I'll dig my hole/You build a wall
Reading Time: 8 minutes (Ashim D'Silva.) A house guarded well.
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Of late, I’m noticing a new trend in the news: the children of celebrity pastors are starting to speak up — and against their famous parents. PKs, or preachers’ kids, already have a rough row to hoe. But the ones with celebrity parents have kept pretty quiet over the years — until now. Today, let’s look at the PKs who are most decidedly not testimonials for their celebrity parents’ product.

I'll dig my hole/You build a wall
(Ashim D’Silva.) PKs dig their hole; their parents build a wall.

(A celebrity PK is the child of a celebrity pastor, not a celebrity in their own right necessarily. That dangling adjective was bothering me muchly — I had to get this off my chest!)

Evangelical Parenting, in a Nutshell.

In evangelicalism, parents get hit hard and fast and early with one Bible verse in particular, Proverbs 22:6:

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. [KJV]

Christians take the verse to mean that however someone raises up a small child, those lessons will be embraced and followed for a lifetime. This is why TRUE CHRISTIANS™ keep trying to get to little kids with sneaky indoctrination. They think if they can sink their talons into a child’s mind early enough, then they’ll get another TRUE CHRISTIAN™ for life even if the parents do nothing else to encourage that faith.

(See also: The 4-14 Window. And: The Cult of Family.)

In parenting, that Bible verse means that someone parenting with TRUE CHRISTIAN™ wisdom will get a cheerful, helpful, well-behaved, and obedient little child who will then grow up into a kind, gracious, wise, well-behaved, and obedient TRUE CHRISTIAN™ teen. And from there, that well-indoctrinated child — again, raised with Jesus-flavored parenting rules — will become an adult who will go forth and do likewise with their own kids.

Without question, proper parenting is supposed to result in a lifelong Christian.

It’s a pretty picture, as long as one doesn’t dig too deep into what that Jesus-flavored parenting involves. But it rarely comes true nowadays, if it ever did.

And one of the groups that it’s always backfired hardest on is the children of professional Christians, as my ex-husband Biff used to refer to people who make a living in ministry.

Meet the PKs (Preachers’ Kids).

“As soon as I could talk — and especially from 10 to 16, through my high-school years — I got a steady diet of ‘Kids should be seen and not heard.’ I knew to stay away from a scary dad.”

— Daniel Tosh of Tosh.0, of his minister father

Jessica Lovejoy. Katy Perry. Adam Driver. Ariel Moore. They all have something in common: they’re the kids of pastors.

When I became Pentecostal, I learned about PKs, or preachers’ kids. As you might guess from their nickname, these are the children of pastors, generally. The term applies as well to the children of evangelists, pro-level musicians, and other such top-level ministry staff. (As we’re talking about evangelicals, the “P” here refers to the father almost exclusively. Also, there are MKs, or mish kids, or missionaries’ kids. But they’re a different breed.)

Even then, in the 1980s, PKs had a slightly unsavory reputation. Here’s how their trajectory was thought to go: they’d be very obedient little angels until their teens, at which point they’d explode into bad behavior and lawlessness. After their walkabout of rulebreaking, though, they were generally thought to settle down again — with most of the boys going into ministry themselves, while girls tended to marry into high-level ministerial families and immediately start breeding.

Even as the judges prowled around them, nobody seemed too condemning of PKs, though, I noticed even then. I quickly learned why, too.

What’s Happening Here, With PKs?

PKs grow up in the weird, surreal fishbowl world of evangelical ministry. Their parents’ congregation will be watching the entire family with eagle eyes for various reasons: wives for how obedient they are, children for how angelic and helpful they are. It all reflects on the pastor-husband of the family.

With PKs, the congregation is evaluating just how Jesus-y and successful the pastor’s parenting is. If PKs get too far out of hand, their rebelliousness calls their pastor parent’s teachings into question in a very serious way. It’s possible that a pastor might even lose his job over it. Certainly, it’ll make people question his orders as he flexes his power over his congregation. As Katy Perry’s father, a Baptist pastor in California, once (allegedly) said of his daughter:

“They ask how can I preach if I produce a girl who sang about kissing another girl?”

In other words, they’re asking why they should obey him if his teachings don’t even reliably produce a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ child. The people closest to him should completely reflect his commands’ validity. A rebellious child doesn’t take his orders seriously or think he’s a valid source of authority. So why should anyone else, goes the reasoning.

But there’s also surprising sympathy for PKs in evangelical churches. Congregations tend to know they’re being judgmental with children, even as they’re doing it. With the kind of pressure they bring to bear on PKs, nobody — not even their judges in the pews — ever acts all that surprised when PKs act like hellions. Nor are they surprised when a male PK suddenly cleans up his act and announces his intention to join the ministry. These story arcs are to be expected.

As we look at the children of celebrity pastors, amp the judgmentalism and expectations on them up to 11. 

Celebrity PKs Defying the Script: Rick Joyner’s Kids.

Lately, I’ve noticed some celebrity preachers’ kids defying their tribal scripts. It’s delightful to see, but I can easily imagine how nerve-wracking it is to defy both the script and their authoritarian parents all at once. I can only imagine that they perceive the need to speak up as pressing.

First, in late March, the children of Rick Joyner spoke up. Joyner’s one of those big names that very few non-evangelicals even recognize. Despite having little recognition outside his tribe, he’s been huuuuuge in evangelicalism for decades. We even find his grubby fingers in the revival/refreshing pies of the Toronto Blessing and whatnot.

Really, Rick Joyner’s quite a character. He apparently claims to be able to speak to dead people and a whole bunch of other things that really should alarm evangelicals. Mostly, though, Rick Joyner styles himself a prophet — though very, very few of his so-called “prophecies” ever come true. And in recent years, he’s been pushing very hard on the idea of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ seizing control of the American government to create that Republic of Gilead they’ve wanted for decades.

Since he’s a solid Trumpkin fanatic, one of his big prophecies involved Donald Trump winning the Presidency in 2016. When Trump lost in 2020, though, Joyner lost his mind (along with most of his tribemates). As late as March 2021, Joyner was still falsely insisting that Trump had actually won the 2020 election. As his frustration with denial progressed, Joyner began screeching about evangelicals needing to kick-start a “civil war.”

And that’s when his children decided it was time to speak against their father’s wingnuttery at last.

The PKs Strike Back.

As it happens, Rick Joyner has five kids. And not a single one of them has taken up evangelical Christianity in adulthood. Not even one. They listened to their dad shrieking about Democrats and liberals being the demons that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ needed to arm themselves against.

As one might suspect, they felt distinctly attacked by their father’s rhetoric. They knew that their dad knew that they were liberals who had long rejected his flavor of Christianity. But his very own children were exactly the enemies he was describing: the people that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ needed to eliminate from their planned Republic of Gilead: subhumans who didn’t deserve to survive through Gilead’s shuddering birth.

As one of his daughters told The New York Times (NYT) a few days after Joyner’s outburst about “civil war,”

“He talks about Democrats being evil, forgetting that all five of his kids vote Democratic,” said his eldest, Anna Jane Joyner, 36, a climate change activist and podcast host (her father has suggested that climate change is a Communist conspiracy). “Who is he asking his followers to take up arms against? Liberal activists? That’s me.”

In that same story, her brothers describe their father as “irresponsible” and “morally wrong.”

Ouch.

A Surprising PK Voice.

Then, a couple of weeks later, NYT introduced readers to Abraham Piper. He is the son of none other than Rowdy John Piper, one of the most gruesomely toxic voices in evangelicalism.

More to the point, Abraham’s dad is the currently-reigning lizard king of authoritarian Calvinist fundagelical wingnuts.

(How bad is he? Well, I don’t quote John Piper very often because I consider him the living embodiment of Poe’s Law. If I want to illustrate just how awful and toxic some idea in Christianity is, it’s way too easy to reach for a quote from him because he is 100% awful and toxic — completely horrifying — through and through inhumanly cruel and controlling. He’s damaged countless people emotionally and only seeks to damage more before he’s done.)

And John Piper’s son, Abraham, rejects evangelicalism entirely and uses his social media platform to speak against it — and for the kindness and compassion his father entirely rejects.

That second NYT article also introduces us to Jay Bakker, son of Jim Bakker — and an “advocate for L.G.B.T.Q. acceptance in the church.” His father screeches with Rick Joyner about the need for armed TRUE CHRISTIAN™ revolts and shills prepper food. Meanwhile, Jay tries to soothe evangelical bigots into acceptance of their tribal enemies.

The PKs Following the Family Business.

Of course, most PKs do seem to follow the script. Just as I saw in my teens and early 20s, PKs have their wandering-about years, but they tend to calm down and then enter the family business in whatever way their gender calls for.

For example, I was right about the same age as my first pastor’s son and just a few years older than the sons of his junior pastor, the one who died young. All three youths were already in the middle of their hellion period. After that first pastor died at a surprisingly ripe old age, his son immediately took up the reins. The younger pastor’s sons are both apparently also Pentecostal pastors somewhere.

Celebrity PKs seem to follow the same trajectory. For every child who utterly rejects their minister parents’ ideology, it seems like a dozen more fall right into line to enter the lucrative family business. Jerry Falwell Jr. springs immediately to mind here, as do Sean McDowell, and Sam Rainer.

It’s a living, I guess. None particularly stand out on their own; they’re mediocre at best. But their star-power parents can ensure they get in on the family business and stay there.

The Celebrity Parents of PKs Follow a Different Master Than Parenthood.

I respect what these dissenting celebrity PKs are trying to do.

It’s already hard for PKs to publicly speak against their parents. They’ve been trained their entire lives to stay quiet if they aren’t helping their parents’ careers somehow. (Remember, jobs can be at stake here!) In evangelicalism, celebrity pastors these days enjoy cult followings that rival those of rockstars and reality-TV figures.

So speaking against celebrity parents is both difficult and important to do.

As for Rick Joyner, he doesn’t care what his kids think. He’s so far gone that not even alienating his children could bring him back. He told NYT that he knew quite well that in his pipe-dream “civil war,” he and his own children “would be on opposite sides.” His immaturity and delusional behavior hasn’t cost him relationships with his kids — yet. But if he can’t bring himself back from his absolute nadir of wingnuttery, he’ll go too far eventually.

Rowdy John Piper hasn’t even responded to the NYT article about his son. I’m guessing those two are not on tight terms anyway. I’ve never even heard Jim Bakker say he has a son (though I’ve often spotted his stepdaughter on his current TV show).

Celebrity pastors have to make a choice when it comes to their personal lives. The ones discussed today clearly have made it in favor of their careers. I’m sure they can count on their followers to hand-wave away whatever their children say.

After all, the usual rules stop applying to incredibly powerful Christian leaders — even the longest-held ones like those around PKs!

NEXT UP: Goodness, evangelicals really are starting to notice ex-Christians, aren’t they? We’ll get tipsy and review a podcast aimed at departing Christians next. See you tomorrow! <3


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Last thoughts: Christians have long misunderstood that old Shakespearean saying, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” Misunderstood? Yes. As Issendai has pointed out, King Lear rants out that quote about his one truly good and loving daughter, Cordelia. (Source)

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...