It has been a rough year for some top female Christian bloggers including three with books that have made the New York Times Bestsellers list. Before I highlight these controversies, a Bible verse and a word about blogging, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2019.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. — Ephesians 4:15-16
Pioneers of the Mommy Blogosphere
With the advent of the Blogosphere in 1999, came the rise of mommy bloggers the world over. Because of sheer timing, they were almost exclusively and predominantly, Gen-Xers. Born between 1961 and 1981, these women entered matrimony and motherhood as the first online diaries and online communities formed. They became the pioneers of the Mommy Blogosphere.
In short order, female faith bloggers emerged and created a popular and powerful sub-genre: Christian Mommy Bloggers. These, too, were almost exclusively Gen-Xers. In time, a fortunate few received lucrative book deals. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed and admired many of them and their writings. It’s been easy to connect with their stories because, whether they did so deliberately or in passing, their memoirs paid homage to the collective Gen-X experience and narrative.
To characterize these female Christian bloggers as influencers in the context of content marketing and social media is an understatement. As Tish Harrison Warren wrote in a March 2017 article in Christianity Today, many have become household names wielding enormous influence over their fans all while being “disembedded from any larger institution or ecclesial structure.” In other words, free from church governance. Once again, we see that the world is flat. As Thomas Friedman explained in his popular book, the Internet has dissolved many of the obstacles that once prevented individuals from communicating to a global audience. For better or worse, the Church has been impacted by this.
So, here are just three recent controversies that have involved top tier Christian bloggers. I’ve ended the post with some questions. I’d really love to hear what you think, because this has really been on my mind a lot lately.
Jen Hatmaker is a popular evangelical Christian blogger who has written several books including For The Love, which became a New York Times bestseller. After her blog post about kids and end-of-the-school-year drama went viral, she landed an interview on a national morning news show. After that, she and her husband along with their five kids were tapped for an HGTV show, My Big Family Renovation. The show featured eight episodes and aired in 2014-15.
Hatmaker Affirms Gay-Marriage
In October 2016, Hatmaker, who attended Oklahoma Baptist University and lives in Austin, announced she supported gay marriage. Lifeway Christian Book Stores responded by pulling her books from all 185 of their stores. Hatmaker wrote about the event on her blog:
…This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine. I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ. I saw how it all works, not as an insider where I’ve enjoyed protection and favor for two decades, but from the outside where I was no longer welcome. The burn of mob mentality scorched my heart into ashes, and it is still struggling to function, no matter how darling and funny I ever appear; the internet makes that charade easy…”
Following the controversy, Hatmaker’s Alexa rank, one of many tools used to determine the popularity of a website, fell about 100,000 places. Prior to that it hovered around 200,000, but once in free-fall it hit the pavement at 1 million. It spiked, however, after the above mentioned post and remains steady. More significantly, Hatmaker’s new book, Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life is currently #1 on Barnes and Nobles Top 100 Best Booksellers. Not bad for a book that is on pre-order until August.
Glennon Doyle is the writer of Momastery, a blog-turned-online-community that she started on Blogspot in 2009. Doyle wrote consistently about faith and God and her struggles with motherhood, marriage, infidelity and addiction. You can see some of her early posts on the Wayback Machine.
In 2011, a viral post, Don’t Carpe Diem, led to a book deal for her memoir, Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life. I loved that book and couldn’t wait for the next one, Love Warrior, which is, among other things, a raw disclosure on overcoming infidelity and betrayal. But, in August 2016, just as the book was about to be released (it became a New York Times Bestseller), Doyle announced that she and her husband Craig were separating. That post was beautiful and gut-wrenching. One excerpt won’t do it justice, but here is one:
…For the next several weeks, you do nothing but cry and talk. Sometimes it feels like that’s all you ever do—because, it turns out, you have been grieving your marriage for years. But still, you cry and talk more. You close the bedroom door and sit on that bed and you talk. You talk about how hard you’ve worked together, how you stayed on your mats and didn’t run from each other. Since you didn’t run, you discovered together that fight or flight aren’t the only options. There is a third way: heal.
“You talk about how broken you each were when you met, and how whole each of you is now. You say to him: You’ve been my healing partner. He says: And you have been mine. You talk about how you can forgive someone and love someone and at the very same time know that you cannot be with them anymore. You get more honest than you have ever, ever been before. You talk about how hard, how very brutal it’s all been for the two of you. Since day one…”
Love wins, but whose love? Doyle divorces in November, remarries in February
Just three months later, Doyle announced she was engaged to female soccer player Abby Wambach. When they married in February, her Facebook fans erupted in virtual applause, and, Glennon, sweet and fragile, repeated her mantra, “Love wins.”
Since these revelations and developments, however, traffic to Momastery has declined significantly. In October, the site had an Alexa rank well above 100,000, but today it’s fallen to around 350,000. These ranks, which can be greatly impacted by Google’s algorithm, can tank and spike quickly and unexpectedly. They are not necessarily an indication of a long-term loss of audience or a damaged brand. After all, Doyle still has nearly 680,000 Facebook fans. She garners thousands of likes on her Facebook posts and hundreds of shares. I’m sure a third bestseller is in the works.
Lysa Terkeurst Publicly Outs Husband for Affair, Addiction
In 2007, Lysa Terkeurst was just another mom starting another blog on Blogspot. Today, she is a New York Times Bestselling author with more than 1 million Facebook fans. She is a national speaker at Christian conferences and the head of the highly successful Proverbs 31 Ministries. Sadly, last month, she announced on her blog that she has filed for divorce from her husband because of his infidelity and addiction. Here is an excerpt:
…When I first found out about Art’s infidelity 18 months ago, I made the decision not to divorce him. I had just finished fasting and praying for 28 days and really felt led by the Lord that I was to love Art in my reaction to this shocking news and trust God for every step moving forward. I was still committed to doing everything I could think of to make our story one of restoration, even in the face of the worst kind of betrayal imaginable. I prayed continually. I sought counsel from family and other wise friends. And Art and I even made repeated trips across the country together for intensive counseling especially designed for marriages in crisis. But sadly, though I have repeatedly forgiven and accepted him back, he has continued to abuse substances, be unfaithful, and refused to be truthful to me and our family…”
Lysa’s disclosure led to a spike in her Alexa rank. It had been on a steady decline falling to around 1 million, but rose to about 375,000 after she announced her divorce. Her ministry, however, has had a small dip. A year ago, it enjoyed a rank of around 50,000, which is no small feat. Today, the rank is holding steady around 130,000. That is still pretty impressive as Alexa ranks go.
What do you think about the controversies these three bloggers have endured? Did the controversies lead to audience decline or were they simply the victims of Google’s ongoing algorithm changes? Here are a few more questions to ponder.
- Hatmaker refers to the Christian Machine that damages the body of Christ. What does she mean by Christian Machine and is it possible that it’s simply part of the Church, the Body of Christ?
- Regarding Doyle’s mantra, “Love Wins.” What do you think it means? Is it true? Does love always win? If so, whose love wins?
- According to a recent Pew study, there is a dramatic generational divide in white evangelical attitudes on gay marriage. Has the divide over gay marriage impacted your church or faith community? If so, how?
- Regarding Terkeurst’s blog post about her husband’s infidelity, why do you think she chose to disclose his affair and addiction? Do you think she was under pressure from her publisher or a brand officer, PR practitioner or her board of directors? Do you think she did the right thing? If so, why or why not?
- What do these controversies reveal about the Church and Christianity in America?
- Do these questions offend you and if so, why?
Finally, next week or sooner, I will publish a post featuring the top female Christian bloggers. Who do you think should make the list? Certainly, I will add my favorites: Ann Voskamp, Melanie Shankle, Jennifer Fulwiler and Sophie Hudson.
Leave a comment or join the conversation on Facebook.