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

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

Kate Bowler. Princeton Univ., $29.95 (456p) ISBN 978-0-691-17961-2

Bowler (Everything Happens for a Reason), professor at the Duke Divinity School, explains in this excellent analysis how some evangelical women have managed to become mega-ministry celebrities by transforming the limited roles allotted to women in evangelical culture into positions of power. Framing these women’s work as that of wives, mothers, homemakers, and teachers—rather than pastors or business leaders—Bowler reveals how figures including Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, and Victoria Osteen wield enormous power in their husbands’ ministries, both on stage and behind the scenes. As the subtitle suggests, this incisive work’s primary emphasis is on evangelical women who have worked out a “delicate dance between professed submission to men and implicit independence from them.” But Bowler’s argument is strengthened and deepened by including the parallel struggles faced by mainline Protestant women who take on formal institutional roles (including the ordained ministry) but continue to find their leadership opportunities limited by the “stained-glass ceiling.” By contrast, evangelical celebrities have gained power and influence by professionalizing roles such as counselor, or even beauty queen and singer. Based on interviews with dozens of these celebrities and anchored in the expectations the American ministry has placed on pastor’s wives, Bowler’s wonderful work provocatively considers what women gain and lose in becoming “market-ready” for evangelical communities. (Oct.)