Lives Of Praise, Lives In Progress On 'The Sisterhood'

Jan 24, 2013
Originally published on January 25, 2013 6:14 am

There's been a lot of talk about the first lady this week — Michelle Obama's stunning Thom Browne inaugural coat, her glamorous red dress, and yes, love them or hate them — those bangs.

But there's also chatter going on about a few other first ladies — first ladies of the church. The Sisterhood is an Atlanta-based reality show that follows the lives of five preachers' wives. It's been likened to the Real Housewives series, and it has stirred up a bit of controversy for its scenes of squabbling.

Critics say the show takes reality TV one step too far, exposing personal, intimate and sometimes unflattering details about pastors' wives. But Domonique Scott, former first lady of The Good Life Ministry church, tells NPR's David Greene that The Sisterhood was somewhat of a calling for her. "We definitely believe that God told us to do it," Scott says. "Individually, and together as a group."

"I think for us, the assignment was to step out," adds Christina Murray, the first lady of Oasis Family Life Church. "We knew it would probably be a little controversial, but we don't do anything just for people to understand and give us our approval; we do everything for what God is trying to lead us to do." But, Murray says, appearing on The Sisterhood was not a decision any of the women made lightly. "Basically, you're putting your life out there with the control of somebody else."

In one scene, Murray's husband gives their two daughters a sex ed talk, using a banana to demonstrate proper condom application — he tells them that he doesn't want them having sex, but if they do, he wants them to be prepared. "I was stupid when I was a kid," he says at one point. "I had sex, and I got diseases." But, Murray says, that openness doesn't bother her. "Before we even started the ministry, we didn't want to go in having to fake it, or having to put on this uniform, this hat that says, this is how we're supposed to act as pastors. God knew we were crazy from the day he made us. ... He knew what we were all about. There's no need to sugarcoat it."

That honesty has brought some criticism from African-American church leaders and churchgoers — one commenter called the program "gossipy and base." Ivy Couch, first lady at Emmanuel Tabernacle Church, says the Christian community can be judgmental, especially when pastors and first ladies struggle. "It's kind of like, you being saved from grace doesn't apply to me? We're works in progress. If you look in the Bible, God always uses somebody that has issues. You can't have a testimony without a test."

"I am not perfect; I'm striving for perfection," Scott chimes in. "For me, 25 years ago, it was crack cocaine. If I've got to put my life on display, so that you can know that God can heal you from those prescription drugs, or God can heal you from the strip club, or God can heal you from pornography, then so be it. Let's just get the job done."

On the show, Scott has been open about her struggles. She describes being molested as a child, ending up in foster care and eventually on the streets. "I was literally getting passed around for a case of beer and $20," she recalls. "One thing led to another thing, and the next thing I knew, hey, I'm out here selling, walking the streets and living this really hard life."

Murray says stories like Scott's are central to the show. "This is not so much about the black church," she says. "No, these are lives being exposed. And I think the show is supposed to show the process that we go through, and a bit of the journey. We are ordinary women. We have a title that we hold, and yes, we try to do the best job that we can."

Some of the show is gossipy, Murray concedes, but "that's what we gotta work on. You throw a bunch of women together in any room, there's going to be some chatter!"

"The truth is this," she continues. "We don't try to be malicious. None of us came on here saying, who are we going to, you know, let's go attack these people, and let's just act crazy. We're not going to do that. But unfortunately, we have to fight against the things that make us want to just pull each other's hair out, cuss and everything else, just like every other woman in America has to do."

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We are going to spend the next few minutes with first ladies - not presidents' wives but pastors' wives. In many churches, it's a widely respected position, which has now become the unlikely focus of a new reality show on The Learning Channel, or TLC. The show is called "The Sisterhood," and it does what all reality shows do - it follows the sometimes tumultuous, dare we say dramatic lives of wives, in this case five pastors' wives. Our colleague, David Greene, checked out the new program.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: "The Sisterhood" is an Atlanta-based reality show that's been likened to the Real Housewives series, and has stirred up a bit of controversy for scenes like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SISTERHOOD")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: When I'm speaking, you're gonna shut me down? No, sister. It don't work like that.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I mean if I can't be true with my sister...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: No.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: ...I already have to...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: The Lord rebuke you.

GREENE: Now, critics say this show has taken reality TV one step too far, exposing personal, intimate and sometimes unflattering details about pastors' wives. I got a chance to speak with three members of the cast of "The Sisterhood." Christina Murray is the first lady of Oasis Family Life Church in Atlanta. Ivy Couch is first lady at Emmanuel Tabernacle Church, and Domonique Scott is the former first lady of The Good Life Ministry Church. She says "The Sisterhood" was somewhat of a calling for her.

DOMONIQUE SCOTT: One thing we all - you hear us all say that we definitely believe that God told us to do it - individually and together as a group. For me, trying to wrap my mind and get the grasp of what this project was about just led me to really believe that this was a project that my higher power or my faith had for me.

GREENE: Christina Murray, if this was an assignment from God, what exactly was the assignment here to do this show?

CHRISTINA MURRAY: I think for us the assignment was to step out. We knew it would probably be a little controversial, but we don't do anything just for people to understand and give us our approval; we do everything for what God is trying to lead us to do. So it fell out of the sky, the opportunity. It was something that I think all of us took some time to really decide what to do. I don't think anybody just jumped on it and said let's go for it. Because it's a little scary too, doing things that basically you're putting your life out there with the control of somebody else.

GREENE: Well, speaking of your family being out there, I want to play a clip from a scene. Christina, it's you and your husband, Pastor Anthony, talking to your two daughters about safe sex, even though you don't believe in sex out of marriage.

MURRAY: Correct.

GREENE: You know, your husband wanted your daughters to be ready for it. And all I'll say about this scene is it involved your husband bringing out a banana.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SISTERHOOD")

ANTHONY MURRAY: I don't want y'all to have sex but I want you to know. So I want to show you how a condom is supposed to be put on.

And let me tell y'all something, man, I was stupid when I was a kid. I had sex, and I got diseases - several times.

GREENE: Christina, do you worry that this is maybe too much - TMI a little bit?

MURRAY: Not at all. And the people who know us or know my husband and go to our church and have met him, understand him. He's very radical. He's very open. Before we even started the ministry, we didn't want to go in having to fake it, or having to put on this uniform, this hat that says this is how we're supposed to act as pastors. God knew we were crazy from the day he made us. So, that's how we look at it. Like, hey, if He knew what we were all about, there's no need to sugarcoat it.

GREENE: Well, not all of you are African-American, but your show has particularly stirred some controversy within the black church. Some critics has said that this isn't the way a pastor or a pastor's wife should be portrayed, that God's image has been demeaned. And I really wanted to hear all of you respond to that. And let me just play a comment from one our listeners. Her name is Theresa Dalvest(ph). She's 40 years old and lives in Atlanta, like all of you.

THERESA DALVEST: This show just feels a little bit like I'm seeing too much. It just feels so gossipy and base. And I just don't want to believe that the person who is responsible for bringing the word to his or her congregation is behaving in such a way.

GREENE: Ivy Couch, does the program ever get gossipy and base?

IVY COUCH: Well, first of all, I think, you know, the Christian community is the most judgmental. People in the church don't let pastors nor first ladies have struggles. It's kind of like, so you being saved from grace doesn't apply to me? We're works in progress. If you look in the Bible, God always uses somebody that has issues. You can't have a testimony without a test.

SCOTT: But then also - if I could jump in - it's like I am not perfect; I'm striving for perfection. If someone's looking on me - OK, let me break it in - for me, 25 years ago it was crack cocaine. If I've got to put my life on display so that you can know that God can heal you from those prescription drugs, or God can heal you from the strip club, or God can heal you from pornography, then so be it. Let's just get the job done. Don't worry about cleaning the fish. It can't show up on the table clean. We'll clean it when it gets on the table. And we're not willing to get on the table because no one wants to be revealed.

COUCH: That's good.

GREENE: And Domonique, you have revealed a lot. You have a pretty amazing story and you've opened about your past on the show - the drugs and your teenage years. Can you remind us just some of those struggles when you were a teenager?

SCOTT: My life started early encountering some form of molestation. And believe it or not, it was always Uncle Tyrone or mama got a new boyfriend this weekend. I was actually placed in a foster home, I think, about nine or 10 years old and I was literally getting passed around for a case of beer and $20. You know, I just ended up on the streets and one thing led to another thing. Next thing I know that, you know, hey, I'm out here selling, you know, walking the streets and I'm living this really hard life. And then to deal with the pain, we're in the middle '80s, guys. Let's roll the time back. Crack cocaine is at an epidemic, and so I spent about maybe seven years living that life, just trying to survive and not die on the streets.

GREENE: I'm struck by your personal story, which sounds really difficult. And I want to ask your two friends with you, I mean is that what this show is really about, to put that on display?

MURRAY: I think so, and I'm going to just give you my opinion. Because you just heard probably one of the most powerful stories that any woman can share. This is not so much about the black church or, you know, this is African-American community being exposed. No, these are lives being exposed. And I think the show is supposed to show the process that we go through, and a bit of the journey. We are ordinary women. We have a title that we hold, and yes, we try to do the best job that we can. And a lot of this that they say is gossiping and stuff, yeah, some of it can look like that, and it is. And again, that's what we got to work on. You throw a bunch of women together in any room...

SCOTT: There's going to be some gossip.

MURRAY: There's going to be some chatter. That's the human nature of women.

SCOTT: Did you see that dress she had on? She's...

MURRAY: So the truth is this. We don't try to be malicious. None of us came on here saying who are we going to, you know, let's go attack these people and let's just act crazy. We're not going to do that. But unfortunately we have to fight against the things that make us want to just pull each other's hair out, cuss and everything else, just like every other woman in America has to do.

GREENE: I feel like I've been speaking to three honest women here.

SCOTT: We don't know no other way to be, baby.

GREENE: Ivy Couch, thank you so much for joining us.

COUCH: Thank you. This has been a pleasure. Thank you.

GREENE: Christina Murray, thank you.

MURRAY: Thank you as well. Thank you so much.

GREENE: And Domonique Scott, it's been a pleasure. They're the cast of "Sisterhood," the first ladies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.