As someone raised in the church, but no longer attends church, “Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul” by the Edo Sisters, (both graduates of Spelman College!) immediately sparked my interest upon its debut. I thought a satire on the true ins-and-outs of a church ministry might provide reflective insight on why I, and so many others, stopped attending in the first place. After all, it’s not often that church-going folks are encouraged to laugh at themselves in an earnest way. It’s especially not common for the jokes to come from individuals who were actually raised in a church and can candidly, and lovingly, reflect on what that upbringing means for them and people like them.
The Edo sisters are definitely candid in their approach– they make it clear that the Christian Church, especially the Black, southern church, presents a facade of salvation and holiness that can harm the community it claims to help– especially its congregants. The Edo sisters do an even better job of proving that the facade is just as harmful to the people trying to maintain it.
The Childs’: False Idols, Fallen
The movie starts when this facade of sanctification has begun to crumble for a pastor and his wife. Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs and first lady Trinitie Childs are trying to save their church after Lee-Curtis’ sexual misconduct, which was “technically” not illegal, but still morally corrupt (to say the least). Their mask has crumbled, as their entire congregation (save a few) flees for another church home. Still, we see the remnants of this mask the Childs’ had been trying to maintain. For example, early in the movie they are seen raiding their closest to choose the best Prada suit for Lee-Curtis to wear on their big reopening Sunday. “I have been ‘blessed’ with some beautiful Pradaaaaa…”, Lee-Curtis exclaims, following a clip wherein he promises all of the riches in the kingdom of heaven, the ones he seems to posses by virtue of being a “godly” man, to anyone who would listen to him spew his homophobic rhetoric (as long as they keep paying him to spew it).
I reflected on the many times I’d seen the facade of the church leaders I’d grown up with crumble. Whether it be from fat-cat pastors with fat-cat rings and a cadillac flaunting their congregation-given wealth, to pastors embezzling money from the church, to pastors having multiple extramarital affairs— I remembered how painful it was to watch the belief system I’d built my life around disintegrate because my belief in church leaders did. And I wished that there had been a movie like “Honk for Jesus” at the time to help me and so many others process the crumbling of an image we were told was “holy”, and that we were told was the only right way to live a Christian life.
The Performance of Faith and Perfection
At the root of the Childs’ facade seems to be the first lady: Trinitie. Trinitie is portrayed with a certain nuance that I think so many Black women in the church can relate to. The movie makes it clear that Trinitie’s desperation to uphold the perception of a sanctified marriage, and sanctified church (and apparently, sanctified $2500 jewel-encrusted church hat) started with her own indoctrination. She’d been taught that the perfect Christian woman is one who reads her bible, prays, supports a man of God through marriage, and builds up God’s kingdom on Earth. She’d even been convinced that to ask questions about her sham of a marriage was to lack faith – and anyone who has grown up in the church knows that this is the biggest cardinal sin one can commit. Trinitie’s character, more than anything, reminded me that at the center of these facades, there are often individuals who have internalized, and therefore inadvertently normalize, the abuse they suffer and inflict – all in Jesus’ name. I think this was the most painful, but relatable part of the movie to watch. In my own experiences, I’ve witnessed women being told they “lack faith”, simply because their conscience (perhaps the part of them that is genuinely most connected to God and their faith) told them that something was wrong with their partner. At the end of the movie, her character showed outright that sometimes that mask, literal and metaphorical, gets to be just too much.
I’ve even witnessed the charade fall via the pressure to perform “faith”, even in young folks. When the young girl at the beginning of the movie commented on how much she loved theater (if you’ve seen the movie, LOLLL), I was reminded of my church friends growing up who would often pretend to “pass out with the spirit” simply so they could take a nap during church services without being considered bad christians, disinterested in the pastors message. In my youthful curiosity, I would often ask them what it felt like to catch the holy ghost, and usually their response was some derivative of “I wouldn’t know, I was taking a nap.” The pastor at the time caught word of their operation and shut it down pretty quickly, and even that spoke to his own pressure to perform his own faith, and maintain his Godly facade– them faking it meant he couldn’t command God’s word in the way he claimed he could.
The Destruction of an Image
We continue to see this “Godly” image deteriorate in various different ways: the “holy” Childs’ listen to “Knuck If You Buck” in their car ride to the church. Trinitie, if pushed hard enough, will cuss out anyone who dare challenge the image she worked so hard to create. Pastor Lee-Curtis shows that he hasn’t learned his lesson, and continues to pursue extra-marital affairs via coercion and manipulation. We even see a prison inmate, a young man representing the people the church is supposed to help, praise Lee-Curtis for his sermons despite the scandal he brought upon the church. Even more, we see it when Trinitie encounters a former congregant of hers in a mall. The pettiness ensues, as is often the case with church folk trained to throw shade in the holiest of ways– even at our nastiest, we must maintain our Godly image. With this encounter we see not only the facade crumbling, but we see how eager the Childs’ congregants were to watch it fall– almost as if they needed it to fall just as badly as the Childs’ needed it to themselves.
The Childs’, and especially Trinitie, show just how truly painful it is to give your life over to an image of holiness without maintaining that kind of integrity behind closed doors. She upholds the facade, having been convinced that obtaining the lifestyle that it promised was her reward for her “hard work”. Trinitie is by no means a victim, but when you think about the kind of conditioning and social pressure that creates a woman willing to do whatever it takes to appear “holy” (or as I put it, good), you have no choice but to feel your heart breaking for the person she might have become if she weren’t gaslit into believing that that person was shameful and lacking in “faith” (or as I put it, bad) simply for seeing red flags for what they are: red flags.
Outstanding writing and acting aside (I mean seriously, give Regina Hall her Oscar, thanks), “Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul” provoked the kinds of conversations we, especially Black women, need to have about the kind of social conditioning and religious trauma that the church (and even some non-religious “spiritual” circles) often puts us through in the name of “holiness” and goodness. The movie held no punches, and there were so many themes that I couldn’t touch on. Still, I appreciated the movie for giving Black church women the space to start unpacking our relationship to our faith and the religious structures that influenced it. Did you watch the film? Let us know your opinions below, this is a safe space!
Vanessa is a third-year graduate student studying Psychology at Rutgers University, with a passion for all thing’s wellness, research, creativity and empathy. In her spare time, Vanessa enjoys learning guitar, reading and writing fiction stories as forms of expression and vulnerability. Vanessa can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.