A Georgia pastor is catching heat for a video that showed him critiquing his female congregants’ hair, weight and sex lives in front of a crowd.
The viral clip shows Apostle Travis Jennings standing onstage at Harvest Tabernacle Church in Lithonia during a group mentorship session last week. Clad in a black polo and plaid blazer, the minister asks for volunteers from the audience to be “critiqued” in front of the audience about why they are single. The only volunteers shown in the clip are women.
“Alright so you need to lose weight. Find a good bra,” Jennings tells the first volunteer, suggesting she go to Intimates—the same store where he took his wife, who he says “knew nothing about anything” until he intervened. He then instructs the congregant to wear stretchier clothes because, “if you keep wearing these big clothes with breasts down to your belly button, that’s not attractive.”
When someone in the audience reacts negatively, Jennings responds: “If you don't like what I’m saying you can leave now, baby. This is my church.”
The preacher then moves onto his second volunteer: a woman with long, curly hair that he quickly proclaims is “too much.” He tells her to “work on being sensitive and cute,” and adds: “When a man sees your hair he says, ‘OK that’s wild, and wild means sexual.’” When the volunteer looks surprised, he tells her it’s because she’s a “tease.”
In the video, the audience responds largely positively, clapping and cheering and laughing along with Jennings’ jokes. Several of the women even smile and nod through the soliloquy. But when the clip began circulating online, it was a different story.
“This is tacky and embarrassing and out of line for a man to tell a woman in front of a group of people about her bra and breasts,” one commenter wrote on YouTube.
“This is straight up FOOLERY!!!! Wild hair means sex???,” another wrote. “There is nothing biblical about anything that has come out of his mouth.”
Other commenters swarmed Jennings’ professional Facebook page, which appeared to have been shut down by Monday night.
“You have no place degrading that woman or any woman at that,” one wrote. “As a pastor you’re supposed to preach positivity and the word, there’s nothing like that in the Bible.”
Jennings addressed the outcry in his sermon Sunday, bringing the two women onstage with him to “clarify” the situation, which he insisted had been taken out of context. He asked the women to confirm that the church had not paid or coerced them to be there and that they had requested coaching on their appearance and did not feel humiliated by the situation.
“This man has not offended me. He has not hurt me. I am not depressed. I am not embarrassed. I am not ashamed of anything,” one of the women said, to applause from the audience. “I value his coaching, I value the words that come out of his mouth because he is the prophetic voice that God has set me in this house to listen and follow.”
Jennings apologized profusely for streaming the mentoring session, which he said was meant to be a private experience. He ended by asking his followers to share a video of the day’s sermon on social media.
In a phone call with The Daily Beast on Monday, Jennings again expressed remorse for streaming the coaching session but declined to apologize for what he said.
“I apologize that the narrative got lost. I apologize for anything that was offense to anyone,” he said. “...Can I learn from my actions? Yes ma’am. But those who know me know that my intent is to love, but things can get exacerbated when people don’t know the full narrative and the full context.”
Jennings also said several men had been coached in front of the audience at the same event. When asked for a video of the full event to confirm that, however, he hung up.
Jennings did not provide the name of his coaching seminars, but the website for Harvest Tabernacle advertises a program called “Maximized Life Singles Ministry.” The program is billed for all ages, from millennials to divorcees to “windows[sic].” It centers on “winning while waiting,” and purportedly helps singles with “activating into purpose, walking in purpose, achieving more [and] becoming more as a single person, while waiting for their mate.”
Kimberly Chandler, a minister and women’s studies professor at Xavier University who was appalled by Jennings’ behavior and posted about it on Twitter, said the coaching was actually teaching women to be subservient to men.
“The kind of people that are in that type of ministry, they can only be manipulated,” she said. “No person that thinks independently is gonna be a part of that.”