I admit to being fascinated with televangelist Joyce Meyer. Let me point out, however, that my fascination with Meyer predates the spotlight upon her as one of the six televangelists named by Senator Tom Grassley (R-Iowa) last week in a probe into the financial records of mega-ministry televangelists.
I first heard Joyce Meyer a few years back while surfing the television one morning for something to take my mind off writing. Admittedly, it was the woman’s accent that first caught my attention. As a black woman from the south I think of danger when I hear accents like that of Joyce Meyer. I’d heard the same or similar accents on Tammy Faye and Gloria Copeland. But what made me continue watching Meyer was that she struck me as a woman with attitude. Not only was it that down-to-earth, entertaining, self-deprecating style, of hers that caught my fancy. But I kept expecting Joyce Meyer to light up a cigarette right there on the stage and confess to belonging to a motorcycle gang when she wasn’t on the road doing crusades.
I probably should explain what I mean when I say I’m fascinated with Joyce Meyer. I don’t mean that I’m a devotee of her preaching, or that I buy her books, or that I tivo her messages when I’m not at home. I don’t. She preaches a message of self-worth to women and makes good wives and mothers of them, I suppose, but that’s about all. So, when a scholar like myself, a student of history, a devoted reader of women’s biographies, says she’s fascinated with Joyce Meyer what she means is that she is intrigued by Meyer’s appeal. How in the world Joyce Meyer managed to become at 60 years of age one of the best-known and best-paid televangelists (especially for women) is worth looking into. With a multimillion-dollar organization of 500 employees and with offices in Europe and South Africa, Joyce Meyer is on 600 radio and television stations -selling nearly three million tapes and close to a million books last year. If I were a student in Women’s Studies scratching around for a dissertation topic I would choose Joyce Meyer for my research. Explaining Paula White and Juanita Bynum’s appeal to the masses is easy. Explaining Joyce Meyer’s appeal will take a few more footnotes.
Here’s something else: I’ve known black women who nearly stomped out the sanctuary when they came to church and found that I was preaching that Sunday morning, but will stand in a line wrapped around the convention center waiting to get in to hear Joyce Meyer speak. Go figure. I’m not mad at them. (Well, let’s just say that I’m not mad anymore.)
Oh heck, what’s the use in lying. I admit to going through a period when I too enjoyed hearing Joyce Meyer speak. But the Joyce Meyer I listened to back then was Joyce Meyer before the facelift. Before her make-over. Before someone bought her a brand new wardrobe to compliment her facelift.
Call me petty, but I stopped watching Joyce Meyer after she went under the knife. I identified with her before she became camera-friendly and glamorous. (Well, as glamorous as a woman with that face and that accent can get.) But it was precisely that Meyer was not your typical overly made-up, flashy, platinum blonde, waif, evangelist that made her preaching appear sincere to me. (Mind you, I believe in make-up, more now than I ever did in my 20s and 30s. And, honey, I know the importance of choosing a wardrobe that you look and feel good in. Oh, how well I know.) But the un-glamorous Joyce Meyer back then who looked so very Missouri looking in those outfits that she wore, I trusted (despite that accent of hers). When Meyer talked about her battles with insecurity, neediness, and low-self esteem, she looked and played the part of Everywoman. Every white woman, mind you, but even that was okay.
For every woman like me she lost, there were thousand others to be gained once Joyce Meyer had a face lift, got a new wardrobe, and looked like every other woman, her handlers probably decided. And perhaps they were right. After all, Meyer’s ministry has grown exponentially since her make-over. But I can’t help thinking that there’s a point in flagship ministries when it’s no longer about the message, but the money and marketing.
Devotees of Joyce Meyer, be warned: don’t bother writing me about what a great woman-of-God Joyce Meyer is. She probably is. Don’t bother telling me how un-Christian I am for writing about her the way that I have. Pray for me. Just like I will pray for you. Because you obviously don’t get it.
Maybe this isn’t a piece about Joyce Meyer after all. Perhaps it’s really about the pressure women in general, and women who are public figures especially, feel to dress and look a certain way if they want to be promoted. Even women in ministry (e.g., Paula White and Juanita Bynum). Some would say, especially women in ministry. I attended a couple of conferences for women in ministry earlier this fall and was reminded how much pressure there is on us to look fashionable.
No matter how good you are at what you do, no matter how qualified you are for the job, there’s that pressure on evangelists like Joyce Meyer and Juanita Bynum, or journalists like Greta von Sustern and Starr Jones, and comedians like Joan Rivers and Whoopi Goldberg. To look glamorous. To be thin. To dress fashionably and eye-catching. To wear your hair a certain way and to hide the gray. To nip, tuck, and botox the signs of aging away. To keep up a certain image of youthfulness and sexiness = power. But says who?
While writing and posting the above piece on Tuesday I wasn’t aware that the latest news on the death this past weekend of Dr. Donda West, mother of rapper Kanye West, was that she died from complications related to a recent cosmetic surgery procedure. So, no, I didn’t write the blog piece with Donda West’s demise in mind. I wrote the piece because I know the pressures women face to nip, tuck, change, fix, or modify their appearance to get ahead. I also wrote it because I didn’t feel like plucking my eyebrows that morning.