Celebrity Wives of Pastors

More ruminations of celebrity pastors by Tom Chantry has Carl Trueman commenting on the danger of ministers becoming too big to fail. He even thinks it plausible for a pastor in a celebrity context to do things that are otherwise unjustifiable:

It is always interesting to speculate as to why otherwise good, intelligent and thoughtful people end up doing crazy things, even breaking the law or justifying wickedness. Often it can occur in a corporate context when the needs of the whole organization are seen to outweigh and even negate the needs of the individual. Churches with powerful brand names at the helm, or churches which are simply powerful brand names (if not in the wider Christian world then at least within the chosen constituency) can prove remarkably vulnerable to such because there you do not simply have the power of corporate branding reinforced by community, you also have the rhetoric of piety and forgiveness to cover a multitude of sins.

What I continue to find remarkable about the phenomenon of celebrity pastors and the teflon they enjoy is that most of these fellows are married. And if married, where are their wives? I mean, more wives have done more good to domesticate and train husbands than any mother has. (Which reminds me of the Stan Evans’ joke: “behind every successful man is a surprised mother-in-law.”) In other words, wives generally don’t let their husbands get away with much. I know conservative Protestants believe in wifely submission and all that. But the b-s detector in most homes is the wife.

So if celebrity makes pastors unaccountable to regular ecclesiastical oversight, what happened to the accountability that should be happening at home? Could it be that celebrity is an elixir that also damages celebrity pastors’ wives? Kathy Keller’s interview with the co-allies makes me think it does:

As Redeemer has transitioned from being a church plant to being an established church, how has your role and work as co-founder changed?

At first, Tim preached, and I was the staff. I typed and made sure the bulletin was printed, bought the hospitality groceries, kept the nursery, hired the musicians, and more. As we grew and added staff, though, I gratefully let go of piece after piece, until there were no pieces left. I then had to ask, What do I want to do? What do I feel called to do? The typical (if there is such a thing) pastor’s wife role did not apply, as most people had no idea who I was. (This was a plus, especially for our kids.) Words are my best thing, so I chose to oversee Redeemer’s communications and media. When that became more digitized, though, I found myself out of my depth. So I hired a director to take my position and became the assistant director of communications and media. Unofficially, I am the Keeper of the Memory and the Quality Control Officer.

Here’s the problem. It looks like celebrity pastors’ wives become part of the ministry and therefore part of the brand. And once this happens, wives lose their capacity to detect b-s. I mean, if the missus were an editor of Old Life, a research assistant on my book on Mencken, graded papers for the courses I teach, my success and stature would be a big part of what defines Mrs. Hart’s success and stature. As it is, though, she has a life and can look on at the blog, writing, speaking, and teaching as so much background noise for trying to pay the bills, be active in the local church, feed the cat, and get her own work done. Sometimes what I do is clever or notable to the missus. But she’s hardly hanging on to every square inch of every word.

Postscript: having a person who works in the Redeemer Church network of agencies interview TKNY’s wife is not exactly Katie Couric putting Sarah Palin on the spot. Some might call it puffery, at best it belongs in the feature section of the newspaper. But it is hardly all the news that’s fit to print. Do the co-allies never see how much their alliance resembles the Chamber of Commerce? Talk about accountability.

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25 thoughts on “Celebrity Wives of Pastors

  1. True dat – the natural order of things is for a man to think he’s all that and the wife to remind him that he ain’t. One wonders if North Korea would be different if Kim Jong-il had a wife who – adoration of the masses notwithstanding – made him scrape the rice out of his bowl before it got hard to wash.

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  2. “Muddy, take out the trash.”
    “Muddy, get up off the floor.”
    “Muddy, you spilled your whisky again.”
    “Muddy, your shirt’s on fire.”

    I’m sure it gets old.

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  3. CW, but my self-esteem is so solid the wife is shopping for storage sheds big enough for a lazy boy.

    The chair.

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  4. Smith—- I am married for 45 years last Friday to the only woman who would not have killed me by now. You can put in obituary, She was bound but now she is free! (1 Cor. 7:39).

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  5. Regarding Ruth Graham, in particular:

    “…They asked her (Ruth Graham) did she ever think about divorce and she said, ‘No, I’ve never thought of divorce in all these 35 years of marriage, but,’ she said, ‘I did think of murder a few times…”

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  6. I was going to school that summer in NYC and my pastor recommended that I should visit Redeemer; Kathy Keller would not remember me, I’m sure, but I remember her very kindly letting me have a few minutes to ask for some counsel from Dr. Keller, before she shared with him that they needed to leave to make it back to Staten Island, as there had been quite a few people speaking with him, and I was one of the last ones that night.

    They were meeting then (1992) at the Unitarian-Universalist Church on the upper East-Side (around the area of Lexington & 77th or 78th Street? – the next time I was able to visit with them, they were at the Danny Kaye Auditorium of a NYC college. I will always appreciate the kindness and the ministry of the Kellers and Redeemer Church; not seeing eye to eye is a given, but the love of Christ and the tremendous teaching on understanding what is means to be adopted in Christ really helped me so much back then, and I will never forget it.

    Remind me to tell you about my meeting John DeLorean (at Redeemer) story…………….

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  7. Having gone to a university named after a celebrity pastor (Oral Roberts), I think the relationship between the wife and the celebrity pastor is a bit more complicated than stated here. Certainly we saw a certain level of b-s detecting in his wife but also I saw that dependency can lead to making compromises. And we should note that we don’t need to be married to a celebrity to experience how dependency can lead to us making compromises.

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  8. McMark,

    That was some darn good marriage advice. Unfortunately, I cannot even get a woman to notice me anymore. It is lonely living out here in the woods, hanging out at public libraries and trying to avoid being noticed as a bum in the streets. I guess I have gotten what I deserve, not a covenant child I suppose but not real worried about it either- I have got something better. I am one of those bad boy grace boys who the obedience boys warn about when they make their additions to what the Gospel is:

    MLJ—We look at a drunkard, poor fellow, and we say: There is sin; that is sin. But that is not the essence of sin. To have a real picture and a true understanding of it, you must look at some great saint, some unusually devout and devoted man. Look at him there upon his knees in the very presence of God. Even there, self is intruding itself, and the temptation is for him to think about himself, to think pleasantly and pleasurably about himself, and really to be worshiping himself rather than God. http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/jesusprayer.html

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