(RNS) The Rev. Rich Wilkerson Jr. is “not your typical pastor,” according to People magazine.
“I come from a different perspective,” the 31-year-old Floridian said. “I don’t think that people are interested in a bunch of religion, like telling me what I can and can’t do, but I think that people are interested in having a relationship with God.”
Wilkerson and his wife, DawnChere, will have an opportunity to talk about their “different” perspective on faith in an upcoming TV show, “Rich in Faith,” on Oxygen Media.
The young, hip pastor, who married Kanye West and Kim Kardashian last year, has made a career of pastoring some of the biggest celebrities in America, including the Kardashian family and Justin Bieber. Wilkerson’s brand of Christianity is steeped in what’s cool now, from his sermons based on popular songs to his undercut hairstyle to his wardrobe. It’s a carefully curated presence.
This curation is what makes the Wilkersons both so appealing (you can be cool and a Christian!) and so concerning.
I’m of the perhaps unpopular opinion that religious TV shows are all pretty much terrible, and reality religious TV shows are worse than that. No matter what Wilkerson and others think, even with the best of intentions, a reality TV show will rarely be a vehicle that glorifies God — just watch Oxygen’s other offerings, “Fix My Choir,” “Preachers of Detroit” and “Preachers of L.A.” Instead, it will end up glorifying the people at its center.
That’s not so bad for a show like, say, “The Real Housewives of New York City,” which doesn’t purport to serve any larger purpose than entertainment. But every time Wilkerson posts a too-cool Instagram photo of his black wardrobe, he ends up alienating people and suggesting that you have to be pretty cool to be a Christian.
He might not call it “cool,” preferring instead to use terms about artistic expression through clothing or living on the outskirts of the culture, but how outside the mainstream can you actually be while bragging about your sold-out Yeezy Boosts on social media?
Christianity has always thrived when it has existed on the margins. The “celebritization” of Christianity isn’t just a Wilkerson problem, but a uniquely American one: We must have superstars, and they must give us something we can attain.
In Wilkerson’s case, it’s a cultural savvy combined with trendy clothes and a penchant for famous friends. For others, like Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar, it’s the promise of wealth beyond your wildest dreams. For still others, it’s the promise of belonging.
This particular brand of cool Christianity doesn’t belong on TV; but then again, neither does most Christianity. The Christianity-entertainment complex has taken us too far down a rabbit hole of our own making, and it’s splintering us into the “cool, different” Christians and the old, irrelevant ones. I like us a lot better when we’re not on TV.
(Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. She is interested in the intersection of church and culture.)
LM/AMB END TURNER