MIAMI, Fla. — A new reality show that follows the life of a so-called “celebrity pastor” who married Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, and whose congregation attracted a visit from pop star Justin Bieber, is being characterized as “heartbreaking” by a pastor who speaks and writes about the glorification of ungodliness in Hollywood and the secular music industry.
“Rich in Faith” began airing on Dec. 2 on the Oxygen channel and features Rich Wilkerson, Jr., as he launches a new congregation called “Vous Church.”
“I come from a different perspective. I don’t think people are interested in a bunch of religion, like tell me what I can and can’t do,” Wilkerson says in the promotional video for the reality show. “But I think people are interested in having a relationship with a higher power.”
The preview shows Wilkerson getting a tattoo, lying on the beach with his bikini-clad wife, and telling his parents that he plans to hold his first service at a bar.
“You’re starting in a bar?” asks his father, Rich Wilkerson, Sr., who leads Trinity Church in Miami Gardens.
“What are people going to think, Rich?” his mother Robyn chimes in.
Wilkerson, who previously led a 1,500-member young adult group called “The Rendezvous” at Trinity, became known for marrying rap star Kanye West and Playboy cover model Kim Kardashian last year. He had met the couple two years prior after they visited his father’s congregation.
“It began a relationship; we (Wilkerson and West) started emailing and calling each other. We collaborated on a few things: art, fashion, music, Jesus,” Wilkerson told People Magazine last year. “He invited me to write a few things for his tour, and I’ve been able to counsel him on a few things.”
Kanye West is known for his album “Yeezus,” and for bringing a man dressed as Jesus on stage during a show in Seattle.
“White Jesus, is that you?,” he asked on stage. “Oh [expletive]!”
Pop star Justin Bieber also visited the congregation, and Wilkerson recently praised him in an interview with Cosmopolitan.
“I think he is doing great,” he said. “I just saw him three days ago in L.A. He’s doing awesome. We are proud of him.”
As previously reported, in an interview with Complex Magazine in October, Bieber spoke much about his views on Christianity, criticizing churches that warn about Hell and Christians who are “overly churchy.” He stated, however, the he personally desires to be more outspoken about the Christian faith and just wants to “live like Jesus.” Days after the interview was released, Bieber made headlines for smoking marijuana and drinking Hennessy on stage.
Joe Schimmel, pastor of Blessed Hope Chapel in Simi Valley, California, and host of the documentary “They Sold Their Souls for Rock and Roll,” said that it “breaks his heart” in considering what he called the “greasy grace” and “circus”-like “gimmicks” that Wilkerson is employing.
“When Wilkerson’s church was new, one gimmick he employed was to offer to eat a live gold fish if 300 people attended. Some time later, he offered to be zapped with a stun gun when they hit 2,000 attendees,” he explained in a blog post.
While Wilkerson says that he believes in Hell and acknowledges that a person goes through a process of sanctification after coming to Christ, he says that specific sins are not discussed much from the pulpit.
“At our church, homosexuality is not a topic I like to chat about very much, but I don’t talk about a whole lot of issues,” Wilkerson told the Miami New Times last year. “I talk about what Jesus is for, not what he’s supposedly against.”
“I don’t know who’s going to Hell. I just know that followers of Jesus are going to Heaven — that’s what the Bible says,” he said. “My message isn’t ever who’s going where.”
Schimmel said that he is concerned with this characterization.
“Wilkerson’s church is a place where one can feel comfortable while involved in any number of sins and scandals,” he stated. “Wilkerson’s church one can be involved in adultery or homosexuality and not be concerned about hearing about who will go to Hell as Jesus often preached (Luke 16:19-31; Matthew 7:21-23; 25:31-46; Revelation 14:9-12; 21:8).”
“In Rich Wilkerson’s book ‘Sandcastle Kings,’ whose artwork was done by Kanye West at Wilkerson’s request, he claims that no matter how wicked one’s chosen lifestyle, one is permanently in Christ no matter what he does,” Schimmel further noted.
“When God looks at us He sees Christ,” Wilkerson writes. “But when we put our trust in Jesus, we are reminded that our performance does not dictate our position. His performance has already secured our position, in Him.”
Schimmel asked that Christians pray for Wilkerson, as well as West, Kardashian and Bieber.
“Please pray for Rich Wilkerson and other teachers who are preaching the false gospel of prosperity and greasy grace,” he said. “As a pastor, my heart breaks for those who are teaching such serious false doctrines and condoning the wickedness of the world system that so plagues the Church.”
“My heart breaks because I fear and tremble, knowing that the Scriptures declare that we will have a stricter judgment (James 3:1-2), give an account for souls (Hebrews 13:17), and that the blood of those who perish, will be on our heads if we fail to preach repentance and the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:21, 26-27),” Schimmel lamented.