“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” puts a fictitious Atlanta megachurch, Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church, front and center per the pastor’s request, and he and his wife look bad from every angle.
Written and produced by Adamma Ebo and executive produced by Jordan Peele, the dark comedy premiered on Peacock and in theaters on September 2.
A “mockumentary” that doubles as a scathing rebuke of the flashing lights and flashy suits version of American Christianity, it is not “just a movie.”
It is social commentary and a critique of the Black church as enterprise. It is a look into the larger-than-life personality of a megachurch pastor and his wife, who will sell their souls to continue as the main attraction.
It is what happens when the pastor is lifted up as the shining example, when church attendance becomes a numbers game, and when following Jesus is synonymous with following the money.
But, first, follow “Pastor in Prada,” Lee-Curtis Childs, played by Sterling K. Brown, who has fallen from grace due to a sex scandal.
He and his wife, First Lady Trinitie, played by Regina Hall, are down to the remaining members, who can be counted on one hand — literally. The church’s membership has fallen from 26,000 members to “the devout five.” Pastor Childs (Brown) calls them, “the real followers.”
To get the numbers up, the couple decides to hire a documentary film crew to follow them around, recording their ultimate comeback. While Pastor Childs is ready for “showtime” and fails at an attempt to play to the camera, First Lady Trinitie (Hall) is not convinced that this is a good idea and works to protect her husband’s image — something she is used to doing.
But who he is to the community, former church members and ministry colleagues is never in question, and neither is his sexuality.
Described as an expression of “his generosity” by his wife, Childs’ hypocrisy — preaching about “the homosexual agenda” as the enemy to Christian marriages while using his pastoral position and monetary gifts to groom young boys into power-imbalanced sexual relationships with him — will cost the couple everything.
However, the husband-and-wife team believe they just need to get cleaned up, which is not to be confused with Pastor Childs cleaning up his act. No, just baptize him again, and then let’s play dress up. New suit, new hat and things will go right back to business as usual.
Pastor Childs doesn’t need to apologize because this is the devil’s doing and besides, God doesn’t call perfect people. First Lady Trinitie says, “It’s in the past.” “The devout five,” his “Amen corner,” agrees that the boys were “grown enough.” It was legal and solely a legal matter now.
Slate wiped clean, the Childses will debut themselves as brand new on Easter Sunday, which creates a conflict and a competition with Heaven’s House Baptist Church, now full of their former members.
Led by Pastors Keon and Shakura Sumpter, played by Conphidance and Nicole Beharie, Heaven’s House planned to open a new location on the same day. But their ministry is not new or an improvement; the ministry couples are just switching places to offer more of the same.
Empowered by the large influx of new members, the Sumpters are sure that the Childses need Jesus’ resurrection more than they do.
With Pastor Lee-Curtis holding a bullhorn and First Lady Trinitie holding up a sign on the side of the road that reads, “Honk for Jesus,” the couple will do anything for a crowd and, in turn, become a sideshow attraction. All they need are red noses.
First Lady Trinitie is not saved from embarrassment but continues to “stand by her man” to save face. She has her doubts and seeks her mother’s counsel, but ultimately stays in her place.
The movie is a glaring example of the toxicity of patriarchy, the delusions of greed, the rampant abuse of power in too many churches and what happens when the pulpit is viewed as the seat of it.
It is also a hard look at aesthetic righteousness and a racialized gospel, wherein Pastor Childs claims, “God favors those who favor him” — both physically and spiritually. “I mean check me out. Don’t it look like I favor the Lord?” asks Childs.
Because all he can see are dollar signs, Childs doesn’t seem to care that he has crossed the line. He thinks salvation is a business, that he has only lost customers, but it never crosses his mind that he could lose his own soul (Matthew 16:26).
First Lady Trinitie is keenly aware of the cost and chooses her church position. Not concerned about their relationship with Jesus, we see that he was only a prop.
“Honk for Jesus” may be hard to look at, but it is a picture-perfect depiction for viewers who are weary of the prosperity gospel and ready to call this version of the American church and its hypocrisies on its red carpet.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content.
Director: Adamma Ebo
Writer: Adamma Ebo
Cast: Regina Hall as Trinitie Childs; Sterling K. Brown as Lee-Curtis Childs; Nicole Beharie as Shakura Sumpter; Conphidance as Keon Sumpter; Austin Crute as Khalil; Devere Rogers as Basil.
The movie’s website is here.