It’s a beautiful September morning in Austin, Texas, and Jen Hatmaker is gently heckling the congregants of Austin New Church. Today’s sermon is on the parable of the Prodigal Son, and Hatmaker, delivering the sermon, is just winding up for a big theological swing when a cell phone rings.
“One time my phone rang, from the front row, in the middle of my own sermon,” she reveals, to laughter. “Yeah. Loved that.”
The parishioner’s phone rings again, and Hatmaker lets loose a slow, deep chuckle, eyes searching for the offender. “Get outta here!” she waves, as more laughter breaks out in the chapel.
Hatmaker, the New York Times-bestselling author and popular Christian speaker, has created a behemoth brand rooted in authenticity, humor, and candor. In the last two years, she has been honing this same easy-going sincerity to empower, and even provoke, her own core audience — evangelical women.
ANC is a far cry from a Texas megachurch: Low-lit and A-framed, the small structure houses only about 300 people. Today, it’s close to capacity. Parishioners of all ages — nearly all white, a blend of families, friends, and couples — sit in the pews, some readying their books and cameras for a chance at a post-sermon meet-and-greet with Hatmaker. At least three women mention that they’re here for the first time because they’ve always wanted to see her preach.
Hatmaker is wearing a look familiar enough to be a signature to her fans: colorful statement earrings, denim jacket, cowboy boots. Unlike some of her evangelical brethren, she doesn’t pace the stage or work the crowd, preferring instead to stand in one place, behind a lowered music stand. Her voice is doing the work.
That voice has intentionally separated her from other leading evangelicals, particularly her white male peers in Texas, who have become some of Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters. In contrast, Hatmaker has vocally and vehemently denounced the president and his administration’s policies as contrary to Jesus’ teachings. In the process, she has also challenged her audience to listen to, and support, those historically marginalized within her faith tradition: women like her, people of color, queer people, and sometimes even Democrats.
People began sending death threats and burned copies of her books to her home. Popular Christian writers likened her LGBTQ views to “heresy.”
It’s a risky pivot for a pastor’s daughter who got her start by writing, in her words, “very predictable and incredibly safe” books and bible study guides for evangelical women. As the midterm elections approach and Hatmaker wades even further into the political conversation, her influence over white evangelical women — the same demographic who have overwhelmingly supported Trump — will be put to the test.