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The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved, a fascinating look at the world of Christian women celebrities Since the 1970s, an important new figure has appeared on the center stage of American evangelicalism--the celebrity preacher's wife. Although most evangelical traditions bar women from ordained ministry, man From the New York Times bestselling author of Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved, a fascinating look at the world of Christian women celebrities Since the 1970s, an important new figure has appeared on the center stage of American evangelicalism--the celebrity preacher's wife. Although most evangelical traditions bar women from ordained ministry, many women have carved out unofficial positions of power in their husbands' spiritual empires or their own ministries. The biggest stars--such as Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, and Victoria Osteen--write bestselling books, grab high ratings on Christian television, and even preach. In this engaging book, Kate Bowler, an acclaimed historian of religion and the author of the bestselling memoir Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved, offers a sympathetic and revealing portrait of megachurch women celebrities, showing how they must balance the demands of celebrity culture and conservative, male-dominated faiths. Whether standing alone or next to their husbands, the leading women of megaministry play many parts: the preacher, the homemaker, the talent, the counselor, and the beauty. Boxed in by the high expectations of modern Christian womanhood, they follow and occasionally subvert the visible and invisible rules that govern the lives of evangelical women, earning handsome rewards or incurring harsh penalties. They must be pretty, but not immodest; exemplary, but not fake; vulnerable to sin, but not deviant. And black celebrity preachers' wives carry a special burden of respectability. But despite their influence and wealth, these women are denied the most important symbol of spiritual power--the pulpit. The story of women who most often started off as somebody's wife and ended up as everyone's almost-pastor, The Preacher's Wife is a compelling account of women's search for spiritual authority in the age of celebrity.


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From the New York Times bestselling author of Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved, a fascinating look at the world of Christian women celebrities Since the 1970s, an important new figure has appeared on the center stage of American evangelicalism--the celebrity preacher's wife. Although most evangelical traditions bar women from ordained ministry, man From the New York Times bestselling author of Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved, a fascinating look at the world of Christian women celebrities Since the 1970s, an important new figure has appeared on the center stage of American evangelicalism--the celebrity preacher's wife. Although most evangelical traditions bar women from ordained ministry, many women have carved out unofficial positions of power in their husbands' spiritual empires or their own ministries. The biggest stars--such as Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, and Victoria Osteen--write bestselling books, grab high ratings on Christian television, and even preach. In this engaging book, Kate Bowler, an acclaimed historian of religion and the author of the bestselling memoir Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved, offers a sympathetic and revealing portrait of megachurch women celebrities, showing how they must balance the demands of celebrity culture and conservative, male-dominated faiths. Whether standing alone or next to their husbands, the leading women of megaministry play many parts: the preacher, the homemaker, the talent, the counselor, and the beauty. Boxed in by the high expectations of modern Christian womanhood, they follow and occasionally subvert the visible and invisible rules that govern the lives of evangelical women, earning handsome rewards or incurring harsh penalties. They must be pretty, but not immodest; exemplary, but not fake; vulnerable to sin, but not deviant. And black celebrity preachers' wives carry a special burden of respectability. But despite their influence and wealth, these women are denied the most important symbol of spiritual power--the pulpit. The story of women who most often started off as somebody's wife and ended up as everyone's almost-pastor, The Preacher's Wife is a compelling account of women's search for spiritual authority in the age of celebrity.

30 review for The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities

  1. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    My review appears at Fathom Mag In 2002 Rosaline Wiseman published a book decoding the secret hierarchy of teenage girls. It became a popular read among parents because Wiseman’s research consisted of inviting young girls across the country to describe their social ecosystem. From that research, she developed a taxonomy of the mysterious habitat of teenage girls. Although Queen Bees and Wannabes aimed at helping parents, it gained a much wider readership and even inspired the fictional movie Mean My review appears at Fathom Mag In 2002 Rosaline Wiseman published a book decoding the secret hierarchy of teenage girls. It became a popular read among parents because Wiseman’s research consisted of inviting young girls across the country to describe their social ecosystem. From that research, she developed a taxonomy of the mysterious habitat of teenage girls. Although Queen Bees and Wannabes aimed at helping parents, it gained a much wider readership and even inspired the fictional movie Mean Girls. I read the book as a teenager, not as a parent, and found myself easily thrilled by categorizing every girl I knew. Suddenly I had a map for the land I’d wandered in for years. I had a similar experience between the pages of Kate Bowler’s new book, The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities. As a preacher’s wife myself, I did not read it as a spectator, but as an insider. I immediately recognized the opportunities and frustrations Bowler describes. I, too, have wrestled with my own ambition and uncertainty over the roles I’m supposed to play in the conservative spiritual tradition I love. Bowler begins her book with two questions that frame its aim: “How do women (in the church) learn their spiritual roles? What parts are they allowed to play?” To hear from the women themselves, they describe their rise to celebrity as one of effortless ease, but Bowler deconstructs five repeated themes that allowed for their platforms as evangelical women. She devotes a chapter to each in the form of roles: preacher, homemaker, talent, counselor, and beauty. Her research shows that even in denominations that prohibit ordination for women—perhaps especially in those denominations—women find alternative ways to get on stage. The women Bowler studies created their own opportunities by appealing to both evangelical expectations for women and taking advantage of marketplace demand. If a woman is willing to become what evangelical consumers want, she can gain prestige, brand power, and even wealth. Is there a place for ambitious women in the church? In a way, Bowler uses the “preacher’s wife” as an archetype: a sanctioned female evangelical who—through her beauty, talent, homemaking skills, or proximity to power—has influence. Preacher’s wives possess an intrinsically elevated status. They have a built-in audience and often embody what women can aspire to without subverting the authority of their denomination. Michelle Van Loon acknowledges the crux of the issue for many evangelical women: “As ambitious evangelical women haven’t had a clear ladder to climb, those with leadership desires have had to figure out how to vault themselves onto the rungs in American Christian-acceptable ways.” The preacher’s wife offers a vision for the roles available to other women in the congregation, showing the way toward the main stage. Yet success in the evangelical marketplace comes at the cost of higher expectations, a pitfall noted by several women in their interviews with Bowler. Most notable for me was the story of Jennifer Knapp, a singer-songwriter who became an instant evangelical celebrity—one of my personal favorites—not long after her conversion in college. She found it surprising how her fans expected her to become a poster child for purity culture, so much so that a committee of record studio executives once debated whether a guitar strap across her chest would be too suggestive for an album cover. Such conversations shed light on the unique demands placed on women in the evangelical marketplace. Bowler packs her book with vividly captured characters, from her detailed portrayal of Tammy Faye Bakker looking “like a scoop of pink sherbet in her matching rose dress and heels” to the unnamed woman who makes a dark joke about conference attendees “just wishing they could get a life-threatening disease right now and write about it.” Evangelical women may not personally relate to all of the chapters, but a contemporary audience is sure to recognize “The Counselor” types—women who “instead of standing on their credentials” choose to “justify their authority on the grounds that they stood on the ultimate foundation of psychological insight—experience.” Bowler deserves credit for introducing the differing ways these roles play out in diverse congregations, specifically noting how expectations vary for preacher’s wives in historically black churches. Surely her work marks the beginning of exploring how expectations on evangelical women influence a variety of church and parachurch settings. But readers should be aware that she tends to lump together trends across various denominations that may not consider themselves as having much in common, like prosperity churches, evangelical churches, and mainline traditions. Success with Something to Say It’s tempting for a researcher to stand at a distance from her subjects, but Bowler gently inserts herself into the narrative. Rather than making dismissive asides about the plight of other women, she recognizes that she is not immune to her categories. Her own experience is a testament to how a personal tragedy can become a boon for a speaking career, as her popular book Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved detailing her stage four cancer diagnosis prompted a flood of speaking invitations. In fact, she begins her book with “A Personal Note” recalling an event where a fellow speaker said, “You’re only famous because you’re dying, right?” Bowler responded, “Actually, it’s because I have something to say.” A woman with any amount of influence may find it uncomfortable to see herself as a beneficiary of the trends Bowler dissects, instead preferring to believe that she, too, is here because she has something to say. And yet, can any woman really know what factors led to her success? Can any researcher fully determine the strange brew of circumstances that create a following? Surely no woman wants her career reduced to a category, but Bowler asks her readers to acknowledge truths that have perhaps gone unspoken: attributes like musical talent and beauty often provide women with opportunities to be on stage; that spilling secrets about personal tragedies or confessing from the stage can evoke an audience’s trust and build a brand; that women can, and have, leveraged an idealized femininity to increase their status. Perhaps from her own experience, Bowler describes “the great juggling act of female celebrity” as “the double act of perfection and relatability.” There are serious personal costs to public ministry and women would be wise to consider her insight. What Bowler does not offer are solutions. In fact, she isn’t even clear on which trends she sees as problematic. Instead, she offers a broad, historical interpretation of the ecosystem inhabited by evangelical women across denominational boundaries, one that should spark a great deal of reflection and conversation among women who consume and create content through the evangelical marketplace. Like my young adult self, I have found Bowler’s categories transforming how I see the culture I both inhabit and observe. I can look around and recognize women who have charted these pre-approved paths to gain a following. But instead of using these labels to dissect the motives of others like I did in high school, I’ve found them instructing me to consider how such pathways to credibility have tempted me. They are less a criticism of ambitious women in the church as they are a warning to ensure that any successful platforms are coupled with actually having something to say.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen Rubin

    A thought-provoking look at celebrity evangelical women. Elizabeth and I are going to interview Kate Bowler for the Happier podcast, and while her other book (see below) is more directly related to happiness, I found this book fascinating.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bronwyn Lea

    Well written, brilliantly researched, and more than a little uncomfortable to read - Bowler has named much of the confusing terrain surrounding christian women leaders and cast light on its shadowy parts. It was probably beyond the scope of an academic work, but what I found missing from the book was acknowledgement of the inner world and motivation of some of the women described. I don't believe Beth Moore, for example, set out to build an empire or become a celebrity (as the marketplace model Well written, brilliantly researched, and more than a little uncomfortable to read - Bowler has named much of the confusing terrain surrounding christian women leaders and cast light on its shadowy parts. It was probably beyond the scope of an academic work, but what I found missing from the book was acknowledgement of the inner world and motivation of some of the women described. I don't believe Beth Moore, for example, set out to build an empire or become a celebrity (as the marketplace model might suggest of an entrepreneur). The size of her ministry speaks more to the size of the need than the size of her ambition, and I would have liked to see acknowledgment of possibility that the ministry has grown perhaps even with personal reluctance, or sacrifice, and as steps of obedience or faithfulness (or that it's grown because of the favor of God!) In the absence of a allowing space for generosity of motive, it rather made her (and others) look like opportunists. Having said that, though - it's a VERY WORTHWHILE and important read, and necessary and helpful milestone in mapping the landscape of women and evangelicalism right now. Very grateful for Bowler's thorough and thoughtful engagement on this topic.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bethany

    Fantastic. Relevant. At times heartbreaking. Impeccably researched. When women have a glass ceiling created by religious structures, they get creative: there’s no absence of power and influence, it’s just achieved by different means. I appreciated the exploration of how this culture of evangelical women celebrities doesn’t exclusively extend to white women, but also to other races and genders (including a story of how life changed for a male church leader who transitioned to a woman). This tells Fantastic. Relevant. At times heartbreaking. Impeccably researched. When women have a glass ceiling created by religious structures, they get creative: there’s no absence of power and influence, it’s just achieved by different means. I appreciated the exploration of how this culture of evangelical women celebrities doesn’t exclusively extend to white women, but also to other races and genders (including a story of how life changed for a male church leader who transitioned to a woman). This tells me there’s so much more to explore on this subject, and it’s changing with our culture. Dense, but highly recommended, especially if you have a little research nerd in you.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This felt like an expose of much of Christian culture for the last 40 years (in the USA) and what we’ve expected our women speakers and writers to do—sometimes without pay and increasingly in an insecure economy. Ironic that places where women are allowed to have authority (mainline churches) they don’t have celebrity but the places like conservative circles which don’t allow female authority the women with influence frequently have to pander.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Powers

    This book really brought home for me two things. First, how bizarre and weird and antithetical to traditional faith is the phrase and striving for "celebrity Christian". Secondly, I thought this book was an interesting reflection, though not explicitly stated, on the weird relationship between American Evangelicals, consumerism and capitalism. This book really brought home for me two things. First, how bizarre and weird and antithetical to traditional faith is the phrase and striving for "celebrity Christian". Secondly, I thought this book was an interesting reflection, though not explicitly stated, on the weird relationship between American Evangelicals, consumerism and capitalism.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Robert D. Cornwall

    I grew up in the Episcopal Church, which back then didn't ordain women (I had moved on right before they changed the rules), and then joined a church that was part of a denomination founded by a woman (Aimee Semple McPherson), but which had ambivalence about women in leadership (a lot of submission talk). Over time I ended up in a denomination -- the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) -- that has elected as its General Minister two women. I am a married preacher, so my wife could be called a I grew up in the Episcopal Church, which back then didn't ordain women (I had moved on right before they changed the rules), and then joined a church that was part of a denomination founded by a woman (Aimee Semple McPherson), but which had ambivalence about women in leadership (a lot of submission talk). Over time I ended up in a denomination -- the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) -- that has elected as its General Minister two women. I am a married preacher, so my wife could be called a "Preacher's Wife." In other words, the topic of Kate Bowler's book titled "The Preacher's Wife" caught my eye (thanks Kelly Hughes for the review copy). The subtitle of the book is instructive: "The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities." In evangelical circles, women face the challenge of navigating barriers that most women in Mainline circles don't have to deal with (at least not in the same way). That said, many evangelical women have found ways of exercising influence even though power might be circumscribed. It's not an easy life, and it's easy to criticize from outside. Fortunately, Kate Bowler writes about this topic with a great deal of empathy. We see in the text how Bowler, who is an Associate Professor of the History of Christian in North America, spends time getting to know some of the persons she features in the book, helping us understand their realities. It's not always pretty. She also writes from a bit of experience growing up in conservative Mennonite circles where women were taught to submit to male leadership. Added into this work is her own experience of becoming a woman celebrity after the publication of her memoir about her cancer. So she writes: "Celebrity Christian women must live in the ambiguity of competing claims on their lives." There is the spiritual need to transcend worldly concerns while being "products of institutional and cultural expectations with long-standing customs and prescriptions as well as a marketplace propelled by an exacting pragmatism that presses them toward results-driven metrics and messages." (pp. xii-xiii). The title of the book reminds us that in evangelical circles the pinnacle of power for women likely involves being the wife of the senior pastor. Sometimes she might have a very visible platform -- Victoria Osteen -- or she may be in the background, perhaps serving as producer of the show. Often she will be the leader of the women's ministry of the church. Very few women make it to the top on their own. The focus of the book is on women who are involved in mega-ministries, primarily megachurches -- churches over 2000 in membership. The roles women play in these ministries differ from tradition. So, in Southern Baptist life women are not allowed to serve as pastors. In prosperity churches, they tend to have a prominent role standing by with their husband as co-pastor (though still focused on women's ministry). There are a few women who venture out beyond the congregation, but many like Beth Moore speak predominantly to women audiences (Beth Moore has been in the news later because John McArthur told her to go home). Ironically Moore is probably the best known Southern Baptist bible teacher, but she can't be ordained! So, what we have here, as Bowler notes is an "exploration of the public lives of America's Christian female celebrities." (p. 5). One thing that Bowler brings out is that white evangelical women have circumscribed roles, they have done a better job of marketing themselves. Besides Barbara Brown Taylor, who Bowler notes shy away from public life, there are few Mainliners who one could say are celebrities. Few if any fill arenas like Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer. So, here is their story laid out for all to see. The chapters being with "The Preacher." The opening lines introduce us to Beth Moore, the biggest name among evangelicals -- at least among women. We encounter Joyce Meyer, a prosperity preacher who draws huge audiences and sells tons of books. This leads to the question, what is the proper role for women in ministry. What kinds of institutional power are allowed? This chapter explores the question of women in leadership, including ordination. She notes that women have been elected to leadership as heads of Protestant mainline churches (Sharon Watkins was the first in 2005). Nevertheless, few mainliners have made it in the marketplace (Nadia Bolz Weber being one of the few). This conversation leads to the next, to the role of women as "homemaker." This is the traditional role. The dutiful wife who stands by her husband's side. In this chapter, Dorothy Patterson, wife of Paige Patterson, stands out. Though she has a Ph.D. in theology, she used her influence in SBC circles to reinforce the image of homemaker, going so far as to wear hats as a sign of her submission to her husband. This chapter explores the reaction to feminism in western culture, how traditional roles were reinforced and how women like Phyllis Schafly and Beverly LaHaye led the effort to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment. At the same time, in evangelical circles, the rise of "women's ministry" was seen. This emerged in part as women's mission societies disappeared. Whereas women once organized to evangelize the world, new ministries emerged that were focused on the home, on domesticity. It is here that the role of co-pastor arises. In some circles, the preacher's wife was given the title co-pastor with the responsibility of organizing the women's ministries. Her role was in a sense sanctified by her husband's leadership (some circles call this "covering." Chapter three focuses on "The Talent." This is where celebrity really comes into play. We encounter people like Tammy Faye Baker and Jan Crouch, who play significant roles in the TV empires that they founded with their husbands. These women moved from behind the scenes to the mainstage. It's a generational thing in many ways. Then there are the gospel stars, like Mahalia Jackson and Aretha, along with CeCe Winans and my many more, who were known for their music. The earliest stars were African American, but then the "pop princesses" emerged, women like Amy Grant (whose own story of rise and fall is intriguing) and Rebecca St. James. These women were talented and beautiful (beauty is a key element in this story). Music and stardom, these created avenues for women. Chapter four -- The Counselor -- is intriguing. There is an appetite among evangelical women for stories of vulnerability. Women speakers, most without any credentials, tell their stories of emerging out of bad situations, often abuse or addiction. Bowler writes "by the 1990s, the most famous Christian women in ministry were famous not for what they had accomplished, but for what they had endured." (p. 155). They gathered crowds and sold books, but at what cost? This is a rather sad chapter, but an important one. Self-disclosure has its role, but when does it go too far? Beauty is an important attribute in these circles. Physical attractiveness plays a significant role in mega-ministry. Women must navigate difficult pathways, where they combine modesty (no cleavage or short skirts) with attractiveness. This chapter reminded me of my high school days when in our church the young women were being taught how to use makeup to beautify themselves while at the same time not causing us guys to stumble. It's a difficult road to walk. Concern for weight is also part of this story, for Christian women should be "slim for him." In other words, if your man wanders, you are at fault for you have let yourself go. Thus, it's not surprising that among the women celebrities were the winners of beauty pageants, including Miss America. In these circles it is difficult to be single -- why can't you get a man? You must stay "forever young" -- something difficult for all of us! Women have found ways of being present and even "succeeding" but is it sustainable? Men continue to dominate and women have few opportunities to move beyond standing her by her man. Some have risen to the top, but as Amy Butler discovered, even in the most progressive of churches, it can be difficult to be a woman in leadership -- thus, she resigned (something that occurred after the book went to press). In other words, though Bowler concludes with the story of Butler putting on Harry Emerson Fosdick's robes and declaring that they fit, maybe they didn't fit as perfectly as she had thought. So, even in progressive circles women struggle to find their way. I found the book fascinating. In part that is due to my fascination with Aimee Semple McPherson, who pioneered celebrity in the 1920s, and used it to found a denomination. Because of my background in circles like the ones described, I know many of these stories, or at least their foundations. Then, there is my role as a male pastor -- what is my responsibility to encourage women to break through the glass ceiling? Overall I loved the book, though I found parts of the story to be sad and disturbing. But then that should be expected from a book like this. Bowler writes well -- after all she wrote a best-selling memoir. So the book is accessible, even though it is a scholarly work. There are a few points I might quibble about. One has to do with the classification of Cynthia Hale. She is listed here as pastor of a "pentecostalized historic black church" rather than as a mainline pastor. I understand that she may have a charismatic bent, but she is an ordained Disciples of Christ pastor and her church is one of the largest in my denomination. So, I wondered about that. In her timeline in one of the appendixes, she lists important points along the way for women in ministry but neglects to list Sharon Watkins's election in 2005 as General Minister of the Disciples, the first woman to lead a mainline Protestant denomination. This oversight may be linked to the smallness of my denomination, which may explain the classification of Cynthia Hale. These are small things, but for me they are important. Nevertheless, this is a most worthy book to be explored. It succeeds in large part because Bowler writes with empathy for the women who populate this story.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    In The Preacher's Wife Kate Bowler explores how women in evangelical churches and circles have managed to carve out their own place in the world of the evangelical celebrity. While most evangelical churches don't allow women to be in positions of authority, many of the women in this book have managed to circumvent that rule, at least on the surface. But, because their power hinges on the men in their lives, that power is precarious and the double-standards and rules for women are overwhelming. B In The Preacher's Wife Kate Bowler explores how women in evangelical churches and circles have managed to carve out their own place in the world of the evangelical celebrity. While most evangelical churches don't allow women to be in positions of authority, many of the women in this book have managed to circumvent that rule, at least on the surface. But, because their power hinges on the men in their lives, that power is precarious and the double-standards and rules for women are overwhelming. Bowler explores the various ways evangelical women's precarious power plays out - the preacher, the homemaker, the talent, the counselor, and the beauty, but almost never in the pulpit or leading an entire church. The Preacher's Wife is meticulously researched, yet very readable. It took me longer than it should have to get through this book because it was also a hard read in a lot of ways. In the evangelical church there are two views of women: egalitarian (men and women are equal in all ways) and complementarian (belief that God has ordained men as the head of the family and the church and women cannot lead men in any way). I am firmly in the egalitarian camp, but I'm also an evangelical Christian. Reading about how so many evangelical churches continue to treat women as second class Christians is just hard to read for me. I truly don't understand why Christian women would work so hard to keep themselves in a lesser position when I do NOT believe that is what God intends for us. But, Bowler does a great job with this topic and it is very eye-opening. I'm hopeful that in another few decades we'll look back and see how evangelical women have made more strides in equality within the Church. Some quotes I liked: "For women, this is an era of almost - almost feminist, almost patriarchal, almost progressive, and almost regressive - and in these pages we hold the prism of their experiences up to the light. The lives of public women invite us to ask again what Americans expect from women in the spotlight; and whether they will ever grow used to women's presence in the main seats of power, in the pulpit, in the corner office, or in the White House. The women of megaministry are exceptional, but they are not simply exceptions. They are religious reflections of almost-mythic American ideals of women as wives and mothers, pillars and martyrs, in a culture divided over whether women should lean in or opt out." (p. 16) "The roles of wife and mother took on a decidedly populist tone in Christian circles with the campaign to stop the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). In 1970, the National Organization for Women (NOW), founded by Betty Friedan, stepped up public pressure to amend the American constitution to include a ban on sex discrimination. Within two years the House of Representatives and the Senate had adopted an amendment that then had to be ratified by thirty-eight states. But by the mid-1970s, a vocal and well-organized STOP ERA effort effectively made celebrities out of two women who professionalized their roles as politically savvy mothers. Phyllis Schlafly, a lawyer and Catholic mother of six, found the Eagle Forum, and Beverly LaHaye, mother of four and wife of famous pastor Tim LaHaye, launched the Concerned Women for America..." (p. 73) "'It's part of why our church doesn't allow husbands and wives to be on staff together. I think it's been a great thing because it prevents too much power from being concentrated in one place. It's also our rule that only one person from every family can be on staff, so a son can't be on the same board as his father, for instance.' Many of the largest non-denominational churches, especially from prosperity gospel traditions, did not have strong governing institutions outside of the pastoral family, and, as Donna [of Westover Church in Greensboro, NC] observed, this policy asked a great deal from both husband and wife." (p. 108) "A counseling degree offered women in evangelical contexts a large measure of freedom. These degrees, or corresponding degrees in social work, qualified them for work in a variety of roles, from religious schools, private practice, children and family services, hospitals, and funeral homes to homeless shelters. In a congregational setting, the work of counseling did not seem to trigger the same concerns around authority and oversight." (p. 171) "As bearers of children, women's bodies are gatekeepers of life and death. In a culture largely reluctant to make news of miscarriage and stillbirth public, women's ministries became a sanctuary for the enormous range of emotions that arise when some lives begin and others end...The separate sphere of women's ministry was opened to reveal a place of holy sorrow." (p. 179-80) "Likewise, Beverly LaHaye initially felt sorry for a woman being berated by her husband for looking tired on a date, but then sympathized with the husband for not having a wife with a little more pride in herself. 'What a pity to see a Christian woman who has developed her inner beauty but has done nothing to the frame she must house it in,' she fretted. The common argument given was that men were visual creatures, which made women's appearance a part of her wifely duties. Her beauty and sexuality were not her own...[and when male pastors cheated or pursued infidelity] There was always a woman to blame for a man who strayed." (p. 222-23) "On a more basic level, these concerns about dangerous sexuality made it difficult for women to operate in ministry without fear of the 'appearance of evil,' a commonly used extra-biblical phrase to indict unsupervised male-female interaction. Though women were lauded as keepers of the home, they were often treated as temptresses. Take, for instance, the common practice of refusing to allow a man and a woman to be unchaperoned. Billy Graham famously made it a policy that he would never be alone with a woman other than his wife...However, in practice, it had two significant effects. First, the consequence of sex-segregated spaces was that women would find it very different to gain powerful mentors...Secondly, it sexualized interactions between the genders." (p. 227) "As we have seen in each chapter, the heights to which Christian celebrity women could rise depended on their ability to master the rules of complementarianism and capitalism, finding financial stability without appearing to be theologically overreaching. Women found a public voice in credentialing themselves as wives, mothers, and homemakers. From Elisabeth Elliot to Joanna Gaines, audiences rewarded those who opened the door to let them into their famously Christian homes. The title of 'wife and mom' was so powerful that even the popular writer Rachel Held Evans was rejected by a Christian publisher on the grounds that, since she was not yet a mother, she could not write authoritatively about Christian womanhood." (p. 243) [When Beth Moore responded to the Donald Trump audio tape of "grab 'em by the pussy."] "She [Tweeted]: 'Try to absorb how acceptable the disesteem and objectifying of women has been when some Christian leaders don't think it's that big a deal. I'm one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn't. We're tired of it.'...For her boldness, she was asked by male evangelical leaders to repent, and she was deserted by some of her female supporters. Attendance at her events dropped, and some women swore they would never buy another of her bible studies again." (p. 245-46)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Laura Robinson

    Kate Bowler is so cool.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Janay Boyer

    Fascinating. Love Kate Bowler's work. Fascinating. Love Kate Bowler's work.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Melody Schwarting

    The sheer level of research that Kate Bowler does astonishes me. She's venturing into fields that are not yet well-documented by other historians; she and Joshua Young have staggering amounts of data backing up their findings; and many of her studies are so contemporary they're hardly historical. (Was 2016 only 4 years ago? Still processing the march of time.) Bowler's work is worth a skim for anyone who wants to think critically about evangelical celebrity culture (think "Who’s In Charge of the The sheer level of research that Kate Bowler does astonishes me. She's venturing into fields that are not yet well-documented by other historians; she and Joshua Young have staggering amounts of data backing up their findings; and many of her studies are so contemporary they're hardly historical. (Was 2016 only 4 years ago? Still processing the march of time.) Bowler's work is worth a skim for anyone who wants to think critically about evangelical celebrity culture (think "Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?" by Tish Harrison Warren for Christianity Today). The Preacher's Wife contains a lot of pictures and interviews, which makes it fun to read. Examples are wide-ranging: my thesis subject, Angelina Grimké and her Appeal to Christian Women of the South, get a mention as an early example of evangelical female celebrity; Grimké was the first woman to address a US legislative body, and she and her sister Sarah were prominent abolitionists whose decision to speak in public led to the expected amount of masculine displeasure at the audacity of women speaking in public. But I digress. Bowler puts to words what many of us have felt about being a Christian woman, and she backs it up with historical research. Beauty, vulnerability/authenticity, gender roles, and more get detailed examinations with examples of women whose "personal brand" dealt with those topics. However, Bowler's work is so fresh that she doesn't pause for lengthy reflections and analysis; it's mostly a collection of data, interviews, stories, and more, without a lot of critical synthesis. I don't find this to be a detraction from her work. As a historian I can sit with it more comfortably than a reader approaching The Preacher's Wife expecting to find some analytical nugget to discuss. Bowler's work answers "what's going on here?" rather than "what does it all mean?" She documents the phenomenon rather than analyzes it. I'd heard from some readers that she didn't look at "good" examples of celebrity, which implies that the choice examples are "bad," but I didn't find that to be the case. Beth Moore, Christy Nockels, and other contemporary female leaders that I respect (even if I don't wholeheartedly agree with them on everything) are treated with dignity. Their own voices are given ample space in interviews. Bowler doesn't make moral judgments about leaders who've fallen from grace, respecting all of her subjects, even when her personal opinions about women's conferences that market makeovers are implicit. The Preacher's Wife has given me food for thought about a lot of things, and I'm looking forward to mulling it over while keeping an eye on famous female figures in evangelicalism.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    So much of this book is what I have lived and experienced growing up in American evangelical and Pentecostal culture in the 1990’s. It was uncomfortable for me to remember in many parts, and yet there glimpses of hope and equality laced throughout.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten Kroeker

    I greatly disliked this book - not the author's writing, or anything she could have changed - but the research findings and facts as they were presented. I think I was hoping more for a "rebel girls of the church"-style book, acknowledging the scarcity of female leaders in evangelicalism but pointing out all the places they'd had an impact regardless. Instead, it was a disappointing trajectory of one step forward, a dozen steps back as the church reacted against the culture and sought to put wom I greatly disliked this book - not the author's writing, or anything she could have changed - but the research findings and facts as they were presented. I think I was hoping more for a "rebel girls of the church"-style book, acknowledging the scarcity of female leaders in evangelicalism but pointing out all the places they'd had an impact regardless. Instead, it was a disappointing trajectory of one step forward, a dozen steps back as the church reacted against the culture and sought to put women in their place, so to speak. I think Bowler did a remarkable job narrating this trajectory, identifying key players, turning points and cultural triggers along the way. She was thorough in her research and writes her findings in an accessible way. I may not like the story, but I think it's an important one, and one that Bowler tells well. I was disappointed with the cynicism (though it was often warranted) in the tidbits shared, often more about women's fight for survival in an arena where there was no welcome, than about hearts for the gospel and gifts of leadership, vision, preaching or such. Yet I was also impacted by the empathy in the stories about women doing their best in a difficult space to navigate. As a strictly academic endeavour, the emphasis was more on the platform, recognition or success women have had in the spotlight (mega-churches and media) of the evangelical movement than on their spiritual impact, advancing the gospel or meaningful ministries. Those are likely harder to study, but it left me wanting to hear that side of the story as well. The result: to be a woman in significant leadership in the evangelical church, you need to be on the prosperity-gospel train, be the wife/daughter of a pastor/evangelical leader, be perfect yet relatable, attractive yet asexual, wear fashions a few decades behind mainstream culture, refer often to your "spiritual covering" (husband, father, spiritual mentor - so long as they are male), downplay (or don't have) any credentials and don't expect equal (or often, any) financial reimbursement for your lifetime of ministry. Of course there are outliers, but it was shocking to read the stats and watch the trends over the past century. At the same time, men faced major barriers in their ministries without the faithful, supportive wife figure standing prominently in the background. Bowler paints a complex picture of what it means to be a women in the spotlight in the evangelical church and you can't help but pity anyone who finds themselves there. Here's hoping these next few decades will launch a sequel with something to celebrate. In the meantime I am both thankful for the ministries of some leading women who have had a significant impact on my own life, and a little disillusioned with others who loved the platform more than they loved the Lord.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    How much did I love this book? I highlighted the very first sentence of the pre-introduction. I highlighted and marked up (my kindle!) every single chapter. I even highlighted parts of the acknowledgements. I grew up a southern baptist preacher's daughter and long-lived in the evangelical world that has strict rules and (small) departments women are allowed to "lead" in. It is a song and a dance and a mental gymnastics I am all too familiar with- that I have even mastered on some levels. Once, my How much did I love this book? I highlighted the very first sentence of the pre-introduction. I highlighted and marked up (my kindle!) every single chapter. I even highlighted parts of the acknowledgements. I grew up a southern baptist preacher's daughter and long-lived in the evangelical world that has strict rules and (small) departments women are allowed to "lead" in. It is a song and a dance and a mental gymnastics I am all too familiar with- that I have even mastered on some levels. Once, my mom was asking me why a bunch of my millennial girl-friends wanted to be "Christian speakers." "What are they gonna speak about? What have they done? They just wanna go to a random conference and talk about Jesus?" (As a trained journalist, this did not make sense to her.) "Maybe they just want to be preachers..." I guessed. "But they're not allowed." That conversation was years ago, and we have often re-visited it with inquisitive and heated debates, mostly surrounded with the fatal question: why is it like this? This book holds the answers. In five chapters, Kate Bowler highlights the roles that Christian women "get" to play in the (mostly evangelical) church-sphere: the preacher (wife), the homemaker, the talent, the counselor, and the beauty. She puts figures and numbers (my favorite!) to showcase how women are awarded less than their male ministerial counterparts in authority, education, pay, and privilege. She lays out the complicated, ever-changing formula for women to get (and keep) influence in the Christian-sphere. I could tell stories about things in my church-raised past that made me wonder, or question, or roll my eyes. And while reading this, they all came back as an "Aha" moment: a piece of the puzzle I long needed to put together some understanding to the things I was taught. I hope young women like me read this book. I hope male pastors read this book. I hope moms and dads and small group leaders and anyone who has influence over young girls in churches reads this book. It is important and true and necessary.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Catherine McNiel

    This is an important book, and I want everyone to read it. It shows how patriarchy has impacted both the church and women (who make up half the church). The focus isn't actually on Preacher's wives, but on the ways women in conservative Evangelical churches are kept from having institutional influence so instead find ways to influence in the marketplace... and all the trouble that comes before and after. These dynamics are very real and deeply problematic, and this book is well-researched and pre This is an important book, and I want everyone to read it. It shows how patriarchy has impacted both the church and women (who make up half the church). The focus isn't actually on Preacher's wives, but on the ways women in conservative Evangelical churches are kept from having institutional influence so instead find ways to influence in the marketplace... and all the trouble that comes before and after. These dynamics are very real and deeply problematic, and this book is well-researched and presented. However, I felt that the wording in the book often subtly indicated that the responsibility lay with the women and not the structures of power. For example, the chapters have titles like the talent, the counselor, the beauty... in other words, putting those women at the center. The dynamic would shift slightly if the chapters were called talent, counsel, beauty ... In other words, putting the dynamics at the center. The many, many Evangelical women are presented two dimensionally, and we don't get a chance to see much of what happened under the surface to bring them where they are. The irony is, that this book is intended to highlight precisely those dynamics.

  16. 4 out of 5

    John Pawlik

    Incredibly eye-opening and insightful book. It threw me into a world of complicated ministries I would never have had any insights into. Kate Bowler gives incredible insight into the particular realities and challenged faced by women who have chiseled out positions of authority in evangelical and other circles where they wouldn’t normally have existed, explores why conservative women seem even more able to gain a massive ministry following with more restrictions, and details the various way in w Incredibly eye-opening and insightful book. It threw me into a world of complicated ministries I would never have had any insights into. Kate Bowler gives incredible insight into the particular realities and challenged faced by women who have chiseled out positions of authority in evangelical and other circles where they wouldn’t normally have existed, explores why conservative women seem even more able to gain a massive ministry following with more restrictions, and details the various way in which women with great talents for speaking and writing (and many other talents) have made ministry opportunities for themselves and the challenges they faced. Accessibly written and very helpful.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alle VanWye

    Not as good as I anticipated. The writing style was fine but I struggled to find the point… the book concluded without any specific call to action, it simply pointed out the issues we already acknowledge and then essentially summarized with “well this stinks”. I also didn’t like the lack of research on why these women acted how they did. Any basic foray into evangelicalism will show you they were often (though not always) complicit in taking the back seat.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Creedy

    Brilliantly written, entertaining book. Should cause some of us to have a good hard think. A few minor niggles but as a piece of theological storytelling/church history, it is excellent. Bowler manages to write well without belittling her subjects and holds the reality and hypocrisy of American evangelicalism up for the reader to examine.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Emily Erickson

    This was fascinating. I had a hard time putting it down. The first chunk was very academic. In fact, the whole thing was more academic than I expected...but in a very accessible way...not like reading a traditional textbook. I grew up in the evangelical church, so basically all of the women Kate Bowler wrote about were very familiar to me. I appreciated the way that she simply told the stories without offering her own opinion or analysis. I keep telling friends to read it and I may read it again This was fascinating. I had a hard time putting it down. The first chunk was very academic. In fact, the whole thing was more academic than I expected...but in a very accessible way...not like reading a traditional textbook. I grew up in the evangelical church, so basically all of the women Kate Bowler wrote about were very familiar to me. I appreciated the way that she simply told the stories without offering her own opinion or analysis. I keep telling friends to read it and I may read it again.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    Fascinating!!!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kayo

    This book was a slow read. Lot of statistics and information. Subject fine, but not a fun read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Interesting objective and scholarly (well-written) look at women married to prominent preachers.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Hunsberger

    More of a history of women in the church. Not much by way of conclusions.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Gardiner

    This book is a sympathetic case for egalitarianism told through story and history, rather than exegesis. It chronicles how women have taken power and influence for themselves (Bible teacher, life coach, musician/TV host) when they are denied the office of pastor, due to their gender. Kate is a great historian (which is why I'm reading this book, even though I'm Complementarian). She writes dispassionately and never disparages directly. However, she does tip her hat to her beliefs through framing This book is a sympathetic case for egalitarianism told through story and history, rather than exegesis. It chronicles how women have taken power and influence for themselves (Bible teacher, life coach, musician/TV host) when they are denied the office of pastor, due to their gender. Kate is a great historian (which is why I'm reading this book, even though I'm Complementarian). She writes dispassionately and never disparages directly. However, she does tip her hat to her beliefs through framing stories. She contrasts sad/oppressed and happy/overcoming stories to let you know what her beliefs are instead of stating them directly. She switches between the uneducated woman pastor who rises the ranks of her denomination in contrast to a woman with a doctorate who throws Art of Homemaking conferences. The implication is the latter is wasting her gifts. Kate compares the egalitarian struggle for women in church leadership to the emancipation of slaves. She fails to see the logic of allowing women to have powerful platforms of Bible teaching (like Beth Moore) but deny them the pastoral office where she might have less influence than she already has. She misses the fact that the pastoral office comes with spiritual authority, something a Bible teacher or author does not have. Women are not forbidden from having influence or for teaching the Bible. They are forbidden from leading local churches or preaching, which is teaching+authority combined. For evangelical readers, it is important to note that there are sections that emphasize LGBTQ+ overcoming. There are Lesbian ministers profiled as well as those fighting for "equality" rights. It is my opinion that this makes sense, as progressivism is the next logical step after egalitarianism. If the Biblical teaching on gender roles is not transendant but is wrapped up in the cultural view of the day, then why not the passages on sexuality too? Egalitarisnism leads to progressiveism when taken to its logical conclusion. As I read this book, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a Complementarin woman. I thought about how if I was a homemaker or a pastor's wife, how much a book like this would hurt. It would have left me with a sense that I was wasting my life or not living up to my potential. For that reason, I can't recommend it for lay reading. Overall, this is a great work of history with faulty theology.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kendall Davis

    This book is primarily descriptive and Bowler does that excellently. She mixes specific examples with more general trends and observations expertly. Bowler tour of this landscape is well worth the price of admission. However, I had a few issues that prevented me from giving this book a higher rating. Bowler is at times extremely condescending to American Evangelicals and anyone who holds different views about gender than she does. She treats any and all conservative theological beliefs about wome This book is primarily descriptive and Bowler does that excellently. She mixes specific examples with more general trends and observations expertly. Bowler tour of this landscape is well worth the price of admission. However, I had a few issues that prevented me from giving this book a higher rating. Bowler is at times extremely condescending to American Evangelicals and anyone who holds different views about gender than she does. She treats any and all conservative theological beliefs about women's ordination as fundamentally incoherent, inconsistent, and purely motivated by misogyny. She periodically discusses progressive Christian context and this dismissive and condescending tone disappears immediately. For all her posturing as a neutral observer, Bowler fails to do this spectacularly. Her presentation of the women's role in the church in the first few centuries of the church is merely a regurgitation of Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, but she presents this as if it is just the consensus and not merely the views of one rather eccentric scholar. Bowler is too good of a historian to be this sloppy. I also wish Bowler had explained why she thinks celebrity is so important. Eventually after hearing so many accounts of Christian celebrities and how hard it can be for women to become Christian celebrities, I kept wondering why we seem to be assuming that Christian celebrity is a good thing at all. Bowler seems to assume an answer that she doesn't argue for or share. Finally, by the end of the book Bowler doesn't seem to have much to offer by way of suggestions or evaluation. At the end it feels like the whole book was a tour of how crazy some evangelicals can be. So while I found the book incredibly interesting, I didn't understand what she was trying to do other than just describe.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alex Strohschein

    See my review at the Regent Bookstore blog. See my review at the Regent Bookstore blog.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Shelving it as DNF for me - not because it isn’t good, I really like it, but it is not the right timing for me. I will pick it up again later.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Emunah

    This is a super interesting history of women in ministry and women’s ordination in the United States. Helpful reflections gender & power in Evangelical culture. Highly recommend.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Richard Propes

    Kate Bowler tackles the often emotional subject of women in ministry in "The Preacher's Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities," a Princeton University Press release that continues Bowler's remarkable ability to bring history to life in subjects that have seldom been the subject of such thorough, exact examination. This history on evangelical women celebrities is explored by Bowler's essentially examining chapter-by-chapter the five "roles" of a preacher's wife - 1) The Prea Kate Bowler tackles the often emotional subject of women in ministry in "The Preacher's Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities," a Princeton University Press release that continues Bowler's remarkable ability to bring history to life in subjects that have seldom been the subject of such thorough, exact examination. This history on evangelical women celebrities is explored by Bowler's essentially examining chapter-by-chapter the five "roles" of a preacher's wife - 1) The Preacher, 2) The Homemaker, 3) The Talent, 4), The Counselor, and 5) The Beauty. Bowler examines with tremendous depth the history of these roles and how they've changed as culture has changed. This includes shifts in power and influence. Bowler's extensive study, and this book is yet another Bowler title where a good 25% or more of the pages are devoted to her extensive resources and addendums, analyzes texts, advertisements, merchandising of women's ministries, and a wealth of interviews and conference experiences. As a not so subtle statement, "The Preacher's Wife" utilizes high-quality printing that adds heftiness to the book as an intentional way for Bowler to help her readers understand the body image pressure of women in ministry and how in addition to being perfect in their roles they had to also serve as the "slender wife at his side." In fairness, she also well documents those who rebelled against such a need. Bowler provides a timeline of women's ministry, from the first woman to be ordained (Clarissa Danforth in 1815) to the roles of American Christian women across the last couple of centuries in public policy and missions. She explores the worlds of a variety of evangelical women celebrities from Beth Moore to Aimee Semple McPherson to Kathryn Kulhman and including such contemporary figures as Nadia Bolz Weber. Bowler explores how conservative evangelical women functioned in roles from homemakers to worship to counselors to being the beautiful figure. They started conferences, fashion lines, bible studies, counseling, and often accumulated as much if not more influence than their husbands and/or their churches. Bowler looks at people like Kay Warren, wife of Rick who became a model for vulnerability when their son died by suicide. Liz Curtis Higgs bucked the "thin beauty" trend and marketed her "large and lovely" self successfully as a conference speaker. Jen Hatmaker was ditched by Lifeway when she began to speak out about LGBTQ issues, while former CCM singer Jennifer Knapp voluntarily withdrew from the music scene rather than continue to live the false life of a celibate and straight female. "The Preacher's Wife" explores with tremendous devotion to historicity the emergence of women's ministry and the subcultures that came from that movement. At times, "The Preacher's Wife" is an uncomfortable read precisely because Bowler covers it all so well and powerfully portrays the ways in which women have had to flex with cultural changes and the ways in which they've been subjected to a level of examination and accountability that is simply not true for men. "The Preacher's Wife" is a remarkable, necessary achievement. I found it easier to read than Bowler's "Blessed," though that's also because its presentation is more pleasing and the font is different and easier to read. The use of graphics adds tremendous depth to Bowler's words and the level of sourcing is practically unheard of in contemporary Christian publishing. For anyone who cares about the history and role of women in ministry, "The Preacher's Wife" is a must read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I first heard Kate Bowler in an interview on Gretchen Rubin's podcast and I loved everything she had to say. She is kind and intelligent and deeply empathetic. She is a woman of faith in academia. She has battled cancer and is a wife and mother. This is her second book. The first was a memoir of her cancer experience. As a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I believe in modern revelation and a living prophet, but I am under no illusion that our church exists in a I first heard Kate Bowler in an interview on Gretchen Rubin's podcast and I loved everything she had to say. She is kind and intelligent and deeply empathetic. She is a woman of faith in academia. She has battled cancer and is a wife and mother. This is her second book. The first was a memoir of her cancer experience. As a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I believe in modern revelation and a living prophet, but I am under no illusion that our church exists in a vacuum. I believe it is also influenced by time and events occurring in the world. I found this book so fascinating for several reasons. First, I enjoy learning about other faiths. In a world that increasingly embraces the idea that there is no God, I am drawn to learn more about devout Jews, Muslims, and Christians and how they practice and live their beliefs in the world. I loved learning how Evangelical women navigate that world because in many ways it was a reflection of my own experience. Bowler gives a long history of women and their roles in the church. She also spends a lot of time talking about Mega churches and the wives of the pastors. I am a bishop's wife which doesn't equate to a pastor's wife of a congregation of 3,000, but I can understand the expectation that can be put on the bishop's wife and family. I have been called in jest, "The mother of the ward." I liked this book because I liked hearing the honesty of the women she interviewed. I liked hearing how they navigate the expectations of those around them while also sincerely trying to live a faithful life. So much of this book felt familiar and I appreciated that Bowler is embracing the idea that a woman of faith can examine the good and bad of how women are treated by their congregations, by their male leaders, and their female sisters and still remain faithful women. If I'm being honest, I chafe a bit sometimes in a patriarchal church. I have enjoyed diving deeper into learning about the Priesthood recently and find it fascinating how my own church is growing and stretching to better understand women and the Priesthood. I find it just as interesting listening to members in my own ward navigate these changes. It is complicated. I appreciated seeing those complications working other churches too. I would have loved less about the music business and more about women and the religious right and the current political climate and how it influences women of faith in leadership roles. Bowler just touched on that at the end and I wanted more. Overall, I would really recommend this book.

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