Celebrity among evangelical women key to new influence

Celebrity among evangelical women, especially the wives of prominent pastors, has helped them to circumvent the obstacles to female leadership in evangelicalism, giving them disproportionate influence in the movement, according to historian Kate Bowler, the author of a recent book on pastors’ wives and other prominent Christian women. In an interview in Christian Century magazine (December 4), Bowler, author of The Preacher’s Wife, said she was surprised to find that, without any theological education or supportive structures, the wives of well-known evangelical leaders and pastors exercised important leadership roles in churches and organizations usually barring women from playing such roles. She cited the case of Beth Moore, a Southern Baptist evangelist and teacher who has utilized Twitter and her best-selling books as her pulpit in a denomination that does not ordain women.

Other women, usually the wives of megachurch pastors, have found fame and influence as gospel singers and worship leaders, or starting out as lay counselors and gaining celebrity by revealing their personal struggles. Nearly all the evangelical and Pentecostal women celebrities Bowler studied enhanced their fame by being beautiful or glamorous (“though not too sexy”), showing people that “theirs was a faith for successful people.” Bowler noted that as leadership is concentrated in fewer hands with the growth of megachurches, wives are seen as conferring emotional “well-roundedness” on their pastor husbands, while having a lot of power themselves as they figure out how to minister to women in the congregation. Ironically, while mainline Protestants ordain women, lacking the celebrity culture of evangelical women they rarely climb to prominent pulpits and have less influence than men.

(Christian Century, https://www.christiancentury.org/)