"How many of you don't believe God has a sense of humor? Well, just look at the person next to you!"
Meet Pastor Tom McGuinness, the Don Rickles of the Resurrection. He's been saving souls at his "full gospel" born-again Christian ministry out in Holtsville, Long Island, for almost twenty years, and now he's bringing the good word to Sin City, via a cable-access program on Channel 40 in the Bronx and Brooklyn that debuted last week.
Witnessing McGuinness's screaming delivery, more suited to TNT's prime-time wrestling show Nitro -- you expect the aneurysm at any moment -- even a pro-gay, pro-choice, hell-bound rock-and-roller would have to concede that the pastor delivers irresistible full nelsons to the soul. Disparaging facial expressions, down-home wisdom, and off-the-cuff self-deprecation keep his parishioners hooting and hollering as he exhorts them to get on the good foot with Jesus.
And then there are the barbs. To an overweight supplicant: "How's the tire tube holding you up?" To a bald one: "I can see you've been through the fires of hell." Of his wife of 36 years, a co-pastor at the Jesus Is Lord Church: "She won't even let me look at her in the morning until she puts the makeup on." A grimace: Good thing.
"God has a sense of humor," insists the tough-talking Bay Ridge native. "And God loves us no matter what we look like." At 55, McGuinness looks like your textbook Brooklyn Irish ne'er-do-well-with-a-heart-of-gold who hung up his drinking shoes and found solace in the Good Book. "I was an alcoholic for seventeen years," he says, "and I was very much into music as a kid, but doo-wop is the Devil's music."
Maybe so, but his choir is an exhilarating juggernaut of black, white, and brown believers kicking out celebrations of Christ to an almost carnal backbeat. And McGuinness dresses like he's ready to rock: One Sunday, he's in a searingly chartreuse suit; the next, he's strictly Tom Wolfe in an oversize ensemble that perfectly complements his white ducktail. "I pay $150 for my suits and $50 for the shoes," he laughs, short-circuiting any Jim Bakker suspicions.
The verbal arrows might find joyous targets in McGuinness's loyal flock, but the Jesus Is Lord televised hour of higher power (filmed at the Holtsville church and aired Tuesdays at 7 p.m.) has been toned down -- for now. McGuinness admits that the unwashed masses need to be gently eased into his baptismal belittling. "What we say in here," he tells his parishioners, "they're just not ready for yet!" He offers thanks to the Lord for video editors, then approaches a fiftyish woman in the pews. "I love the hair. Did you always want to be a lampshade?"