Believer, Beware at TBN

Even though I am not a pastor by any means, when I got an invite from TBN-New York to attend their open house for pastors, the offer of free food was too good to pass up. TBN (Trinity Broadcast Network) is the world’s largest religious network and America’s most-watched religious channel with 24 hours of commercial-free inspirational programming that appeal to people in a wide variety of Protestant, Catholic, and Messianic Jewish denominations. So, I’ve known about this ministry for years having reported on TBN darlings Creflo Dollar and Fred Price for the now-defunct Wittenburg Door, and more recently I wrote about Joel Osteen’s concert last year at Yankee Stadium over at Religion Dispatches. So, perhaps it was time I got to meet the Hair that Praises Jesus crowd up close and personal.

Upon entering the studios of TBN-New York in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Manhattan, I encountered a gold plated, red brocade lobby that looks like it was designed by the love child of Marie Antoinette and Donald Trump. I quickly realized that out of this small crowd of about twenty people, I was clearly the only one who wasn’t affiliated with an African-American prosperity-gospel church and decked out in designer gear.

After picking up a snack that looked more like it came from Burger King than the King of Kings, I was escorted into the auditorium for a video presentation of the shows taped here in the Big Apple. Celebs like Steve Harvey, Tony Orlando, and Sherri Shepherd have graced this gilded stage, where they shared their stories of personal faith while being thrown softball questions that make Access Hollywood seem like Rachel Maddow.

As I was ruffling through my tote bag in search of my Blackberry so I could photograph this scene, I pulled out my subway read for the day—Killing the Buddha‘s latest anthology, Believer, Beware. Ah, the irony of displaying a book with a pale white dude on the cover in an auditorium when all of TBN’s guests are African-American or Latino. Awkward. I turned my copy over. But as soon as the presentation was over and the room was empty, I quickly captured a photograph of the book, nestled against ungodly wallpaper as a visual reminder that regardless of the color of our skin, we all must beware of Jesus junk.

Becky Garrison is a satirist/storyteller whose most recent book is Roger Williams’s Little Book of Virtues (Wipf & Stock, March 2020). Also, she edited Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge and Resilience (Transgress Press, 2015). Her six books include 2006’s Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (PW, starred review).