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Bestselling Author Kate Bowler Explores the Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities

“Bowler’s wonderful work provocatively considers what women gain and lose in becoming ‘market ready’ for evangelical communities.” —Publishers Weekly Starred Review

New York Times bestselling author Kate Bowler explores the public lives of the “first ladies” of America’s Christian megaministries in her new book, The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities (Princeton University Press, October 1, 2019). Bowler examines the success of conservative women who have negotiated a measure of spiritual authority in an era of jumbotrons and searing stage lights, remaking popular religion into a woman’s playground.

Women’s roles in conservative evangelical and pentecostal denominations are constrained by the theology of complementarianism—the belief that God assigned to men the role of head of family and church, and to women a prescribed set of feminine virtues and capacities. Driven into the Christian marketplace because of the restricted roles available to them, a cluster of unlikely women became stars of American Christianity. Bowler uncovers the "delicate dance" these women perform—professed submission to men and implicit independence from them. Carefully crafted images balance the demands of consumer culture and church: they must be pretty, but not immodest; exemplary yet authentic wives and mothers; vulnerable to sin, but not deviant. “The women of megaministry are religious reflections of almost-mythic American ideals of women as wives and mothers—and emblematic of a culture divided over women’s roles,” Bowler writes.

With titles such as co-pastors, executive directors, or simply pastor’s wives, women offer their expertise as teachers, singers, bloggers, parenting experts, sex therapists, and life coaches. Some appear on TV, write bestselling books, or host radio programs or podcasts. Some, like Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer, lead stadium events in their own right. Bowler probes the most common roles adopted by Christian women celebs:

  • Preacher: “To avoid the appearance of disobeying scriptural injunctions, women who were obviously preaching scripture made a habit of calling themselves Bible teachers instead.” One example is Beth Moore, the biggest female name in evangelicalism.

  • Homemaker: Christian female stars from the 1970s onward "trumpeted the virtues of Christian wifehood and motherhood. They professionalized their domestic life, making their home into a showplace and their marriage into business.” The 2000s saw the rise of a new generation of Christian “mommy bloggers” and “Christian Etsy Culture” stars.

  • Counselor: “In an odd combination of Christian testimony and amateur therapy, women celebs not only recount their past sins in exciting detail and claim the power of God to change them. They stake their ministries on their imperfections, their junk, their brokenness.”

  • Beauty: Early Christian women celebs included former beauty queens Anita Bryant and Terry Meewsen, cohost of The 700 Club. Today, “the largest women’s ministries are dazzling displays of commercial beauty,” such as IF:Gathering, whose stunning success Bowler attributes in part to “seamlessly integrating their aesthetic and products with the trends of educated, affluent women who felt most at home with bohemian lifestyle brands like Anthropologie.”

  • Talent: “From bookstore owners to managers and megachurch pastors, gatekeepers were typically men who would grant approval, a ‘spiritual covering’ that allowed women to claim they were still ‘under the headship of male spiritual leader.’” From Amy Grant to Tammy Faye Baker, “a woman could inhabit endless non-pulpit roles, from pop princess to televangelist, so long as she was the sweet harmony to his strong melody.”

  • Counselor: “In an odd combination of Christian testimony and amateur therapy, women celebs not only recount their past sins in exciting detail and claim the power of God to change them. They stake their ministries on their imperfections, their junk, their brokenness.”

Bowler spent years researching “the women of megaministry.” She traveled across the U.S. and Canada to watch women compete in the evangelical marketplace, visiting thirty megachurches and fifteen of the largest women’s conferences. She interviewed over 100 Christian celebrities and industry leaders, and also draws upon materials from megachurches, parachurches, publishers, television networks, and music producers.

“What I discovered is what I had learned long ago at bible camp,” writes Bowler, who grew up in the Mennonite church. “The visible and invisible rules that govern the lives of evangelical women can be mastered and occasionally subverted by those willing to play a difficult long game with handsome rewards and harsh penalties.”

Kate Bowler is an associate professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke

Divinity School. She is the author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel

(Oxford University Press, 2013) and the New York Times-bestselling memoir Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved (Penguin Random House, 2018). She is the host of the popular podcast, Everything Happens.

In 2015, she was unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 35. In a 2016 New York Times op-ed that went viral (see: gospel-and-me.html), she writes about the irony of being an expert in health, wealth, and happiness while being ill. Her memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, tells the story of her struggle to understand the personal and intellectual dimensions of a deeply-rooted American belief that all tragedies are tests of character. Bowler has responded well to her cancer treatments and for the moment has been given a clean bill of health by her medical team. She continues to write, teach, and travel.

Visit Kate Bowler online at, and on instagram and twitter @KatecBowler.

The Preacher's Wife

The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities

by Kate Bowler

Princeton University Press

Hardcover $29.95 ISBN; 9780691179612

456 pp. 6 1/8 x 9 1/476 b/w illus. 10 tables

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