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."