Their lives are touched. They’re blessed.”