Politics, Moderate



'Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.' Should Result in Serious, Soulful Reflection for Those Attending Church

Jessica Johnson on

When "Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul." was released earlier this month, I read a lot of mixed reactions on social media to the film, which is a dark satire on Black megachurch culture in the South. The writer and director, Adamma Ebo, and her producer and twin sister, Adanne, received great reviews at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, but audience ratings on Rotten Tomatoes showed only 27% of audience members with a favorable view of the movie compared to 71% of critics. "Honk for Jesus" piqued my interest due to growing up in what many would consider a traditional Black Baptist church in Athens, Georgia, during the 1980s.

The fictional church in the film, Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church, is set in Atlanta and boasts a congregation close to 25,000 before scandals disgrace the pastor, Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown), and his wife, Trinitie (Regina Hall). In a grand attempt at a comeback to rebuild their ministry and their reputations, Lee-Curtis and Trinitie hire a documentary crew to follow a journey to redemption that they have crafted in hopes of winning back their former members and the trust of the community. Things begin to go awry when the Childs' targeted Easter date of reopening is also the day that a pair of much younger pastors, the Sumpters (Conphidance and Nicole Beharie), have chosen to open Heaven's House Baptist Church.

As the plot of "Honk for Jesus" progresses in mockumentary form, flashbacks of Wander to Greater Paths' glory days show that the church had all the bells and whistles of the pretentious spectacle that lures many people to Sunday morning services with absolutely no anointed ministry that nurtures their souls. Jordan Peele, who founded Monkeypaw Productions, acquired the rights to "Honk for Jesus" along with Focus Features and Peacock. Peele addressed the premise of spectacle that saturates our culture due to mass consumption of online media and the craving for fame and popularity through the lens of his summer neo-Western sci-fi horror film "Nope." Although Peele was not a writer for "Honk for Jesus," one can certainly draw parallels between the films, mainly the impious commercialization and ostentatious culture of many Black megachurches that the Ebo sisters examine. They depict how the spirit of spectacle, which is a dominant trend in our current zeitgeist, can easily slither into the pulpit of a pastor whose major concern is not his congregants but selfishly promoting his brand.

Spectacle is heavily tied to the criticism of the prosperity gospel in "Honk for Jesus," as Lee-Curtis boasts about his luxury cars, designer suits and jets in his sermons, telling the congregation in a beginning clip, "Don't it look like I've been favoring the Lord?" The people shout, clap, and wave their hands in enthusiasm as Lee-Curtis preaches this erroneous concept that is not based on the biblical teachings of Christ.

Jesus did place a lot of emphasis on money and giving, as financial responsibility and stability were subjects that He tied into his teachings about the Kingdom of God, but Jesus never presented giving as a heavenly get-rich-quick scheme. In the often-quoted scripture of Luke 6:38, where Jesus teaches that joyful giving will result in "good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over," the illustration of good measure is compared to the marketplace of the time. When people bought grain, it was poured out, shaken down and filled to overflowing so that the purchaser received his full amount. The lesson from this teaching was not specifically about wealth, but that the generous measure in which one gives will be returned.


A practical teaching from Jesus about wealth and faithful stewardship can be found in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In this story, the lazy servant who hid his one talent, which was the equivalent to six thousand denarii, was sternly rebuked by his lord because he did not wisely put the money into the hands of brokers to receive interest as his fellow servants did.

When I finished viewing "Honk for Jesus," I kept thinking about Matthew 11:8 where Jesus asks, "But what went ye out for to see?" People who are attending church today, which includes me, need to sincerely ponder this question. Are we going to church to see a spectacle as portrayed in Wander to Greater Paths, or are we sincerely seeking the salvation that Christ offers? If we truly seek the latter, Christ promises the joy, rest, peace and strength that our souls need.


Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at smojc.jj@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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