“Fix me” is the new black. Black people love being fixed, don’t we? There’s no other reason we gather in front of our televisions and computer screens on Thursday nights and have a running commentary on ABC’s Scandal. Never mind the illicit affair with the leader of the free world, Olivia Pope makes her living fixing people. The irony is that she can’t even fix herself. She’s broken. According to this piece in The Atlantic, she’s looking for a savior. The fixer screams from the bowels of her soul, “Fix me!” We watch because something resonates with us about this idea of repairing something that’s broken in our lives. We all experience brokenness on some level. So Shonda Rhimes has merely tapped into that subliminal desire to be fixed.
The OWN Network wasn’t too far behind. They recruited Iyanla Vanzant to host a show they decided to call Iyanla: Fix My Life (clever). Because we all need fixing, right? And predictably so, the show is now the number one reality show on the OWN network. Good job, Oprah: you’ve successfully perpetuated the myth in black people’s mind that we need other folks to fix us. So you go out and recruit a well-known name to step into celebrities’ lives and fix them. This weekend Iyanla was asked to fix the lives of legendary gospel group the Pace Sisters. So let me get this right: you invite a New Thought Priestess and “spiritual guide” who cloaks spiritual language in Gnostic thought to fix your life and expect it to go over well? Cool, cool. But I digress. In the episode, the Pace Sisters were invited to join Vanzant on a two-day retreat to get to the bottom of what was going on in their family. And boy did that ever happen.
In a lucid account, the elder Pace sister, Duranice, recalled a horrific incident of sexual abuse in her past. The visceral response from her sisters and viewers alike elucidates the horrid nature of sex abuse and its impact. Another sister, DeJuaii, also vulnerably shared about her personal life. “I’m angry because I feel that my attraction to other women is wrong,” DeJuaii said, “that who I am is unacceptable because it embarrasses the family.” This caused another sister, June, to walk out of the room. When asked about it later, June stated, “I mean, we know better” (i.e., we were taught better than that). Vanzant scolded June for judging her sister and being saturated in a “dogma and a theology” that doesn’t embrace DeJuaii.
The lamentable thing I got from watching this is that it took a reality show for the sisters to discuss these issues. Growing up in a Pentecostal church, it’s very likely they felt they needed to suppress their issues rather than address them. Am I glad they started to talk about them? Yes. Am I happy about the fallout since then? No.
The Internet has been abuzz about the way some of the sisters treated DeJuaii’s discussion of her desire to be with women. One blogger is fed up with “nice-nasty” Christians like June. Another stated with frustration, “The closer I become acquainted with ‘devout Christians’ and those who represent leadership in the Christian community, the more I begin to feel like religion truly was created as a mechanism to control the masses.”
Unfortunately, many young, black adults share the same sentiments. Church is for those who want to be controlled. It’s stale, judgmental, and unattractive. This iconic group of black women who represent leadership in the church is full of dogmatic and legalistic robots.
Honestly, the caricature has played out on Christian reality television for the past year. And there’s more to come. This fall, we’ll be “blessed” with the opportunity to look into the lives of a group of pastors in Los Angeles. The show is aptly titled “Pastors of L.A.” No matter what, with these shows, the audience walks away with one thought: the Black church is hypocritical. If this is the perception the networks are giving, who can blame them? The Pace Sisters did very little to ease the burden of Christians who try to prove to the world that not all Christians are hypocritical. They did very little to prove that there are rational, loving ways to address issues (e.g., homosexuality) that have been normalized in our culture. And that’s the problem with Christian reality television. It doesn’t accurately reflect the Christian reality—a reality steeped in deep commitment to Christ and real, perceptible engagement with the world around us.
The Pace Sisters were looking for answers. Olivia Pope is still looking for answers (“Dad?!?!”). Let’s be candid here. We’re all looking for answers. We all want our lives fixed. But here’s the true “reality”: brokenness is part of the human narrative. The events in Oklahoma a few days ago confirm this. And we all look for meaning and purpose. Unfortunately, we tend to look for that meaning and purpose outside of our Creator. That’s why we create dogmatic, legalistic rules without life transformation. That’s why we try to earn merit with God ourselves. That’s why we look to a man (or woman) to affirm us. That’s why we work so hard to climb the corporate ladder. But one Pauline truth is informative here: “In [Christ], all things hold together” (1 Colossians 1:17b). All things. Your marriage. Your life. Your pain. Your scars. Your finances. The only Person capable of fixing our lives is Christ Jesus. Iyanla can’t. Olivia can’t. Barack Obama can’t. Congress can’t.
So after we reach the end of our DVRed episode, after the shock wears off, after the social media commentary is over, we still need a Fixer. No cameras. No pretense. Just Him. *insert Shonda bulb flash*