For women in the church, not nearly enough has changed

Kate Bowler explores the world of evangelical Christian women celebrities

Ten years ago, New York Times columnist Gail Col­lins wrote When Everything Changed: The Amazing Jour­ney of Ameri­can Women from 1960 to the Present, a comprehensive and revelatory account of a transformative half century. Kate Bowler has written a sweeping study of well-known, mostly Protestant Christian women during a similar time period, roughly 1970 to the present. It, too, is an eye-opener, but for a different reason: The Preacher’s Wife could reasonably be titled When Not Nearly Enough Changed.

Unfortunately, the actual title and subtitle are misleading. If you’re expecting a study of famous evangelical preachers’ wives, you’ll wonder why Bowler includes women whose husbands have never set foot in a pulpit, mainline celebrities who face a quite different set of expectations, and women—married or not—who are famous in their own right. And you’ll be completely baffled by her inclusion of Mother Angelica, the doughty nun who founded the Eternal Word Television Network in spite of opposition from bishops and even the Vatican.

So what is Bowler’s book really about? She explains in the introduction: “This book is an exploration of the public lives of America’s Christian female celebrities.” Many—perhaps most—are indeed married to evangelical (or Pente­costal or, especially, prosperity gospel) megachurch pastors, but all are what Bowler calls “women of mega­ministry.” Keep that in mind and you’ll have no trouble navigating her five chapters, which correspond to five ways women typically achieve Christian celebrity. The five categories are not mutually exclusive: many Christian mega­stars shine in several.