This weekend at the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History in Virginia Beach, Duke Divinity School historian Kate Bowler gave a plenary lecture titled “The Imperfect Saint: Disclosure and Power in American Megaministry.” The talk focused on evangelical women celebrity preachers (think Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Sheila Walsh, etc…).
Here is a taste:
I have complicated feelings about this, and maybe Bowler does too. Her amazing NYT article connected with me on a different level than her book on prosperity gospel (although I loved them both), because I saw her scholarly work on health and wealth gospel within a personal context—a 35-year-old woman, (I hesitate to write it… but I will to make my case…) a spouse, and a mother, with stage four cancer.
We know that one of the most enduring works of spiritual memoir was written by a man—St. Augustine. But I have read books where I felt like I was leering into the bedroom window of a neighbor. I felt guilty, dirty, and fascinated. I wondered how the words would affect her children (as the child of a Christian author mom, my mind always wanders there).
I am on the final stages of a book that’s not a memoir, but it does delve into my past. As Meredith Gould described it, “You’re writing from a different place.” I’m not trying to explain large religious movements or even the inner workings of a congregation. I’m trying to describe what happens internally, and the only way I could recount it in detail was to talk about myself.
I made the shift for a couple of other reasons. I know what it’s like to read a scholarly work. I’m interested in the topic, but I’m also skimming a bit, because I’m not concerned about it on a dissertation level. Then, all of a sudden, I notice how my attention gets fully engaged in the words. I become fascinated, and I realize that the author has drifted into a personal narrative, and he or she is suddenly explaining the why. Why the topic matters—not because they want to present a paper at AAR, not because they want to gain tenure, not because they want to make a contribution to their field—but the real-life reason why the person cares. Then I’m fully participating.
Is that because I’m responding to some societal gender construct? And if I write on a personal level, then will my words only be read by women? Will they be disregarded? Maybe. But women read more books than men anyways.
Read the entire post here.