In Gonzales Park in Compton, Los Angeles, a former Crip gangster gets out of a gleaming black Mercedes. He’s wearing a black leather trench coat, dark glasses and a black wide-brimmed hat. When he takes off his black leather gloves, his fingers sparkle with gems.
“I brought Mr Glock just in case,” he says, pulling a gun from his briefcase and ejecting the clip. “Fully loaded. So if anything happens, we got nine rounds.”
Ron Gibson, 58, could pass for a hitman. But he’s not – he’s a bishop, one of six on a new reality show that debuted last year called Preachers of LA from the Oxygen Network. Five are African American like Gibson, and then there’s a token white guy – introduced at the insistence of the network – but all are outlandish characters who preach the prosperity gospel, that quintessentially American strain of Christianity that maintains that you can pray yourself rich, that bling equates with blessings and it’s OK to flaunt it too, all the better to advertise what God can do.
“People see my glory but they don’t know my story!” says Gibson, trotting out one of his favourite lines. As we sit on a bench on a chilly morning, he tells me his come-to-Jesus story – how he grew up poor, joined a gang and would go to the Hollywood hills to mug people. “White people,” he notes. “We didn’t rob black people. And I didn’t steal from houses. I’m no thief. Thieves hit you when you’re not looking but I’d jack you to your face. My mom taught me values.”
He became a drug addict, and might have ended that way had he not been saved. And now, 30 years on, he is a millionaire pastor, married to his childhood sweetheart whom he grandly calls “The First Lady LeVette”. And it all started here, in Gonzales Park, where he used to deal weed and angel dust. That’s why we’re meeting here, and not at his church, some 50 miles away in Riverside.
“It’s actually convenient,” he says. “I’m getting my Ferrari detailed nearby, so after we’ve finished, I’m going to pick it up, drive to Rodeo Drive and buy my wife something nice. Maybe some jewellery.”
It’s high time the Prosperity Gospel got its own reality show. If the Amish, polygamists and ice-road truckers merit the reality treatment, why not the for-profit pastor, as American an archetype as a Texas cowboy?
Certainly, the preachers seem remarkably well-suited to the genre, what with their outsized egos and gaudy wealth. The show is shot in the familiar style of The Kardashians and Real Housewives, with the same choppy edits, peppy music, and a camera that glamorises and trivialises in turn – one minute it’s ogling their mansions and Bentleys, the next it’s zooming in on their squabbles and domestic bickering. Think of it as the Real Preachers of LA County. Perhaps if season two goes ahead we may see a city-by-city franchise, as with Housewives, from New York to DC to Atlanta.
Source: Telegraph UK | Sanjiv Bhattacharya