5.01.2013

Review: Pastors' Wives, by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

Pastors' Wives
by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen
April 30, 2013
Plume  |  368pp
A guest review by Jessica Pruett-Barnett

I wish I could say that I went into reading Lisa Takeuchi Cullen’s debut novel Pastors’ Wives without prejudice. When asked to review it, I said yes without hesitation. As a lifelong Christian of the liberal sort, and as the daughter of two pastors, I am more qualified than most to evaluate chick-lit about the sordid life of the women behind megachurch men; I’ve seen and heard everything that happens behind the scenes. I didn’t expect Cullen to get anything right.

I was wrong. My expectations, shaped from decades of reading Christian novels from stores like The Mustard Seed, led me to believe that Pastors’ Wives would have weak-willed women pretending to be strong while bowing before their husbands (and God, in a Book of Paul way) while spouting Bible verses on every page.

Instead, Pastors’ Wives reads like a secular chick-lit novel that just happens to take place in a megachurch in Georgia. Ruthie moves from Manhattan to an Atlanta suburb when her husband gets a new job as an Assistant Pastor. Candace is in charge of the behind the scenes work at the megachurch, dictated by her position as the Head Pastor’s wife. Ginger is Candace’s daughter in law, married to the black sheep son who does missionary work abroad when not heading his own church. As the year goes by, all of them learn new ways to function as people outside of being preachers’ wives, gaining brains, heart, and courage along the way. The only blah moment in the novel is the semi-forced sub-subplot of Ruthie dealing with her mother’s death and her father’s subsequent remarriage. It isn’t needed and doesn’t shine light on her life as a preacher’s wife.

I have to applaud (insert me applauding right now) Cullen. She created three women who are all Christians yet not bigots. These are not the fundamentalists that dominate the US media, although it wouldn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see that Candace has some conservative views. They preach compassion and actually use it, as seen in a few important plot points that I won’t mention because of spoilers. The research Cullen did for Pastors’ Wives is evident from her details, down to the way that a popular preacher can influence car sales based on the type of car he (almost always a he in terms of megachurches) drives.

You don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy Pastors’ Wives; it won’t preach at you. That is the most important takeaway from this novel: Church isn’t just a building or a steeple, church is people of all types and backgrounds and beliefs. And maybe, just maybe, that’s ok.

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