The following write-up is filled with spoilers.
He lifted up himself, and said unto them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” … And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. – John 8: 7, 9
I recently started watching Greenleaf, the Oprah Winfrey-executive produced television drama series that stars Keith David, Lynn Whitfield, and Merle Dandridge, among others. Greenleaf follows the unscrupulous world of the Greenleaf family with their scandalous secrets and lies, and their sprawling Memphis megachurch, Calvary, with predominantly African-American members. At the helm of this powerful family are Bishop James Greenleaf (Keith David) and Lady Mae Greenleaf (Lynn Whitfield), who are the patriarch and matriarch of the Greenleaf family, and their children – Grace “Gigi” Greenleaf (Merle Dandridge), their estranged daughter who returns home after 20 years following the mysterious death of her sister, Faith; Jacob Greenleaf (Lamman Rucker), the ne’er-do-well son who, as a result of his father’s constant disapproval, leaves Calvary to go look for his calling elsewhere; and Charity Greenleaf (Deborah Joy Winans), the youngest Greenleaf daughter and also Minister of Music at Calvary Fellowship, who finds herself battling the unique personal troubles of a husband struggling with his sexuality and an attraction to another man.
So yes, because I’m predictable like that, through all the many story arcs that caught and kept my attention in this series, none was as most illuminating as the introduction of the struggles of the down-low man through Charity’s latently homosexual husband, Kevin Satterlee (Tye White). Kevin and Charity have the most loving relationship of the Greenleaf children, but behind the gloss of their easy laughter and comfortable drive to start a family is the secret that Kevin is nursing – this unrelenting and uncomfortable longing for men, as evidenced in the many times he keeps sifting through the gay dating app, Grindr, always checking out the men in it and never clicking on any of the profiles to say hello. He is a happily married man and he holds steadfast to this claim, using it as a buffer against his burgeoning and persistent homosexual desires, and making sure that anyone who is listening – like Adrian Miller (Gary Weeks), the man who is involved with his outreach department in Calvary, and who enjoys a brief flirtationship with him – knows. That he is married. That he is straight. And that he isn’t gay.
After all, he maintains, he hasn’t done anything with any man.
To be honest, as I watched, I thought the queer storyline was one that would reach a premature head and then eventually fizzle out. Most American television have been known to only borrow the gay agenda as a means to lock down the viewership of a vital minority demographic, only to dump it eventually when they think they have sustained interest. (Hello, Quantico).
But that was not to be the case in Greenleaf. This storyline stayed the course, expanding and providing an opportunity to interrogate the church’s unsteady stance on homosexuality. Greenleaf measures the cost of piety and silence for LGBT people, and takes an earnest, mature look at the tensions, and legacy, of queer people who still seek to remain Christians in the face of the church’s animosity.
When Charity gets pregnant, Kevin’s tense posturing eventually gives way to an admission of his yearnings. In the finale of the first season, Kevin grips a gay conversion pamphlet, in tears, begging Charity to stay in the marriage. Charity sagely answers that you can’t change who you are. Their eventual divorce leads Kelvin down the path of grudging liberation, opening him up to hesitant homosexual relations with Aaron Jeffries (William H. Bryant), an attorney and friend of the Greenleaf family. Aaron himself is the son of Bishop Lionel Jeffries, a minister who resists his son when he learns of his homosexuality.
In a tense intervention between father and son following Lionel’s discovery, a meeting that has Bishop Greenleaf present as a mediator, Aaron poses a question that is famously spoken to highlight the hypocrisy of those who point fingers of condemnation: “The bible also said ‘Judge not lest thee be judged’, doesn’t it?”
And in Greenleaf, we discover that there is no one, no matter how pious and invested in the ministry of God, who has earned the right to judge, to call for the condemnation of queer people.
Chief among those who would like you to believe that “unrepentant” queer people should be cast out of the beneficiary of God’s love are Lady Mae Greenleaf, Bishop Lionel Jeffries and in a supporting role, Bishop James Greenleaf.
The fictional Memphis megachurch, Calvary, used to have an out gay choir director, Carlton Cruise (Parnell Damone Marcano), who gets married to and is fond of PDA with his partner, a romantic relationship that starts to have a negative impact on the church’s anniversary pledges. Nearly a third of the members of the deacon board withhold their pledges because of the presence of the affectionate couple, leading the first lady of the church, Mae, who really wields the power behind the scenes, to decide that the gays have to go. She fires Carlton, stating that “it is purely a financial decision.”
Mae has also made it clear her unequivocal stance against homosexuality, slyly persecuting her son-in-law, Kevin and often pushing her husband to be more proactive in his position against the gays. In her wisdom as the first lady of the Lord’s vineyard, homosexuality is not of God, should not be condoned and those who won’t change from it not be allowed to flourish.
But Mae Greenleaf is also a woman who cheated on her husband to the point of considering leaving him to be with Lionel, himself also married. Mae is the mother who, when informed of her brother’s incestuous abuse of her own daughter, chooses not to believe or investigate the claim. Instead she decides to resent Grace, the daughter who brought the information to her notice for the transgression she sees as “sowing discord in the fields of her peace”.
So let us see… An adulteress and an enabler of sexual abuse, who thinks she is a better candidate for Heaven than queer people. How rich!
There also Bishop Lionel Jeffries, who quickly ushers in the veiled drama of a turbulent sexual history with his friend’s wife the moment he steps into the series. You however will be wont to forgive him this indiscretion, because, like Mae Greenleaf, you would think their affair was borne out of a forbidden love that overtakes two people who cannot help themselves. I mean, love is a beautiful thing, even if the two people involved are married to other people.
But then, much to Mae’s dismay and shock, we follow her to find out that she is not special to Lionel at all, that there have been other women, and that had she left her marriage to be with him, he may very well have done to her with these other women what he used her to do to his wife.
In a fit of outrage, Mae throws this insult at Lionel: “You are nothing! Absolutely nothing – you don’t exist enough to be considered. You are just a space where a person should’ve been. You’re nothing!” A sentiment that echoes our opinion of Lionel – because really, how can a serial cheater like him, who doesn’t even have the grace to own up to his reprehensible indiscretions, look his gay son in the eye and tell him he is not worthy of God’s love simply because he won’t change?
Finally, there is James Greenleaf. The Greenleaf patriarch is usually more ambivalent in his stance on the queer issue, very reluctant in his affirmation of acceptance, preferring instead to wait till when “only God knows when the homosexuals will be as welcomed into the church as anybody else.” If you chuckled derisively or rolled your eyes at these words of his, then you are my people. The bishop spoke these words to his daughter, Grace, and she responded with, “Patience doesn’t mean standing still, waiting for something to change. Patience is lovingly guiding people who don’t understand into a greater understanding.”
James Greenleaf prefers to sit on the fence, prefers to wait while those who claim themselves beneficiaries of God’s love condemn a minority whose only crime is to love in an unpopular manner – and somehow he fancies himself a warrior for Christ?
If we believe that art imitates life, then Greenleaf is a microcosm of the religious society we live in – one that is more concerned with pandering to what makes Christendom comfortable as opposed to what the actual discharge of Christ is. Nigerian Christians go about masking their prejudices, especially for the LGBT community, with perceived tenets of the Christian faith, when in actual fact, their disapprobation is more about them than it’ll ever be about God.
And on top of that, the irony of it all is that these same people are barely qualified to censure gay men and women as defaulters of the Christian faith, seeing as they are mired with various legitimate abominations that make them even less distinguished for heaven than the average gay individual. These Christians lie, cheat, kill and blemish the Christian faith in various ways, and still attempt to put on the toga of superiority when it comes to the gay man or woman whose only “sin” is that he/she loves differently.
How is this hypocrisy not apparent? How does it not make them shame-faced?
God is love. The ministry of Jesus while He was on earth was one of love. And somehow, today’s Christian departs further and further from this vital tenet, which is one of acceptance and love, glorying time and again in this departure, so sure that he is getting the endorsement of God to hate and persecute and shut the door in the face of humanity.
Now if all this condemnation came from a saintly people, however wrong it may still be, it would make the bias somewhat acceptable. One would know to take solace in the knowledge that he who is beyond reproach is the one with the authority to subjugate others.
But that is not the case. So really, how can you tell someone whose house you’ve never been to that he has an unflushed toilet when your pipes are broken and your toilet stinks?
How does behaviour like that make any sense?
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