Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

He said, She Said (Part 1).  Oxygen appears to have a new hit on its hands with Preachers of L.A.its new reality following six successful church pastors from the Southern California area. While generating strong ratings, the show has also sparked a “prosperity Gospel” over what some see as the ministers exorbitant lifestyles.  The third episode of the series airs tonight (10/23) at 10:00 PM (ET).

I recently had the opportunity to speak with two of the show’s stars, Pastor Jay Haizlip and his wife Christy who lead The Sanctuary in Huntington Beach.  Their story is particularly compelling considering the struggles they have been through and delivered from. Jay, formerly a hugely successful competitive skateboarder, lost it all as he fell into the abyss of cocaine — leaving Christy with a newborn child and a choice to make. Namely, she questioned whether she should stay with him.

They spoke with me in separate interviews — but, as you will read, this is one case of he said, she said that seems grounded in a foundation of faith and love. I’ll share my interview with Christy with you next week. First, Jay:

JWK: How did you become involved with this show?

PASTOR JAY HAIZLIP: Well, they had heard about me and they approached me…When Oxygen picked up the show — they loved the show — they just wanted a little bit more diversity.  So, they sent the production company to go find somebody. I’m that guy.

JWK: What do you hope to accomplish with it?

PJH: My desire is that people who would never come to church would somehow be brought closer to church — and, more importantly, drawn closer to God.  There are a lot of people that have thoughts toward God or about God, about church, that aren’t necessarily accurate. My desire is that people could watch from the safety of their home and as a result of that their interest in God would be sparked. You know, The Bible says some plant, some water but God gives increase. And, so I hope this show — or, at least, my part on this show does that. It plants a seed, waters a seed and we’ll trust God to give the increase.

JWK: And the ratings, so far, have been good, right?

PJH: Yes, the premiere episode broke a couple of different records (for Oxygen). Episode 2 stayed right there. It didn’t dip in terms of viewers. Actually, in two categories, it increased. So, we’re two episodes into this and it’s staying strong. It’s making a huge impact.

JWK: Have you received any feedback from your congregation?

PJH: From the congregation — and out of the church, as well. My congregation loves me and Christy and our part of the show…Actually, this past weekend we saw an increase in people coming to visit our church and it’s directly connected to our involvement in the show.

JWK: You have a very interesting background. You were involved in — and quite successful at — competitive skateboarding.

PJH: Yes, I was a professional skateboarder.

JWK: Did the success and fame you found in that lead to the drug problem which you have been very open about?

PJH: Well, it wasn’t directly connected to the fame…If you’re open to drugs and stuff like that then it’s readily available to you. But I started dabbling in drugs as a young kid — smoking pot, drinking. When I was fifteen I first did cocaine.  Around that time, I’m already a sponsored skater — sponsored by national companies.

JWK: So, it was a bad cocktail. You had a drug problem going in and the money from the sponsorships made obtaining them all the easier.

PJH: Yes. It was definitely the sex, drugs and rock and roll kind of lifestyle.

JWK: When did you turn toward God?

PJH: Well, what happened for me was cocaine got more and more of a hold on me. I still climbed the ladder of success (but) my addiction continued to get worse. What happened was I began to eventually lose everything because cocaine had such a hold on me. I wouldn’t show up to do things I had been hired to do — whether it was film for a video or do an ad for a magazine or something. I’d be out partying with cocaine. Eventually, I began to lose everything. So, I left California and went back to Alabama in an attempt to try to get my life together — but geographical location didn’t necessarily help me because the real problem was in me.

JWK: What was your relationship with your family like?

PJH: Well, at that point, I wasn’t married or anything. My mom was a professional lady. She was a CEO of a hospital. She had been a product of the sixties. She was a hippy in the sixties — so I kinda grew up in that culture. But, like a lot of people from that generation, a lot them went on to be super successful. My mother was, as well — but, because I grew up in that environment, it bent me in the direction that I went in. You know, I don’t blame my mom or anybody like that for the choices that I made. I have to be responsible for the choices that I made and where they took me.

But, what happened was, when I went back to Alabama to try to (fix) my life, things continued to get worse. I ended up being sentenced to two years in prison. I spent six months incarcerated (for) drug involvement. I was in and out of treatment centers — you know, trying to change my life…I really tried to work everything (through) everything that the world said was the answer to my problem. None of it really worked for me. I mean, I could abstain from using for short periods of time.

(After getting out of another treatment center) I came home one Sunday morning. I sat on the edge of my bed. I never grew up going to church. I never read a Bible. I wasn’t anti-God. I just never thought about God. I just lived for myself and thought about myself…I was married by this point. I’d been married for two years. So, here I am sitting on the edge of my bed, nine o’clock Sunday morning. I have a son who’s not quite two yet and I just broke down crying because I had been out all weekend doing cocaine.

JWK: You were married to Christy at this point.

PJH: I was married to Christy. Fortunately, we’re still married. It’s a miracle that she stuck it out with me.

JWK: Was she aware of your problem.

PJH: (In the beginning) I was able to keep a good front. She knew I partied. She knew I did coke but I could appear to a lot of people to be…just a social user. You know, I wasn’t homeless, living on the street. I could keep a good front. I was a functioning addict but there were definitely times when she would see that I’d get out of control. I’d go on these binges that would last for days. Definitely, once we got married then she really discovered (that) “Wow! This guy’s got a problem!”  I was trying to change my life and she kept watching me and walked through all that with me…That’s a very painful experience, from her side of thing, to walk that out with somebody.

So, when I came home on that Sunday morning after being out all weekend doing cocaine, I sat on the edge of my bed and I just broke — because, for the first time, I really could see what my choices were doing to other people. I saw how my life was affecting Christy. I saw how my life was affecting my newborn baby.  And, when I realized what I was doing, and I didn’t know how to quit, I just really broke. I started crying and I just looked up at the ceiling…and I just started begging God. I said “God, if you’re real, why won’t you help me?” I can look back on that moment and I know God heard that prayer — and I know God began to orchestrate events in my life that led me up to the point where a few Friday nights later I made arrangements to do a drug deal and God put a man in my path who is a businessman. He’s now a mayor of a city and he’s on the board of my church. He’s still one of my best friends today. God that put man in my path and he began to share Jesus with me in a way I had never heard anybody talk about Jesus. That night, I opened up my heart and asked Jesus Christ to come into my life and I felt all the hurt, the pain, the hurt of everything I’ve ever done, I just felt it, literally, come off of me and out of me. It was a supernatural experience and that was the last time I’ve ever got high.  I mean the addiction was completely broken (and) out of my life in that moment. It was a radical miracle and I’ve never been the same.


Note: I’ll post my interview with Christy Haizlip next Monday.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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