(Trice Edney Wire) – The raspy voice of Bishop Noel Jones cracked with emotion.
“If my tone has changed, it’s because there’s still something in my heart,” explained the tall Jamaican preacher, relaxed on his personal houseboat docked behind a Los Angeles Ritz Carlton. “It’s real complicated and most of it was me – my inability to make the quantum leap from where I am to where marriage will take me. And I think I am going to always have some uncertainty as it relates to getting married.”
That conversation with this reporter happened four years ago, Dec. 8, 2009, as the bishop described his relationship with a certain woman who “has loved me for so long”. Fast forward to 2013, millions are watching to see whether Jones – now starring in the controversial reality show, “Preachers of LA” – has finally chosen a wife.
“Does it ever get to a place where it’s really not about love, but about winning…winning me?” he challenges his “special friend”, Loretta, in a heated discussion with her during an early episode of the show that has aired weekly on Wednesdays on Oxygen TV since Oct. 9.
“Winning what? Winning a man? Winning a relationship?” she retorts. “You are not a prize. Let’s get that straight first of all.”
With the finale episode airing this week, millions may finally know who may get the engagement ring that Jones, the best-known cast member from a national perspective, said he keeps hidden away.
“Yes I have a ring in my safe right now with seven, probably eight additions,” he said four years ago during the boat interview. “I have a ring at home that would blow your mind thinking that I was going to marry this person and having a desire to marry this person who has loved me for so long and maybe I should have. The jury is still out.”
Whether or not a ring finally comes into play after the 16-year friendship with Loretta, the Oxygen TV show ratings have skyrocketed.
“It’s the hottest thing that Oxygen ever did. It was 1.2 million viewers. It’s at 1.5 and growing,” Jones said in a telephone interview with the Trice Edney News Wire about half way through the series this fall.
But, it has not been smooth going. He and the five other ministers on the show – Gospel singer Minister Deitrick Hadden; Bishop Clarence McClendon; Bishop Ron Gibson; Pastor Wayne Chaney and Pastor Jay Haizlip – have taken much criticism from their peers who believe the series – which features what some perceive as the unsavory or far too lavish lives of clergymen – to be an abomination of sorts. For example, Hadden’s life on the show features his having lived with a woman to whom he was not married and their child “out of wedlock” as he describes. Their wedding takes place on the show.
The show has been criticized by some of the nation’s best known pastors.
“I know you’ve been watching that junk on TV and I want to tell you right now not one dime of what you’re sowing right now will buy my suit. I want you to know my car is paid for. I want you to know I got my house on my own. I want you to know I’m not bling-bling and I’m not shake and bake. I had money when I came to Dallas and I plan to have some when I leave,” Bishop T. D. Jakes told his cheering Potters House congregation in mid-October. “I’m not from LA. I’m from Dallas!…We’re going to build the kingdom of God like we have always built the kingdom. You don’t do that kind of business being shake and bake and slimy!”
The criticism from his dear friend Bishop Jakes stung, but was not unexpected, Jones says.
“I expected the controversy, but I did not expect anyone to say anything without calling me first and kicking my behind,” he said in the interview. Jones has since discussed Jakes remarks with him, but was restrained in his response.
“As far as his open comment, I didn’t do the show to make enemies of my friends. And everybody is entitled to their opinions and their conceptualization of how they are to operate in their space as it relates to the people who look up to them. I’m not going to play ping pong to any of my friends’ comments because they are entitled to their opinions and I still love him in spite of,” he said. “When Jakes said he heard I was doing it, he said he swallowed his tongue because he didn’t expect me to do it because he knows and he’s very protective of me and he thought that I was putting myself too far out there to the point where he couldn’t protect me.”
As the show finales, however, Jones says he does have one major regret.
“My only regret about having done the show is I don’t control all the content that’s been put out there. My only regret is that I don’t control whatever they present to the public,” he said. “If I had more control, I wouldn’t leave anything out. I would add some things. I would add some things such as giving to millions of people around the world, giving scholarships to young ladies in South Africa, giving to orphanages in Ghana, giving to a whole city I have adopted in Jamaica, feeding thousands of people and giving gifts to thousands of people for Christmas and Thanksgiving, showing how I feed and clothe people on a weekly bases in LA – thousands and thousands of people – showing the part of ministry that nobody seems to care about.”
Because of this lack of production control, Jones says a second season is up in the air for him. “I don’t know yet whether I’ll be involved with another season,” he said.
Meanwhile, the debate over whether the cast of preachers should have produced the show in the first place continues.
“Nobody that stands in the pulpit is perfect. Why cover it? Deal with it. You just don’t want to know what his imperfections are,” Jones said. “I have thousands and thousands and thousands of people who come into my assembly every Sunday and I have never acted like I’m perfect…Go down the line and you will find that God never hid the weaknesses of any of his preachers and the people he uses.”
Albany Georgia Pastor Donald Wright, who has watched each episode of the series diligently, says although the latter part of the series appeared to become more focused on the lives of the preachers as opposed to the original appearance of bling-bling exploitation, he remains concerned about the fallout.
Using a Wizard of Oz analogy, Wright said, “The curtain was not pulled from them. They chose to expose themselves. My question is what will the result of that be?…They want people to understand that they’re human that they have other lives, other challenges, all these things. But, sheep are sheep,” he said, alluding to the nature of some Christians to follow blindly.
“Most preachers want you to accept them for what they are,” continues Wright, who has pastored for more than 20 years. But, using the story of Noah discovered naked in a cave by two of his sons, he said, “You can’t show your sons your nakedness. One will cover you. The other will despise you…If you show them your nakedness, they will not respect your spirituality.”
Reality Star Omarosa Manigault, a newly ordained minister and associate pastor who lives in Los Angeles, is a major fan of the series.
“I love the “Preachers of LA” because it gives us an opportunity to see what day to day life is for pastors in the community,” she said. “This is a very unique glimpse into the lives, the most sacred places of these pastors. They have given us a gift. They have opened up their homes, their relationships, their families, their vulnerabilities, their shortcomings, their flaws for us to examine, to discuss to debate and hopefully not to judge them.
“Unfortunately, what’s happening is that people who only see little clips or they hear about it or read an article have condemned these men for participating in this reality program. But, I see it more as a documentary as opposed to a reality television program because people are discussing a topic that is not often discussed. And that is religion, their relationship with their pastor, their expectations of what a pastor should and should not be, how he should and should not behave. How he should and should not live” and other aspects of the church life and dissemination of the Gospel, Manigault said. “This allows all of that to take place all under the banners of that show.”
Looking back, Jones says the series has achieved what he set out to do: “My only accomplishment is that we would reduce the iconoclastic proclivities that we have toward preachers – putting them on pedestals they can’t live on. Only God is God.”