Do not love the world or the things in the world, John says in 1 John 2.
Not so fast, John! Lee-Curtis Childs says.
If the all-powerful Father didn’t want him and his wife, Trinitie, to own a Bugatti, why do they have one? Surely, He would’ve put a stop to it, right? Angels fly with their own sets of wings, so why shouldn’t the Childs have their own private jet? Oh, and all those Italian shoes in their church closet? Remember, the Apostle Paul spent an awful lot of time in Rome. Surely, if his guards had let him out of jail for a little me time, he would’ve picked out a couple pairs of Prada.
“There’s just something about a pastor in Prada,” Trinitie sighs.
God blesses the ones He loves, Lee-Curtis tells his followers. You only need to look as far as the good pastor’s abs to see just how much God loves Lee-Curtis Childs.
What? You want to talk about the scandal? All those barely legal guys that Lee-Curtis allegedly showered with gifts and, um, affection? Water under the bridge, he says. Pastor Lee-Curtis a good man. Trinitie will vouch for that. He’s always been a loving, devoted husband, she’ll insist. But now, he’s even more loving. More devoted. And they’re both super-duper in love with and devoted to God, too.
Which is why they’re prepping to reopen their church doors. They’re ready to welcome back the faithful to the Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church.
And what better time to relaunch their ministry than on Easter Sunday? Easter, after all, marks something of a comeback story itself. The date is a perfect time to commemorate the ultimate comeback: Lee-Curtis’s own.
If you’re looking for great, God-honoring behavior in Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul … well, you’ll be looking a long time.
Most of the people we meet in this mockumentary are more caricatures than characters—designed to illustrate the problems with commercial-driven and self-worshiping ministry. If we view this satire generously, the film is turning over tables in the temple—tables that deserve to be flipped.
But while Lee-Curtis and his hypocrisy are central to the satire, Honk for Jesus is really Trinitie’s story. For years, she sat in the background (albeit on a golden throne), helping her husband’s star rise and facilitating the growth of the church. She talks about the complex roles that pastor’s wives are expected to play; the unpaid jobs they’re required to fill.
And while her motivations certainly aren’t altogether pure, her spirit of sacrifice—for her husband and for her church—can’t be questioned. (Whether she should’ve sacrificed so much … well, that’s one of the film’s central questions.)
From the title on down, Honk for Jesus is inherently religious, even if honest faith is rarely seen here. The film satirizes a certain sort of church culture—that of the megachurch.
The movie’s creators, twins Adamma and Adanne Ebo, grew up in that world, and they clearly know all the spiritual lingo that comes with the territory. We hear countless uses of “God bless” (even if the characters mean exactly the opposite); we see Bible verses trotted out to illustrate a point or bolster an argument. We witness plenty of conflict, even as disagreements rage underneath sanctimonious language and false smiles.
Honk for Jesus rarely attacks Christianity or Christian traditions themselves. The issue here isn’t the faith, but rather how that faith (and the power that can come with being a faith leader) can be perverted and corrupted.
But there are a couple of exceptions.
First, we see Lee-Curtis “slay” a girl in the spirit, and some of his followers dance—both aspects seen in various streams of Christianity. But as the dance goes on, the girl is interviewed by the documentary crew. She tells them, “I love good theater,” suggesting these particular manifestations of her faith are merely done for show.
The second example is more complex. Some observers wonder, through the course of the film, why Trinitie stays with her husband, given his homosexual wanderings. Trinitie wonders sometimes, too. But when she confesses to her mother that she’s not sure if she can hold the marriage together, her mom rebukes her—asking whether she’s Christian at all.
Matthew 19:9 tells us that sexual immorality can be grounds for divorce. But many Christian couples have worked through even this incredibly difficult issue. And Focus on the Family (of which Plugged In is a part) offers plenty of tools to help husbands and wives navigate betrayal and crisis. (You can begin to research those tools yourself by clicking here.)
The movie suggests it’s inconceivable that Trinitie should ever want to stay with her husband in light of his actions—and when it hints at why she does, her reasons have nothing to do with honoring God. The reasons why Christian couples stay together in the wake of infidelity are often more complex and significantly more spiritual.
It’d be impossible to list every instance of spirituality or religiosity we see here, but some scattershot elements to note:
The Childs’ biggest rivals, in terms of recruiting “sheep” (congregants), are Shakura and Keon Sumpter, a husband-and-wife pastoral team. While both couples profess to want the best for each other’s ministries, their actions suggest otherwise. We’re told that Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church used to have deacons, but that Lee-Curtis and Trinitie scrapped that “unbiblical model” of leadership in exchange for their two-person rule. (It is, of course, explicitly biblical.)
Lee-Curtis has his wife baptize him as a symbol of his recommitment to God. (She holds him underwater long enough to suggest part of her might want more than just a spiritual death for her hubby.) Trinitie’s favorite hat store is called “Bathsheba’s Bonnets.” We hear about some of the many, many programs that Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church offers—including spiritual miming.
[Spoiler Warning] In an effort not to compete with the Sumpters, Lee-Curtis decides to accelerate his church’s reopening. “God built this whole world in six days,” he tells Trinitie. “Call me overzealous, but I think I can rebuild ours in five.” In order to stir up interest, Lee-Curtis has his wife dance outside the church with a “honk for Jesus” sign. As the day for reopening draws near, they wheel out a statue of Black Jesus—one that, perhaps fittingly, shows tears on His cheeks.
We see Lee-Curtis and Trinitie in bed together—first engaged in foreplay, then moving eventually to (offcamera) oral sex. A couple of sexual positions are suggested in the interim—designed to illustrate Lee-Curtis’ sexual preferences and sexual dysfunction.
As mentioned at the outset, Lee-Curtis’ fall involved alleged relationships with much younger men. (We hear that most were around 18-22 years old.) Lee-Curtis sidesteps the extent of relationships happened to the documentary crew—admitting that he has “sinned,” but denying being a “pervert” or a “criminal.” He says that he was admittedly generous to these young men with both his time and treasure, but he insists that he saw them as mentor-mentee relationships, and he claims to be mystified by the numerous civil complaints being brought against him.
But even as the Childs’ church tries to get to the other side of the scandal, Lee-Curtis makes a pass at one of the young documentary crew members. He takes off his shirt to shoot a few hoops, offers the guy a job and introductions with powerful people and strokes the young man’s face—commenting on the stubble. The young man tells Lee-Curtis that his boyfriend likes the stubble and nervously scuttles off. Trinitie, who watched the scene unfold, tells Lee-Curtis that the church can’t afford anymore of his “generosity.”
All of that stands in stark contrast to Lee-Curtis’ vehement sermons against homosexuality. In footage from better days, Lee-Curtis tells his cheering congregants that the “homosexual agenda” aims to destroy marriage.
Lee-Curtis encourages Trinitie to shake her body as she holds up her “Honk for Jesus” sign. Trinitie marvels at a church hat, calling it “holy and sexy all at once.” Lee-Curtis will use any excuse to lose bits of clothes: We see him shirtless often, and he brags about his body from the church stage. During his second baptism, he strips down to his briefs (a mother covers her daughter’s eyes) before stepping into the baptismal.
Lee-Curtis shadowboxes to get himself fired up. He kicks basketballs in frustration. He and Trinitie rap along with the violent (and profane) song “Knuck While You Buck” while driving. A couple of confrontations crackle with violent possibility. As mentioned, Trinitie holds Lee-Curtis under the water during his second baptism.
About two-dozen f-words (including one fused with Jesus’ name) and at least 14 s-words. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and a dozen uses of the n-word. God’s name is misused three times—two with the word “d–n”—and Jesus’ name is abused twice.
Naturally, we see lots of Christians act in rather un-Christian-like manners.
The harshest words Jesus had for anyone, He saved for the religious.
“You brood of vipers!” He tells the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34. He calls them hypocrites. He scolds them for their self-aggrandizement. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” Jesus says in Luke 18, “but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We 21st-century Christians know all about those dastardly Pharisees. But sometimes we fail to see the hypocrisy in our own religiosity. We see others’ pharisaical splinters and miss our own logs.
Satire uses exaggeration to make its points. And yet, judging from the headlines about so many fallen pastors, the exaggerations here aren’t so pronounced. Our faith is eternal, our God without blemish. But those of us who follow? We’re not so perfect. And some who claim to know God the best fall prey to the most grievous of sins.
Honk for Jesus points to the harm that those hypocrisies, and the resulting scandals, can do—to a church, to its adherents, to those who might’ve otherwise come to faith.
But, of course, we don’t need an R-rated movie to show us that harm. We shouldn’t need such a reminder. And you won’t find an answer to scandal in Honk for Jesus, either. Its profanity-laden dialogue and tabloid sex scandals don’t point the way out. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” the movie tells us—and then just walks away, paradoxically smug in its own self-righteousness.
But there is an answer, of course.
Follow Me, Jesus says. Not Lee-Curtis Childs, nor Trinitie Childs. Not the person in the pulpit, no matter how well he dresses, how powerfully he speaks, how good he acts. Yes, we can listen to those people. We can learn. We can, and should, support them and honor them. But follow them? If they, and we, are doing what we’re supposed to be doing, we’re all following just one Shepherd. And if we follow Him, above all else, we won’t be led astray.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.