Warning: The following few paragraphs contain words that some may find critical of two-thirds of the most revered institutions in the black community: preachers and Oprah Winfrey. If you have ever experienced heart palpitations or have accused someone of blasphemy for daring to utter words of criticism toward the black trinity, please consult a physician before reading further. For the sake of safety, we will make no mention of the third part of the sacred triumvirate—Beyoncé. We aren’t crazy.
On Saturday, April 15, the Oprah Winfrey Network premiered the new show The Book of John Gray. The docudrama (pronounced “ree-ally-tee shō”) follows John Gray, the associate pastor of megachurch trailblazer Joel Osteen, the real-life Ned Flanders. The OWN Network describes Gray as must-see TV:
Known for his loud, hilarious, unconventional and gravitating ways, Gray has traveled the world utilizing his gifts of music, comedy and preaching to help bring people together from all walks of life and share the gospel in his unique and uncompromising way. In the new series, Gray will give viewers intimate access into his home life and world renowned ministry as he helps people in his community overcome life challenges, while facing his own relatable struggles as a husband and father.
Sounds pretty cool, right? I mean, I wouldn’t watch it if Jesus himself made a guest appearance in the third episode and there was nothing else on TV but a close-up shot of Greta Van Susteren struggling to smile or middle-aged ladies in loose clothes and comfortable shoes on HSN trying to sell weird, sequined combination sweater-scarves—but to each his own. I’ve heard tell of people who like sugar in their grits, so I try not to judge. I imagine that someone’s going to watch The Book of John Gray, and we all have the option of turning the channel, right?
Except there’s one thing OWN doesn’t mention in its colorful description: John Gray has a troubling history of homophobia.
Gray doesn’t just preach against LGBTQ issues; he apparently deplores them. Like when he tweeted:
Although it sounds harsh, equating someone’s sexual orientation with being a lying cheater doesn’t vary much from the statements of many other fundamentalist preachers. But Gray has made many other public statements that stray far from biblical doctrine to seemingly reveal the heart of a man who despises the existence of any other ideas of gender and sexuality outside of his narrow worldview.
In 2015, after Target announced that it would move to gender-neutral bathrooms and stop labeling toys for boys and girls, Gray tweeted:
Gray threatened to self-boycott Target because ... umm ... hate, I guess. What could be the other reason? It couldn’t have anything to do with religion because I diligently searched Gray’s social media accounts but couldn’t find any tweets of him railing against Target for selling alcohol, R-rated movies, cheeseburgers, condoms, jean booty shorts for white women or any of the other anti-biblical items on the store’s shelves. (I’m not completely sure that the Bible prohibits booty shorts for Caucasian girls, but I think it was one of the Commandments that Moses dropped.)
Gray can’t even stand to see displays of homosexuality on his television screen. He was watching the 2014 Grammys when he had to endure the despicable sight of Queen Latifah and Madonna officiating weddings for 33 gay couples. Of course, Gray had to go to his secret closet and talk to God about it. And by “God” I mean the Twitterverse:
Let’s be clear: This mass wedding did not take place in Gray’s living room or at his church; it was at the Grammys! Would you like to know what else happened at the 2014 Grammys? Macklemore’s The Heist won best rap album over Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. If Gray didn’t drop to his knees and talk to Jesus about that, then it is obvious he doesn’t care about fairness or equality.
Gray is just the latest addition to Oprah’s gay-hating-preachers roster. OWN acquired the rights to T.D. Jakes’ talk show in September. The jolly megachurch pastor has said that he has evolved on gay rights over time, but he still doesn’t endorse gay marriage, as is his personal choice granted to him by his guarantee to freedom of religion. As recently as 2015, Jakes said:
LGBTs of different types and sorts have to find a place of worship that reflects what your views are and what you believe like anyone else. And the church should have the right to have its own convictions and values. If you don’t like those convictions and values, you totally disagree with it, don’t try to change my house, move into your own. And establish that sort of thing, and find somebody who gets what you get about faith, and, trust me, I’ve talked to enough LGBT and they’re not all the same.
Joel Osteen has similarly come around, stating that homosexuality is a sin, but gay people will get into heaven. But as with Gray, Oprah had hopped on the Osteen and Jakes bandwagons before they softened their homophobic stances.
For the record, everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs, but when far-right Christian Identity supremacists use the Bible to explain why black people are cursed or why “race mixing” is against the will of God, we call them what they are—racists. But the biggest question is this:
Why does Oprah keep giving men like Gray a platform?
Notwithstanding the lavish diamonds, regal estates, private planes and equivocating explanations on how God wants them to be wealthy with money from the pockets of the poor and middle-class people they serve, and their Republican-like political pussyfooting around the supposed sanctity of marriage when it comes to homosexuality but not divorce (Jakes’ divorced daughter ministers at one of his churches) and other issues, why are people with these views constantly placed on pedestals for the world to hear? What is the difference between the men who say they don’t hate gays—they just subscribe to a core belief that believes homosexuality is deplorable—and when David Duke says:
I have spoken all over the world and I have great respect for Muslims, I have great respect for the African people, I have respect for the other races. Even back home in Louisiana, I’m called a racist, but I have respect for the black people of my country and I want them to have their own life, too, and I want them to be able to pursue their own destiny and not be controlled, and not be damaged.
Oprah is beloved in the gay community (OK, let’s face it—Oprah is beloved in every community), so it is open disrespect to offer a show, salary and pulpit to a person who can’t bear the sight of a large part of OWN’s viewer base. If someone else were doing this, would there be more noise? Of course, Winfrey has earned much of her goodwill over the years, but it seems as if the only reason there hasn’t been an outcry is the name on the channel. Giving John Gray a television show is a more egregious act than Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial or SheaMoisture’s Becky ad.
Or maybe there is another reason: Maybe we’re all a little homophobic. Perhaps staying on the good side of Oprah is more important to us than pointing out what’s right. Maybe we are anti-homophobic when it doesn’t require heavy lifting or facing uncomfortable questions.
Hopefully, OWN will come to its senses, because we loves us some Harpo. Lord knows we do ...