PW talks to Katelyn Beaty
Katelyn Beaty, Christianity todayThe first female editor of Brazos Press, who is now Editorial Director of Brazos Press, explores the cost of idolatry of male evangelical leaders in her second book, Celebrities for Jesus (Brazos, August 16). Beaty draws on her journalistic training to analyze how celebrity became a corrupting force in the church and why stories of abuse of power became so pervasive in the book, which TP called “a must-read for anyone invested in the plight of evangelism” in our star-studded review.
Similar to Beaty’s first book, A woman‘Venue (Howard, 2016), which illustrated how femininity and work can have a flourishing coexistence, the idea of Celebrities for Jesus started during Beaty Christianity today days. Between 2012 and 2016, the CT staff received several briefings on allegations against famous Christian leaders and household names in the evangelical world related to sexual misconduct and financial irregularities. Beaty was particularly disturbed in 2014 after evangelical minister and author Ravi Zacharias was allegedly seen with a woman who was not his wife or colleague at a hotel. Beaty, who had listened to Zacharias’ apology speeches in college and read some of his books, was ashamed that he had hurt so many people and the credibility of what he professed.
“The cognitive dissonance between how he presented himself and his character versus the nature of these allegations was really hard to deal with,” Beaty said. TP. She acknowledges that many others shared her sentiment when the allegations were finally reported in 2021; they were confirmed as true by an investigation later that year.
The allegations against Zacharias and others led Beaty to question famous pastors and their popularity. “I started to feel like the leaders of contemporary evangelicalism might not be what they present themselves to be,” she says. This led her to ask, “Why has this evangelical movement in the United States centered so much around famous pastors, missionaries, evangelists and writers above and against the local church?” These allegations led Beaty to the central mission behind Celebrities for Jesus“I basically wanted to diagnose our obsession with fame in the church and help other Christians regain a view of ordinary faithfulness,” she says.
To get to the root of the problem, Beaty had to look at more than the celebrities themselves. “These stories of deceased celebrities are not just about individuals and their behavior; it’s also about systems that are built around them that basically allow them to escape accountability,” she explains.
One example she cites is Bill Hybels, the former pastor and founder of Willow Creek Community Church, which at its height had more than 25,000 worshippers. Allegations of sexual misconduct by Hybels were reported in 2018, leading him to resign from the church later that year.
Pastors like Hybels, who pull together such gargantuan congregations and effectively achieve celebrity status, tend to move further and further away from the traditional pastor role. Although Beaty admits her bias as a small church participant, she believes in the importance of a pastor’s visibility and availability for individual spiritual care. In mega-churches, most congregants never have one-on-one interactions with their pastor. And pastors who preach on social media run the risk of becoming more artists than spiritual shepherds. “It goes against the very essence of what spiritual leaders must be able to do to lead well and serve well,” she says.
Although Beaty thinks the mega-church model doesn’t lend itself to community and connection, she doesn’t see its popularity waning in the coming years. “I think mega-churches have proven to be an enduring and successful church model in the United States and many Christians are very attracted to this model,” she says. Beaty thinks finding leaders who accept responsibility and understand power dynamics will help prevent future cases of famous pastors who died. She also advises distrust of leaders who cultivate a physically attractive image, citing Hillsong New York pastor Carl Lentz as an example.
Beaty’s message has special meaning for editors, because when famous pastors prove unworthy of their status, it can tarnish the reputations of their followers. In 2014, LifeWay Christian Resources stripped the title of Mars Hill founding pastor Mark Driscoll. A call for resurgence after being accused of plagiarism and inflating his book sales. He had also recently been asked to resign from his church amid allegations of abusive leadership.
“Embedded in the book is a call for Christian publishers to return to their original mission of seeking to work with authors who have an important message and great writing, and not to be overly deferential to authors who have big platforms,” says Beaty.
Jim Kinney, executive vice president at Baker, agrees. “If we’re negotiating a message to a reader, we want to make sure it’s a message with integrity.” He hopes Beaty’s book will challenge publishing professionals to “take a closer look at the people we publish”. He also believes his post contains an important message for the church: “With the pitfalls of success that we accept as normal for some high-profile Christians come potential dangers,” he says.
Regarding her role at Brazos, Beaty hopes to “create a publishing program that meets the needs of thoughtful Christians and addresses contemporary cultural issues with nuance and depth,” and that includes writing more books herself. While she intends to wait until Celebrities for Jesus publishes before thinking about her next book, topics that interest Beaty include the culture of purity and how political polarization has affected the local church.
Advertising for Celebrities for Jesus will include an event at the Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the fall, and Beaty’s podcast, Saved by the Citywill present a summer series on the topics of the book.