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Addiction, Recovery, and Christian Tattoos on ‘Preachers of L.A.’

The reality TV star Pastor Jay Haizlip bares all: from recovering from addiction and his flashy co-stars, to whether Christians should get tattoos. 

Pastor Jay Haizlip on Preachers of L.A. Flashy Co-Stars Addiction and Tattoos
Credit: Art Streiber/Oxygen

For the past two seasons of Oxygen’s hit reality show, Preachers of L.A., Pastor Jay Haizlip has let the world into his life — as pastor of Orange County megachurch The Sanctuary, husband to Christy Haizlip, and father of three.

Audiences have seen the Haizlips minister to a visibly anorexic woman they met while walking through a California park, pray with the homeless, and reach out with loving, welcoming arms to a transgender man and member of The Sanctuary.

“This is who we are,” Haizlip tells Guideposts.org of what viewers have seen of his ministry on TV. “The most exciting thing about our life is what we do in ministry, and I love what we do.”

Haizlip was not always a Christian.  As a pre-teen, Haizlip says he was exposed to drugs and partying due to his young mother’s “hippie lifestyle.” He’d started smoking weed and drinking wine at 12 years old. By 15, he was using cocaine, became addicted, and struggled to kick the habit for 12 years.

Despite his addiction, Haizlip rose to celebrity status as a professional vertical skateboarder. Still, he felt himself drowning in hopelessness. In his final two years as an addict, Haizlip tried desperately to get free from drugs, even checking himself into rehab. But all of his efforts failed. After his last stint in a treatment center, he immediately relapsed, and used cocaine all weekend. He felt like he was beyond hope. He cried out to God to help him.  Two weeks later, on his way to score more cocaine, Haizlip made one stop that changed his life forever.

He shares with Guideposts.org how God delivered him from drugs, why he believes it’s not a sin for Christians to get tattoos, and how Christians can learn to let go of their past.

GUIDEPOSTS: What happened the night you finally kicked your drug habit?

JAY HAIZLIP:  I’d sold this man a car and was dropping it off on my way to go do my cocaine deal. He’d just ordered Dominos Pizza and so he invited me in to have some. I thought, ‘Well once I buy coke, there is not going to be any eating, so I thought, sure.’ While I was in his house, he started to talk to me about Jesus.

I don’t ever remember anybody talking to me about Jesus the way this guy was. I mean, he was talking about Jesus in such a personal, intimate way it made me feel like Jesus was going to walk in the room at any moment. That night, I just opened up my heart and asked, ‘How do I get saved?’ The man opened up his Bible to Romans chapter 10 and read verses 9 and 10 to me, that says, ‘If you believe in your heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead and confess it with your mouth, you will be saved.” He led me in a simple prayer asking Jesus to come into my heart, be my Lord, be my Savior, forgive me of all my sins.

And as I was praying that prayer I felt all the hurt, the pain, everything I had ever done, everything I had ever gone through that was bad, I just felt it coming out of me, lifting off of me. Right then in that moment God filled me up with peace. The peace and joy God gave me, it was so indescribable. When I stood up from praying that prayer, I knew that my life had been changed. That was the last time I used drugs ever.

GUIDEPOSTS: Many of your parishioners can relate to you because you’ve been so open about what God’s delivered you from. How do you minister to those who have prayed similar prayers for healing but have not received the same kind of instantaneous deliverance you received?

JH:  That’s a great question because as a pastor, and people know my story, a lot of people come to our church hoping they can get free. Sometimes it’s instantaneous—I had what I call a Damascus Road Experience—and sometimes it’s a process. I do believe for my family there was a generational curse.  My granddad was an alcoholic, my mom was a heavy partier, I was a heavy partier. But when Jesus came into my life, through what He’s done on the cross, I don’t have to live under the power of a curse any longer because the work of the cross sets us free. The curse is broken.  

One thing I am confident of is, ‘Who the Son sets free is free.’  Whether someone gets freedom instantaneously or it’s a process they can be free and will be free.  And what we do is encourage people to just begin to walk out the process. We try to create a culture here where you can be real and honest, that you don’t have to front or fake anything. If you’re struggling or you blew it, we want to bring that out into the light because we can only help people to the level they’re willing to be transparent. And a big key to walking out the process is the renewing of our minds. It’s learning how to recognize unhealthy thoughts and replace those unhealthy thoughts with God’s good thoughts. It was our thinking and our choices that got us to where we are and it will be our thinking and our choices that get us to where God wants us to be.

GUIDEPOSTS: There’s been a lot of criticism of Preachers of L.A. due to flashy and materialistic lifestyles of the other cast members on the show. Why stay on reality TV?

JH: I love all the cast members. Loving people doesn’t mean I agree with everything they do or how they think or how they live. I do think there is a standard that Scripture teaches that guys in ministry should be successfully living. I know that when I get to the end of life, the Bible says that ministers are going to be held to a stricter judgment than anybody else. And I would never want my life to be a stumbling block to other people. I knew in my heart that God wanted us to do this show because we really felt like our mission was to represent God in a way that He wouldn’t be represented if we weren’t there.

And I’m not pointing fingers. I think it’s good that people see transparency but at the same time sometimes we can go through certain things in life where we need to say, ‘Is this really the right season for me to be in ministry? Maybe I need to be the guy receiving ministry and not actually doing the ministry.’

GUIDEPOSTS: How should ministers know when it’s time to step away and receive ministry?

JH: One thing I’ve discovered is that while Jesus is the head of the Church, and Jesus is the head of my life, I also need men that I can trust. [I need friends] that I can be absolutely transparent before and I can give them the authority to tell me no, and women as well. I think the Bible is very plain. God uses men and women.

GUIDEPOSTS: You’ve also been open about your position on tattoos, even adding a new one to your collection while filming Preachers of L.A. From women in ministry to Christians getting tattoos, how can we solve these different ideas we have about what it means to be a Christian?

JH: Well, some of that is cultural. For me, I process that through Scripture and I would never force my freedom on somebody else. If somebody else has a conviction that they are not to do something like get a tattoo, then I respect that and I encourage people to honor that conviction. There are what I call the absolutes in Scripture that are non-negotiable: the virgin birth, the sinless life, the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus and the fact that He is coming back for us. Those things have to do with whether a person is going to go to Heaven or not. Then there are what I call the secondary doctrinal issues. For example, some organizations don’t believe that women should be in ministry, other organizations ordain women to be in ministry. Some organizations sprinkle people with water for baptisms, other people immerse people in water for baptism. I’m okay with differing on those things because they aren’t what keep us out of Heaven. The secondary things affect how we live our life here on earth, how we walk out our salvation, how we live out our Christianity. I’m not going to get into an argument about that. I’m just going to keep on loving. I love everybody, period, but I’m not going to engage in a doctrinal fight over those certain points.

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