the sisterhood

When TLC announced its intention to produce a reality show about five Atlanta “first ladies” (aka pastors’ wives), I had my doubts. Would it be a fair, but honest look into the various challenges women who marry into ministry face? Or would it be like “Real Housewives of Megachurch County,” complete with threats of bodily harm, wig-snatching, neck-rolling, and epic shade-throwing confessionals.

Last night’s series premiere hewed closer to the latter. Every reality show needs drama — and this show’s editors are happy to supply it. Several stock personality types are represented: the pot-stirrer, the holier-than-thou condescender, the den mother, the former addict, the defensive one who’s not doing as well financially as the others. Thrown together in improbable settings like lunches and brunches and church visits, we’re sure to see a lot of conflict.

None of the pastors and their wives are particularly well-known personalities outside their congregations and immediate communities. The closest we get to a “celebrity” here is Ivy Couch, formerly of the ’90s girl group Xscape (… according to her). Since it’s clear that all The Sisterhood’s participants only agreed to appear here to grow their brands (read: up their membership or, in the case of the two couples who’ve lost their churches, attract new opportunities), it’s hard to take any of what’s happening seriously. Everything feels like a stunt, from the pastor who drags his teen daughters to the patio to show them how to affix condoms (while telling them about his multiple past STDs) to the two pastors’ wives who get into a shouting match over when it’s appropriate to quote scripture to one another.

Twitter, of course, turned out in force to live-tweet reactions to the premiere. Some were understandably concerned that the show was “just another way to mock Christianity and the Black church.” Others found it typically problematic but still entertaining.

It’s hard to render a realistic depiction of any subculture that will satisfy its most devout members. But TLC clearly isn’t trying with The Sisterhood — and that should’ve been expected. Anyone who plans to watch shouldn’t hope to find out much about real problems minsters’ wives actually face. Viewers should expect a lot of gossip and shade, a lot of yelling, one weird, super-fit “Black Barbie” first lady chasing another first lady down a sidewalk, couples arguing, some hospital room sobbing, and some inappropriate conversation for shock value.

Someday, it might be nice to see a reality show that lifts the veil of secrecy that seems to shroud the black pastorate. It might be even nicer if some real, recognizable megachurch pastors agreed to let parts of their lives or ministries that were previously hidden be exposed. But TLC wouldn’t be the network, and The Sisterhood definitely isn’t that show. Is The Sisterhood a great representation of “the saints” (aka the black church community)? No. Is its very existence an act of sacrilege? No. It’s just kind of corny and needlessly sensational.

Did you watch the first episode of The Sisterhood? What did you think?

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