The Grace Greenleaf Effect
How TVs new drama lucked-up on the truth behind disruptive gospel
Television’s new original series Greenleaf on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) marks the first scripted show depicting what some are calling “Megachurch Drama.” Greenleaf humanizes church leadership by providing a behind-the-scenes look into the struggles, desires, and flaws of bishops and pastors, assistants, choir directors, and even first ladies. Greenleaf centers on estranged daughter Grace “Gigi” Greenleaf’s return and her disruption of her family’s and church’s carefully managed image of perfection.
As Response Pastor, Grace can’t help but break her promise to her mother not to sow discord. Instead, she works tirelessly to expose her uncle Mac as the pedophile and rapist he is, completely disturbing the family’s peace and business as usual, not to mention that of the church. And, it is in this disturbance that we find a discordant gospel, one that repels and one that heals all at the same time. The Grace Greenleaf Effect.
Stay to Play
Grace Greenleaf doesn’t leave to start her own church, center, or organization to help victims of sexual violence. No, Grace stays at Calvary Fellowship World Ministries to work for both the healing of the oppressed and transformation of the oppressor. It is in staying and forcing Calvary to acknowledge that it has both protected and perpetuated violence against its own church members, yea even family members, that Grace gets vindication for the victims. But her presence also creates an environment where her family and Calvary can practice repentance.
In staying and accepting the job as the Response Pastor, Grace positions herself to have enough influence to change church culture at Calvary. It’s not enough to call out injustice and create new communities that protect those who have been wronged.
The work of justice requires that we challenge the cultures and systems that inflict violence, but that we also help reshape the culture of existing communities that protect and support violence so that silence and complacency are a thing of the past. The Grace Greenleaf Effect then is a contemporary prophetic oration of Isaiah 59:4 where God tells the prophet Isaiah that “no one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth” and he considers such to be the reason why “we look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us” (Isaiah 59:9).
Grace stays at Calvary to help her family and church repent for the sin of silence. Her staying promotes a change in Calvary’s culture so that they cease to be a community that protects and perpetuates violence, but they become a community that works for healing and vindication.
Grace preaches precisely on the importance of talking about things we typically “hate talking about in church.” Calling the congregation into a moment of silence Grace says, “let’s take our moment of silence this morning and when we’re done let us promise ourselves and all the abused around us, all those victims, that we will never be silent again. The silence ends today!”
By encouraging her family and congregation to be vocal about abuse and refrain from protecting false images of perfection, Grace socially and spiritually works to tear down Satan’s kingdom of false appearances, violence, and complacency in the oppression of others.
The Grace Greenleaf Effect then is to have a love for people that causes you to dismantle any structure or system that supports or protects violence against them. Grace Greenleaf disrupts the illusion of peace within her own family so that the victims of sexual and domestic violence that attend the church might have vindication.
During a time when many doubt the intentions of various Christian churches, questioning if they truly care about the social and physical ills that attack their bodies on a daily basis, it seems as though many churches need a Response Pastor like Grace Greenleaf. It seems as though churches need someone who believes that part of the necessary response to social and physical violence is to disturb the church’s silence surrounding such issues, and disrupt their performance of peace and perfection.
Critical Roles Played By the Flawed
But while Greenleaf articulates the importance of disturbing the church’s silence and complacency, it also reveals that the truth of the Gospel is not contingent upon self-proclaimed Christians. While we may be introduced to Christ through our interactions with other Christians, the Bible tells us that it is the job of these flawed beings to bring us to the only perfect Being – Jesus Christ.
David admonishes us in Psalm 118:8 that “it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man,” and Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 2:5 “that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” So when you see leaders mimic Grace’s lack of self-control, or Pastor Jacob Greenleaf’s infidelity, or Mae Greenleaf’s anger and inability to forgive, yea, Mac’s sexual abuse and his lack of remorse, do not doubt in the validity of the Gospel. Instead, understand the very individuals called to deliver the Gospel are broken.
Just remember that the brokenness of humanity does not provide us a pass to be silent when they break others. Be vocal! Hold everyone accountable for the pain they’ve caused and challenge them to receive the power of Jesus Christ that they may be empowered to not hurt you or anyone else in that way again.
It is the job of the Christian to disrupt any culture, structure, or system that protects or perpetuates violence by ignoring the pain of people to maintain a false image of peace and perfection. Just as Pastor Grace Greenleaf embodies, we must work with our leadership to call out sin so that those who have been hurt can receive help and healing, but also so that those who have committed the sin of silence, yea inflicted the abuse, have the opportunity to repent and turn away.
Claudia M. Allen is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of English at the University of Maryland specializing in 19th and 20th century African American literature. She earned her MA in English from Georgetown University and her BA in English with a minor in Leadership from Andrews University. Claudia is passionate about the language of race, theology, and social engagement and how these ideologies and philosophies intersect.