For the moment, however, most evangelical women look like Beth Moore’s traditional fan base: white and middle-aged. Not long ago, I joined a line of these women—purses slung over their shoulders, Bibles in hand—as they waited outside a mega-church near Seattle. The event was billed as an “intimate” gathering, but 5,000 women sitting in a church auditorium is intimate only by contrast with the arena-size crowds Moore hosted in the past. Trips to the bathroom were a lost cause. As a worship band warmed up the room, the energy was somewhere between a pep rally and a slumber party. On her way to the stage, Moore worked the room in stiletto boots, greeting strangers like old friends.
Onstage, she gave the kind of performance that made her evangelical-famous, a manic outpouring that combined the rhythms of a tight stand-up routine and the earnestness of a Sunday-school lesson. “Some of you are here because you are trying to just get away from the children,” she told the audience, which whooped obligingly. “Some of you are here to see if I’m as big a fruitcake as they say that I am, and”—here Moore emitted a theatrical little gasp-laugh, like helium escaping a balloon—“you probably already have your answer.”
Debbie, 54, my seatmate, had been to eight Beth Moore events. She told me she was in the midst of the worst three years of her life, but that “God’s always met me here.” As the event wound down, women ran down the aisle of the auditorium, eager to claim their salvation, weeping as they threw their bodies across the floor. Moore walked slowly among them as if in a trance, pausing to rub a back or whisper a prayer.
Above all, what women seem to want from Moore is to be seen. Her work is mostly about drying tears and praying through daily suffering and struggle. In the public imagination, evangelicalism has become synonymous with political activism. But inside the evangelical world, many people are looking for something simpler: A community. A prayer. Hope.
Many of these same women have been put off by Moore’s political turn, which was not in evidence onstage that night. Even those who might disdain Trump see her outspokenness as divisive and inappropriate for a Bible teacher. “I don’t think this is the avenue for political discussions,” said Shelly, 56. “I think it should stay focused on God.”
Moore believes she is focused on God. The target of her scorn is an evangelical culture that downplays the voices and experiences of women. Her objective is not to evict Trump from the White House, but to clear the cultural rot in the house of God.
Moore has not become a liberal, or even a feminist. She’s trying to help protect the movement she has always loved but that hasn’t always loved her back—at least, not in the fullness of who she is. This mission has cost her, personally and professionally, but she told me her only regret is that she’d let others dictate what her place in the community should be: “What I feel a little sorry for, looking back over my shoulder, is how often I apologized for being there.” She told me to note that she had a smile on her face. It was what she said during the most painful moments in our conversations.
This article appears in the October 2018 print edition with the headline “Will Beth Moore Lose Her Flock?”