Greenleaf is a melodrama about a black Christian family behind a Memphis megachurch (Calvary Fellowship). This series is executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and airs on her network (Oprah Winfrey Network).
The series begins with the return of Grace Greenleaf (Merle Dandridge), to the family home in Memphis after 20 years for her sister’s funeral. The actual cause of her death remains a mystery and Grace’s return causes immediate tension within the family and it continues to rise throughout the season.
Grace is determined to get to discuss the events leading to the death of her sister (Faith Greenleaf) but she is quickly shunned by her mother. The first family dinner results in Grace being interrogated relentlessly by her sister in law (Kerissa Greanleaf) about her church attendance and walk with Christ. To her mother’s disappointment, Grace reveals that she only attends church seasonally and no longer follows the bible strictly. This leaves everyone apart from her father (Bishop James) turning their noses up at her. Early on in the series it is very clear that Grace is the black swan in her family, she doesn’t fit in with the Greenleaf ‘holier than thou’ image. This holier than thou image begins to crumble as the season unravels. As the saying goes ‘all that glitters isn’t gold’ and throughout the season the perfect picture family becomes tainted as the lies and secrets within the household begin to surface.
(Photo: Grace and her mother)
Some of the issues that surface include infidelity, homosexuality, child abuse, rape and police brutality. Amidst all these goings-on within the family, the church is also being investigated for tax exemption fraud.
The show brings to light many of the problems that we face as Christians and in our churches today. Three main themes stood out to me from season 1:
- Spirituality vs Religion
- Money and the Church
- The Church and state
Spirituality vs Religion
In the very first episode, Grace gets into a debate with her sister in law about her church attendance and her Christian values. The question of religion vs spirituality comes up, this always causes some controversy. Really and truly, what does it mean to be religious or spiritual? And are these the right questions we should be asking?
I believe we are asking the wrong questions here. It’s not about being religious or spiritual. It’s about having a relationship with Jesus Christ. When we ask these kinds of questions, we fall into the trap of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy–full of greed and self-indulgence’’
The Pharisees and Sadducees were really good at adhering to religious laws and regulations. Good old ‘religious’ folk, however, they rejected the Messiah and ignored fundamental principles, faith, hope, love, justice, mercy and peace. Sometimes as Christians we can be like the religious leaders and turn our noses at other people because they are not doing x,y,z but you are. But we can’t fool God, we can hide behind all our religious practices and traditions all we want but it means nothing if our hearts are far away from God. If our core is right then our actions will follow suit.
A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.
(Grace’ father and head pastor of the church)
Money and the Church
Money is always a sensitive
issue but when it comes to money and the church it gets deeper. The Greenleaf’s live in style, acres of land, private jets, finest cuisine, 24-hour security and more. This Memphis megachurch comes across as a business venture more than anything. In one episode a deacon based the quality of preaching on how much money the church received in offerings that Sunday. It is unfortunate to see but a sad truth. Many churches today are motivated by money. No doubt that its expensive running a megachurch but when the church is more worried about the amount of money in the collection plate rather than the number of souls saved …it’s a problem! Teaching the word of God and building up the saints should be top priority. When the focus is solely on money the gospel can get lost behind all the dollar signs.
The Church and the state
A police officer who attended Calvary (David Nelson) faced a murder charge after shooting a young man. Following this incident he tried to get in contact several times but no one got in contact with him. However, lucky for him Grace decided to stay a little longer and was reinstated as the outreach pastor. She stood by his side even though the whole world was against him. Bishop James did not want to get involved with the situation at all until he was bribed by the local authorities with a plot of land. However, the deacon board were strongly against this because they did not want the church to be seen supporting a police officer who had murdered a young man. Another church in the neighbourhood were protesting against police brutality and supporting the family of the deceased young man. It was actually quite refreshing to see the church stand up and support the cause. It is important for the church to be a part of the current affairs. The church is a vehicle for God to move in society so it should seek to actively be involved and uphold justice in line with biblical values.
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.
Written by the brilliant Bernie x