I’ve got to admit I do watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta just about every Sunday night. And now that True Entertainment, the company that produces the raucous reality show, is producing a new reality show about Atlanta “first ladies,” I will probably be watching that show when it debuts Tuesday, Jan. 1, at 9 p.m. ET on TLC. The Sisterhood features five preachers’ wives: Christina, DeLana, Domonique, Ivy, and Tara. From the trailer many saw of the show, these preachers’ wives are not the circumspect, stand-behind-your man type of women that many would expect preachers’ wives to be. In the trailer, Domonique is a former drug addict and shows the other preachers’ wives a home in Miami where she used to smoke crack; Tara is a fitness buff with a penchant for getting tattoos and convinces Domonique to get one too; Ivy is shown getting handcuffs as a gift from her husband Mark, pastor of Emmanuel Tabernacle Church, and proceeds to share about their relationship. In fact, the trailer is so controversial that a petition to get the show off the air was initiated on change.org.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution offered more in-depth descriptions of each first lady, which proved to be very interesting. For example, while Domonique Scott, 45, is a cast member, she is no longer technically a first lady, as she and her husband Brian had to close down their church after experiencing “hard times.” The website for Good Life International Church, however, is still up.
Christina Murray, 34, is married to Anthony, pastor of Oasis Family Life Church. The couple has two teenaged daughters who apparently will provide some drama for the show, as they are “as sassy as their mother.”
DeLana Rutherford, 37, is married to Myles Rutherford, pastor of Worship with Wonders Church. Apparently, the duo utilizes music as an integral part of their ministry, as they compose their own music and perform it each Sunday.
A former member of the ’90s R&B group Xscape, Ivy Couch, 35, is using her gifts for the Lord as a wife and mother to a 1-year-old son.
Like her fellow castmate Domonique, Tara Lewis, 41, is technically not a first lady either, as her husband, Dr. Brian Lewis, lost his position at a church after only working there for six weeks. As the couple and children recently located to the metro Atlanta area from Los Angeles, the show will demonstrate how the family is adjusting to all of these life-changing events. For future reference, this is the first lady who likes to get “tatted up” and was trying to convince Domonique to follow suit in the trailer.
After watching the trailer, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after watching a pre-screening of the first episode, I began to believe this show could potentially offer something more valuable than the latest over-the-top drama featured on many if not most reality shows. I was also able to interview Domonique and Ivy, and they admit the trailer for the show even rattled them.
“As you can imagine when my husband gives me handcuffs, I have gotten, it has run the gamut from shock to disappointment to ‘I cannot believe this’ to some people saying, ‘Thank God y’all do have a healthy intimate life.’ I have gotten it all,” said Ivy.
However, Ivy noted that what was shown in the trailer does not entirely represent all of what transpired with her throughout the course of the season.
“I think the trailer does its job in terms of stirring up controversy, making people want to watch the show, but God gave me peace about it, and I love Him because He vindicates in due time,” she said. “And when I use the word ‘vindicate,’ I mean He will reveal the truth of who you are over time. I’m not ashamed of that, but the whole scene has not been revealed.”
Dominique has also been challenged by reactions she has received from clergy friends.
“A lot of my so-called friends, clergy members or whatever, they are like, ‘Why are you on there on telling people you used to smoke crack and why did you get a tattoo?’ And I’m like, ‘God still delivers, He still saves, right?’ I’m not ashamed of what God has done for me. If you are ashamed of Him before men, He will be ashamed of you before the Father, so I’m not ashamed of what God has done for me,” she said. “They also said, ‘Well, according to the Bible, you are not supposed to mark yourself.’ I said, ‘That was Old Testament.’…We are under the new covenant, which is grace and mercy.”
In the first episode, I saw some angst as Domonique and her husband Brian visit Christina and Anthony’s church, which seems to be growing and thriving, while their own church had to be shut down due to some admitted financial irresponsibility on their part and decreasing membership. I don’t know how this particular story line will develop, but I like it because Atlanta is likely the mecca for many of the country’s largest megachurches. Still, there are many, many churches in the metro Atlanta area that have not grown as much as others, and I imagine that many pastor’s wives feel what Domonique appeared to have felt in the first episode.
Domonique likened the scene in the first episode to the Bible story about the two women who birthed babies, one of whom died. The mother of the baby that died falsely accused the other woman of stealing her baby.
“What you saw in that scene was a little bit like, ‘God, if we would have just held on a little bit longer, or we would have done this a little bit different, or we would blah blah blah, we could be holding our own living child,’” she said. “But nevertheless I’m going to celebrate and be happy for you and know and trust and believe that God is going to bring this around back to me.”
Viewers will also learn more about what it is like to be first lady of an inner-city church through Ivy’s experiences. As her church is on Dill Avenue, in one of the rougher parts of the city, many of their church members are former prostitutes, drug dealers and gang leaders, according to Ivy. Domonique also shares her experiences as a former drug addict throughout the season.
“You’re going to experience the journey that you would think I had experienced 20 years ago. We are trained as Christians to forgive, and I forgave everybody, but I didn’t take care of me. I’m grateful to TLC because they allowed me to go back and just really deal with some things full frontal,” said Domonique.
While those story lines seemed to be the more redeeming parts of the show, every reality show worth its salt has to have some drama. In this episode, Domonique and Ivy seem to be at odds with fitness buff Tara, whose husband offers a unique perspective as a Jewish man who converted to Christianity before entering the ministry. There are also many discussions among the other wives and husbands about what could have possibly transpired to lead to the dismissal of Dr. Lewis only six weeks after arriving at a church. Tara is often seen quoting Scripture at every opportunity (even while working out), while the other women want to reveal who they truly are outside of their roles as first ladies.
“It’s very challenging to deal with anyone who just don’t keep it 100,” said Domonique about her relationship with Tara on the show. “You have to see yourself—good or bad—for what it is. And when you can’t, then for me it is a challenge to walk with you because of the places that God delivered me from. I don’t know no other way. I need for you to be who you are all the time. Don’t be this way today and this way tomorrow and be this way in front of Bishop Tulalala and be this way in front of Scooby Dooby Doo.”
I spoke with some other metro Atlanta first ladies to get their perspective on the controversial show. Of course, I had to start with my mother, Alice May Holness, who has been the first lady of Central Christian Church for over 30 years. After watching the trailer, my mother said, “I don’t think I will watch the show because I didn’t see anything that drew me to it, maybe because of the age difference between me and the women. Also, I don’t even really like the term ‘first lady,’ because people think that being a first lady is about being into fashion and wearing big hats. There is a lot more than glamour. You have to have genuine love for people to be a pastor’s wife. Your main goal is to be supportive of your husband. It’s an awesome responsibility, and there is a soberness that comes with it.”
Rev. Elaine Gattis, first lady and executive minister of the historic Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Stockbridge, had a similar reaction to the show after watching the trailer.
“At first glance, I can say that I did not like that the show seems to play into a culture of superficiality and materialism that many other shows such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta breeds,” said Gattis, who admitted she watches The Real Housewives of Atlanta as a guilty pleasure. “As Christian women, I was somewhat disappointed that there did not seem to be any display of class and modesty that first ladies should display, not just in front of the congregation but behind the scenes in ‘real life’ as well.”
However, Madelyn Battle, who is the first lady of the Upper Room Church in Riverdale, said she is somewhat intrigued by the show.
“The way it seems that first ladies are portrayed on this show is not realistic,” said Battle. “But I would like to see the show for myself in order to have a clearer understanding and perspective of the show. I think that to be a successful first lady, we need to look at 2 John for the biblical guidelines of what a first or elect lady should look like. She should first be a success as a good homemaker and support to her husband. She should also have healthy self-esteem, being aware of her own purpose and her own calling.”
Ivy said that people should tune in before making a snap judgment after seeing the trailer.
“From the trailer, you really don’t get a full picture of who we are as women or who we are as wives, but you do get some very, very controversial pieces of who we are,” said Ivy. “Watch and see because it’s going to be a ride. It’s wild. It’s funny. It’s tear-jerking. It’s very emotional. It’s cathartic. It’s all of these things rolled into one.”