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“Don’t be culturally competitive while remaining spiritually bankrupt.”
This is a quote that popped up in my Twitter feed as I watched the series premiere of “Thicker than Water” a reality show that documents the prosperous yet problem-filled lives of the Tankards. The quote was attributed to Rev. William Curtis, pastor of Mt. Ararat Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but I don’t think the tweet came as a response to the show although it came at just the right time.
If the name Tankard sounds familiar it is because you probably own some of Ben Tankard’s music. He’s been called “the Quincy Jones of gospel music” specializing primarily in instrumental arrangements as well as producing other gospel artists. On “Thicker than Water” he is the father to a blended family of five children he likens to “The Black Brady Bunch,” a husband to a wife who is in love with money as much as he is, the pastor of the Destiny Center Church located in Murfeesboro, Tennessee, and an overall braggart about his wealth. Tankard is a true rags to riches story and isn’t afraid to tell it. Having experienced poverty at a young age and also homelessness when an injury threatened his promising NBA career, Tankard seems determined never to taste the bitter gall of poverty. As he says, “I’ve been poor, now I’m rich. Trust me, rich is better.” But it seems that riches have become the god of him and his wife–Jewel–and this is shown most clearly within the first five minutes of the show:
“The first time that I realized that God wanted us to be rich, I was a senior in college and I saw this phenomenal man and woman of God standing up and preaching the word of God and honey, wasn’t nothing broke about them! I said, “Oh Lord, this is the Jesus that I know.” Jewel Tankard
“You are supposed to dominate in life and certainly be a millionaire.” Ben Tankard
“We serve a God who is all about the bling in heaven. There’s no ghetto section of heaven.” Ben Tankard
“If I had to take a vow of poverty I would have never gotten saved.” Jewel Tankard
Tankard is a prosperity gospel preacher in the truest sense, telling his congregation they are meant to dominate and be millionaires. He also teaches this millionaire philosophy to his children and seems to be more interested in making them materially rich rather than spiritually rich. But all that glitters isn’t gold for the Tankards and the first show reveals some hints of the spiritual bankruptcy that is looming over the large family.
Brooklyn, Ben’s daughter from a previous marriage, holds no punches as an embittered daughter watching her father spoil and dote on her little sister Cyrene. For example, instead of supporting Brooklyn in her first marathon run, Ben and Jewel stayed home to document Cyrene getting ready for prom. Brooklyn watches Cyrene get rights and privileges that she never had growing up and she unabashedly shows her bitterness toward the loving father-daughter relationship she sees between Ben and Cyrene.
Cyrene is a classic baby of the family. She knows what to do to get what she wants and Ben and Jewel spoil her because of this. Of course this is all unfolding before Brooklyn’s eyes—because she lives at home with the Tankards along with her 10-year-old daughter Diamond. Brooklyn attributes her teen pregnancy and legal troubles—she ran an illegal strip joint that lead to her arrest—to her absent father. The dynamic between Brooklyn and Ben seems to be a promising storyline that may show America how a daughter reconciles with her previously prodigal father.
Benji, the only boy in the Tankard clan, appears to be a college dropout. A previous success story whom received a track scholarship to go to college, Benji partied too hard and had to leave school. Now he is back at home with the family—and his wife—trying to get a fresh start. Benji has dreams of becoming a millionaire like his father yet it doesn’t seem clear that he is doing anything substantial to get there.
Britney is the only Tankard—aside from Brooklyn—who seems determined not to subscribe to her family’s millionaire philosophy and lifestyle. She holds down a job, seems rather self-sufficient, and is closest to Brooklyn. We don’t know much about her backstory but I’m sure it will be revealed as the season goes forward.
Within the show’s first hour the Tankard’s paint the picture of a rich and happy family–or at least how they perceive rich and happy families to be. Mr. and Mrs. Tankard go shopping for jet planes like the average American goes shopping for a car. The Tankard family gathers together dressed in white and khaki to play croquette in the backyard. Cyrene, the Tankard baby, has a dreamboat boyfriend who looks like a black Ken doll and brings flowers to the family BBQ as he prepares to ask her to go to prom with him. Jewel Tankard arises each morning to recite a Billionaire Confession because, in her words, “I am already a millionairess, I am trying to become a billionairess.” They do well to fit into Bravo’s mold of rich reality television-ready families but they do nothing to fit into the mold of a Godly family. There, I said it.
Last night the Tankards joined the ranks of Bravo reality television families who are more concerned with maintaining fortune and B-level fame than they are of doing something fruitful with their time. They looked no different than the “Real Housewives of _________,” “The Shahs of Sunset,” “Vanderpump Rules,” and “The New Atlanta.” I have no qualms with the aforementioned shows and their respective casts pimping themselves out for a dollar because they aren’t champions for any cause other than their self-glorification. Nene and them have no responsibility to “stand out” because they’ve made no declaration of being sold out for Christ. But the Tankards, as a Christian family, headed by a preacher and psalmist of sorts of the gospel have a different responsibility. Their responsibility is to be a witness to God’s goodness in this world and that has very little to do with material wealth. If God’s goodness is reduced to how much God blesses people financially, then God is only blessing a few people while the rest of us are living outside of the blessing. God’s blessings are deeper than our pockets, don’t believe the Tankards or any prosperity gospel hype.
Revisiting the Rev. William Curtis’s quote from earlier, the Tankards have now positioned themselves as cultural competitors who are on the verge of becoming spiritually bankrupt. They have seemingly traded being champions for Christ in the public eye for being champions of wealth and adoration of people. This adoration isn’t even for the work that they do for God–which is something we could argue the “Preachers of LA” do; it is adoration because of what they believe God has given them, wealth and riches. They have crossed into the territory of worshipping and glorifying the gifts instead of the giver and I fear that they don’t even know it. But this is all just from a first impression, the impression that we claim is the most important. For the Tankard’s sake, let’s hope they use the second episode and the season at large to leave a better impression.