Knock the megachurch. Bash the prosperity gospel. Both are parts of American culture in the neoliberal age.
For an interesting take on this cultural feature of U.S. society, I recommend “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul,” in theaters and streaming on Peacock. In the film, director-writer Adamma Ebo focuses on a black megachurch pastor and his better half, satirically.
Sterling K. Brown plays pastor Lee-Curtis Childs, convincingly. His personality is a force to reckon with. Regina Hall portrays his wife, Trinitie, splendidly. Her facial expressions as a sour situation unfolds speak volumes.
On the surface, the Childs are attractive and successful people. The couple live large. They sport outsize wardrobes.
In one scene, Pastor Childs expresses love for the brand of Prada, a further revelation of his materialist character. This man loves high-price possessions.
Meanwhile, his pastoring focuses on bringing megachurch members closer to Jesus. There is a painful contradiction between his deeds and words, though. Producer Daniel Kaluuya, star of “Get Out,” and executive producer Jordan Peele, director of that film, unpack the contradiction, deftly.
The Childs’ home resembles a mansion. Personal prosperity is the name of the game for them. Then their amazing gravy train stops.
The Childs had helmed the Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church. The couple had 25,000 parishioners finding their way to Jesus, thanks to the Childs, they claim. The good times were rolling as the couple accumulated surplus greenbacks.
That was then. Dramas such as “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” require bad news. The Childs’ megachurch closed after a sexual misconduct scandal. There are real-life precedents.
How and why a so-called man of God strays is the dark secret of the film. The black megachurch has no monopoly on such leadership indiscretions. Readers might recall Caucasian megachurch leaders who fell from grace.
Pastor Childs’ homophobic comments from the pulpit foreshadow trouble.
He admits to being imperfect many times. On one level, his admission rings true. There are, of course, levels of imperfection in the human situation.
Ebo’s film traces the Childs’ bid to reopen Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church. Pastor Childs calls it rebirth. Tellingly, the couple choose Easter Sunday for their reopening. What could go wrong?
Plenty can. Plenty does. The whys and wherefores of the Childs’ lives drive Ebo’s wickedly funny take on for-profit religion in the black community.
There is competition from a younger couple, Nicole Beharie as Shakura Sumpter, and Conphidance as Keon Sumpter, helming their fledgling megachurch. Competitive pressures are the logic of the market.
It is an uncontrollable force. The Childs did not create the market. They do however swim in its water.
There is also the pastor’s past. It is not past, remotely. This lesson resonates. How one treats others in and out of a megachurch matters, no matter the amount of melanin in one’s pigmentation.
Ebo, Kaluuya and Peele deliver a scathing cinematic tour de force in “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” It can alternately cause viewers to laugh and wince. For this reviewer, that is the mark of a well-done satire.