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‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ to air on Sunday; Asheville screening scheduled for May 8

Anna Jayne Joyner speaks at a recent WNC Green Congregations vigil held on Earth Day in Asheville. Joyner and her father, Rick Joyner, are the focus of a Showtime documentary scheduled to air this Sunday. Max Cooper/Carolina Public Press

ASHEVILLE — When Anna Jane Joyner is doing her job as campaign coordinator at the Western North Carolina Alliance, a regional environmental organization, the focus of her work is the impact of coal energy production and the perils of climate change.

But this weekend, Joyner and her views will be the center of attention on Sunday, May 4, at 10 p.m. when she and her father — mega-church pastor Rick Joyner — are featured in “The Preacher’s Daughter” on Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously,” an eight-part documentary series that shines the spotlight on the impacts of global warming.

The father and daughter’s sometimes-rocky relationship, Joyner said, is a perfect a metaphor for the ideological strongholds standing in the way of finding solutions to what she said is the world’s most pressing issue: climate change.

While the 29-year-old currently identifies as a Christian, she wasn’t so sure of that identity when she was as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“I wanted nothing to do with the church at that point because it was such an intense upbringing,” Joyner said.

But what may have started out as typical teenage angst was eventually channeled into a career path forged during a semester abroad in New Zealand.

“It was a turning point for me to be with people from all over the world who had a deeper environmental ethic than I did at the time,” she said. “They were culturally and spiritually interesting people who introduced me to the idea of having a spiritual life, but not through a Christian lens.”

When she returned to Chapel Hill, Joyner focused her studies on earning a degree in communication – rhetoric and a minor in environmental studies. But she didn’t entirely leave religion in the dust; her senior thesis examined the intersection of environmentalism and theology.

“I ended up talking to a lot of Christian leaders who are environmental activists. The folks I was talking to were using their faith to create a better world. It was faith in action,” explained Joyner, who was inspired to script a biblical narrative to explain why Christians should care about global warming.

In addition to working with the Sierra Club after college, Joyner helped establish Renewal, a nonprofit organization that equips college students with tools to lead environmental efforts on faith-based campuses. Two years ago, she came to WNC Alliance to work on the Asheville Beyond Coal campaign and to combat climate change. (An Asheville screening of the documentary is scheduled to be held on May 8 at 7 p.m. More details below.)

Melissa Williams, communications manager with the WNC Alliance, said Joyner’s work has helped bring the organization’s mission to “audiences we haven’t historically reached — people who don’t consider themselves environmentalists, per se, but who share our love for the natural world.”

Among the people Joyner’s trying to convince is her own father — himself a climate change skeptic. Click here to watch a clip of the show.

While their opposing worldviews led to an “epic” falling out when she was in college, she said, their relationship eventually thawed. The filming of the show brought them closer together.

“Communication is all about knowing your audience; you are trying to persuade and describe narratives that they can relate to,” she said. “It dawned on me that I wasn’t doing that with my dad.”

Joyner admitted that communicating the impact of global warming is difficult because of its complexity and that it may take a crisis — such as the Dan River coal ash spill — to serve as a metaphor for the deeper impact of climate change.

Part of the problem, she said, is the lack of transparency between the general public and the systems we rely on, such as food and energy production.

“One product of modern society is (that) we are removed from how those things take place and manifest; if we were, I think we’d be a lot more thoughtful about the choices we make,” she said. “(The coal ash spill and mountaintop removal) has shed light on the fact that our energy system is not sustainable. We live in this modern world but are relying on an ancient form of energy that requires we dig up mountain tops and put the waste in unlined pits that seep into our rivers. Why is this OK?”

Joyner said that the potential for a coal ash containment failure in Asheville has been under reported (see CPP’s reporting on Duke Energy’s emergency action plans and the company’s refusal to release the most recent versions). Duke Energy’s political influence – on both sides of the aisle – has contributed to the lack of transparency, she added.

Yet, politically speaking, the tide may be shifting.

“Republicans we couldn’t get a meeting with before (the Dan River spill) are now wanting to work on this,” said Joyner, whose organization has welcomed tougher proposed coal ash legislation from state Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.

But, ultimately, Joyner said, strong North Carolina coal ash regulations won’t solve the problem on a national level. She said she hopes that the heightened concerns about coal ash waste will emphasize the need for stronger federal oversight.

And, hopefully, she added, the timing of the show may help by spotlighting Duke’s coal burning power plant in Asheville.

While Joyner won’t view the segment in its entirety until it airs publicly on May 4, for the most part, she isn’t worried about how she may be portrayed.

“I told them many times that I am not an evangelical, but they liked to come back to using that language to describe me,” she said.

While she does not consider herself evangelical, she accepts the description.

“It’s part of my heritage; it’s a part of my upbringing,” she said.

Joyner, in fact, is more antsy about how the show may portray her father, but she said she trusts that the episode will humanize both of their views on climate change — and that breaking down some of the stereotypes contributing to the ideological divide might help lead to a solution.

“I hope folks walk away from the show with a sense of urgency on climate change,” said Joyner, who has been accepted to Yale University in the fall and is considering attending to pursue a dual master’s degree in environmental management and divinity. “We need to put everything we can into fixing this problem.”

And, she pointed out, religion and spirituality shouldn’t be left out of the equation.

“Faith communities shape the moral narrative of our lives — they have a great deal of power to influence policy,” she said. “Our story demonstrates that faith can be part of the solution.”


Local screening of ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’

An Asheville screening of the documentary featuring Joyner and her father is scheduled to be held Thursday, May 8, at 7 p.m. at 38 N. French Broad Street (in a new venue tentatively called “The New Earth” in the former Hairspray building).

Jack Igelman

Jack Igelman is a contributing reporter with Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jack@igelman.com.

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