KELLNER: A younger Schuller seeks ‘possibilities’ for women

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Nearly 2,000 years after Jesus commissioned Mary Magdalene to announce his resurrection to his disciples, many segments of Christendom still have difficulty knowing what role to give female members and workers.

Angie Schuller Wyatt, the granddaughter of one of America’s premier televangelists, is hoping to change all that.

Ms. Wyatt, formerly an associate pastor at the 26,000-member Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, grew up in Orange County, Calif., where her grandfather started a church and her father took over. Today, her brother is a regular speaker on what was the family’s weekly television show. However, she says, there’s no room at the inn — or on the air — for her.

If the Schuller name rings a bell, it’s because three of the principal speakers on that widely watched television program, the “Hour of Power,” are all named Robert Schuller. Ms. Wyatt’s grandfather, Robert H. Schuller, 85, started the ministry in a rented drive-in theater. Her father, Robert A. Schuller, 58, was an associate and then senior pastor at what became the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. And her brother, Robert Schuller III, more commonly known as Bobby, is the current television speaker.

What might be viewed as an intergenerational enterprise fell on hard times in recent years. A massive drop in donations — the “Hour of Power” is one of the country’s longest-running Christian TV shows — imperiled the broadcast and brought financial ruin to the Crystal Cathedral. The ministry’s campus, featuring buildings designed by famed architects Richard Neutra and Robert Johnson, was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County, which will rent out its former cathedral to the organization starting in July, when the Crystal Cathedral is consecrated as a Catholic facility.

Ms. Wyatt says that despite earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in religion and counseling, and having been head of campus ministries at Oral Roberts University, she was invited only to sing at the Crystal Cathedral, not to preach.

She is silent no more. She has self-published a book, available on Amazon.com and in various e-reader formats, with a provocative title: “God and Boobs: Balancing Faith and Sexuality.” The cover shows the unclothed back of a woman on which the title has been lettered.

“While my personal story is about finding my personal place in ministry,” Ms. Wyatt said in a telephone interview, “the underlying message and concerns [for other women] are the same.”

Ms. Wyatt asserts that her book was part of an effort to “stop religious bullies,” the men who control congregations and, willingly or not, keep women from the pulpit and other places of service.

“There’s times when women feel they should speak up and say something; that desire comes from God. But in religious circles, the teaching is you should be quiet, and let men speak. It’s like ‘The Feminine Mystique’ reached the rest of the world and left Christianity behind,” she said.

“I think women are brilliant, and they’re intuitive, and they bring a lot to the table,” Ms. Wyatt said. “Women are embraced when they fit into a certain mold. If you confine to a certain standard if you’re just sort of present, but not completely visible; that’s the message they really feel.”

Ms. Wyatt said restrictions on women’s roles aren’t always doctrinal, or even consciously made: “It’s subtle manipulation, and women, because they love God and want to please God, get coerced into doing things that contradict their own humanity,” she said.

“One of the great complexities of life is that you can be two things at once,” she said. “While my grandfather’s message was very progressive, he named his son Robert Schuller, [who] named his son Robert Schuller. This patriarchal system was established, whether it was intentional or not.”

From a young age, Ms. Wyatt said, she “always had a feeling in my heart that I wanted to be in ministry. But the dynamic in the family didn’t lead to [that] possibility. They were rolling out the red carpet for my brother, but there wasn’t a ministry position for me.”

Speaking out was not something Ms. Wyatt did lightly. “I’m really taking a risk here. My dad was so great to support me. But for the most part, these are things that people in Christian circles don’t really want to talk about,” she said.

An initial reception for the book at Gateway Church drew an enthusiastic crowd, Ms. Wyatt said. If the book attracts a large audience, it may well spark a national conversation.

Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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