It’s fairly likely that by now, you, your mother, and your church’s mother are hooked on Greenleaf. It’s one of the shows my entire family watches, and it’s an informal way of keeping us all together. Being part of a first family myself (albeit of a thankfully smaller congregation), much of the show hits home in ways that I’m still unpacking. After a million conversations about what the show gets right and wrong, I think it’s about time to address the latter.
I don’t mean to speak ill of your meemaw’s favorite thing to watch since Tyler Perry’s DVDs, but I also believe in the church too much to see Greenleaf as just another OWN show. The (Black, Southern) church is a place is a constant home and occasional enemy, somewhere I both escape and return to for comfort. In many ways, it encompasses how Michaela and I feel about the South in general—nostalgic, hopeful, suffocated, appreciative, and above all, intensely prideful. I am amazed at the work of my church family, and assured that there’s more work to be done (re: classism, ableism, colorism and queer/transphobia.) I’m also quick to remind outsiders that their critiques of the black church come from many elitist biases they hold about a certain ilk of black people. It’s like your literal family—I can talk about my people, but y’all can’t.
The main problem, then, is that the saints aren’t the only ones watching Greenleaf. Many people are getting their current (and dare I say only) understandings of the black Southern church through this show, and for these people, I think there are some anachronisms and straight out fallacies we should bring up. Here are ten (or so) commandments I think Greenleaf breaks, but like, in NIV (I don’t have time to confuse my heathen friends who read this blog by speaking in King James.)
This show puts negative respect on the amen corner’s name. Or on their skill at rhythmic call and response. Or on their ability to recognize when someone is testifying versus monologuing. I honestly cringe when I see anyone walk up to the podium, largely because Jacob and his daddy and especially his sister don’t really know how to deliver a sermon, but also because the congregation sounds like a laugh track on a sitcom more than actual people.
Whose pastor is out here preaching from one verse, @Grace Greenleaf? Sometimes, I think she’s actually preaching from inspirational quotes she finds on her IG feed. We used to have to read entire books in a single Sunday School lesson, y’all. I don’t know where they do these abridged Psalms, but okay.
They do the church mothers all the way dirty. As anyone worth their weight can tell you, no black church would survive without the efforts, prayers, and oversight of its elders, particularly its church mothers. The ones at my church have prayed for me more than I’ve prayed for myself, and I know that much of the ideas of sacrifice I have come from these women and their examples. Greenleaf’s most visible church mother is Betty Wilcox, who is more likely to throw her money around Calvary or turn her nose up at the choir director and his husband than lay hands on somebody. Yes, church mothers are good for casual gossip and condescension, but even this comes with a love greater than most people will ever experience (if you prefer book recommendations, Britt Bennett has a really beautiful handle on this balance in The Mothers.) The absence of these women keeps Calvary feeling like Hillsong, with more affairs and less iTunes popularity.
Roshon Fegan’s undignified praise is...unverified. Speaking of Instagram and its place in Greenleaf’s congregations, someone misunderstood how exactly church musicians work. I think Roshon Fegan is supposed to be a more active, convincingly straight, choir-less Tye Tribbett, but homeboy seems like he’s at his own mall concert instead of leading praise & worship. It’s like a vaguely spiritual cross-up of Justin Bieber and Ar’mon and Trey (both of whom I honestly, truly enjoy. Just not on Sunday morning.) He should spend less time watching his own Dancing With the Stars re-runs, and more time studying Sunday Best.
Zora and Sophia are too young to be in high school...right? This isn’t really a saved concern, just a me-getting-older one. The terrible thing about living in this year of our Lord is that people born in 2005 can actually talk and vote and whatnot. Case in point: these girls, who are both in love with Roshon Fegan, probably have never heard The Boy is Mine. Aren’t they too young for all this? I don’t remember Youth Ministry events becoming glorified meet-ups until high school...maybe that’s just how they do in Memphis? Anyway, 12 or 21, Zora’s hair is more on point than mine, so maybe I should stop.
They don’t get the intricacies of prosperity preaching right. All of the sermons and building fund grabs are just...too blunt. Bishop Greenleaf and Triumph’s-pastor-whose-name-I-never-remember are just downright grimy when they’re asking for money, and I don’t buy it, nor would anyone I’ve been in pews with. This ties into my larger problem with people who think that black Christians are exceptionally stupid, and not just convinced of something they aren’t. No one would fall for these scams, even old ladies who win the lottery. Do better.
No one has thought to add Oprah to the sick and shut-in list. I know entire families on sick and shut-in lists for churches they’ve never actually attended a day in their life, because that’s how it goes. Mavis is a close and increasingly unstable relative of the first family, so even if she had to sleep in the shed while Lynn Whitfield filmed Eve’s Bayou, she deserves a spot on the list. Y’all coulda done better by her.
Everyone at Calvary has greasy legs and no stockings (which is fine.) While Prophetess Juanita Bynum and many of your local deaconesses may be upset about the lack of modesty cloths in Calvary, I personally don’t see much wrong with this one. Everyone’s clothes are appropriate...just wrong for them. Grace Greenleaf really doesn’t need to be wearing these tulip-sleeves all the time (maybe this post is actually just about why I think she’s draining?)
Grace Greenleaf is a perfect personification of meaning, but not doing well. Yeah, this post is actually just about why I hate Grace Greenleaf. Ever since she started dating Rick Fox instead of sleeping with the bodyguard, she’s become ten times more incompetent. Grace Greenleaf of last season would’ve found a better way to retaliate against her uncle than taking a Louisville Slugger to half of the headlights. Yet again, trying to show off these unimpressive biceps. Why?
We all forget the fact that Grace Greenleaf was a homewrecker in Season 1. I liked Isabel! We all should’ve like Isabel! She had the best sweater-sets on the show, which, since church hats are not a huge thing on Greenleaf, are pretty important.
More church hats. From people who are not Betty Wilcox. Thanks. There are entire galleries about this. It’s quite possibly my favorite aesthetic part of church culture. They don’t do it big enough here.
Are y’all equally fed up with Grace Greenleaf? Confused about why Jacob and Clarissa have the exact same haircut? Think we should we start live-tweeting when the season kicks back up in August? Please let us know in the comments!