The bestselling women's Bible study teacher in Southern Baptist history, Beth Moore, has written a book that is not only a memoir but also a love letter to Arkadelphia.
"All My Knotted-Up Life," released Tuesday, is introducing thousands of readers to the city of 10,380 Moore called home more than a half-century ago and to the congregation where she made her profession of faith and was baptized in 1966.
It also reveals pain almost unimaginable -- tragedy, trauma, abuse and mental illness.
In its review, Time Magazine said the book is "unexpectedly grim ... and at the same time unexpectedly funny."
"What makes 'All My Knotted-Up Life' more fun than it sounds is also what makes Moore's teaching so popular: a sharp and compassionate eye for human frailty," Time said. "Moore's faith is profound, and has obviously sustained her; but her sense of humor has, too."
Propelled by her appearances on "Fox & Friends," "The 700 Club," "NPR Weekend Edition" and other national outlets, Moore's book quickly raced up the bestseller charts.
NO. 1 ON THE LIST
At midweek, it was No. 10 on Amazon's bestseller list and No. 1 in the spiritual growth category.
Among the memoirs, it was No. 2, biting on the heels of Prince Harry's "Spare."
Unlike the royal, Moore consulted with her family members before telling the story.
"I've asked their permission and received their blessing and tried my best to leave the most vulnerable parts of their stories to them, but I'm not blind to the cost of showing up in someone else's book," she wrote. "I wince knowing that a story, once told, cannot be untold."
People who buy the audiobook get to hear Moore's words in her own voice.
"Beware, I read it myself. So, well, brace yourself for the accents," Moore tweeted recently. "If you think my Texas accent is thick, you have not heard my Arkansas accent."
The memoir's cover features a 1960s photo of her family, standing in front of their blue-and-white Volkswagen bus with Arkansas plates.
Early on, Moore gives readers a tour of downtown Arkadelphia. The Royal Theater, which her father managed, was "the pearl of Main Street" and the popcorn "was nice and hot and as yellow as a bed of daffodils," she writes.
The First Baptist Church of her youth "was nothing less than palatial" with "slender stained-glass windows encasing a sanctuary meant to be taken seriously," she recalls.
"When it came to sophistication, we were right up there with the Presbyterians," she wrote.
HER OWN BAPTISM RECALLED
Moore recalls her own baptism, in the summer of 1966, as if it were only yesterday.
Her last name was Green at the time.
"They said I wouldn't get water in my nose, but yes, I did," she wrote. "I was baptized inside and outside, through and through, and in my nose and down my throat."
Once she had dried off, she was ushered back into the sanctuary.
"You didn't get to miss the sermon just because you got baptized. You didn't even get a snack. You just got a New Testament," she recalled.
Over the years, Moore has emphasized the role Arkadelphia First Baptist Church played in shaping her.
"My entire upbringing was spent in & out of this church multiple times a week. Sunday School/worship service AM&PM/choir/handbells/Wednesday night supper/Missions. Saved my life," she wrote on Twitter in 2018.
Her love and gratitude remain evident today.
"I would not trade my Arkansas heritage or my upbringing at First Baptist Church for anything in all the world," she told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Thursday. "God truly used that church to save my life. It was my safe place when my home wasn't."
OLD BUILDING TORN DOWN
Will Thompson, the congregation's associate pastor of worship, says the Sunday School building from Moore's formative years was torn down in the 1990s and replaced with a more modern structure.
"The sanctuary is pretty much the same," he said.
Moore's Bible studies have been used by the women of the congregation over the years.
"We have most of those in our library," he said.
The Moore family moved to Houston after her father got a promotion. After high school, she would go on to attend Southwest Texas State University (now known as Texas State), where she earned a bachelor's degree in political science.
"Going back to Arkansas for college wasn't an option for me because out-of-state tuition was outside our budget, and at that time, SWTSU was as low-dollar as a state university could get. It also accepted practically anybody, and practicality was precisely what I needed," she wrote.
She met her husband, Keith Moore, there; they married in 1978 and have two daughters. At Houston's First Baptist Church, she taught an aerobics class that included devotional lessons for fitness-minded women.
The Bible study lessons she created were good enough that LifeWay Christian Resources, a Southern Baptist Convention entity, eventually began publishing them.
MILLIONS OF WOMEN
It's hard to overstate the influence Moore has had in the Christian community. Millions of women have taken her Bible study courses or attended her seminars. She has a million Twitter followers.
More than 17,000 people showed up for her "Living Proof Live" conference in North Little Rock in 2004. Similar events in 2011 and 2018 also drew multitudes.
She lost some of those followers in 2016 after she questioned then-candidate Donald Trump's fitness for office in light of his boasts that he had grabbed women by the genitals.
The level of "hate and malevolence" that her staff members faced was staggering, she wrote.
Things degenerated further in April 2019, after Moore's "ill-advised tweet about speaking in my church on Mother's Day," she noted.
The notion that she might be teaching or preaching from the pulpit on a Sunday morning -- a role traditionally reserved for Southern Baptist men -- caused an uproar.
Rather than focusing on a sexual abuse crisis that was roiling the Convention, "suddenly the biggest threat to the denomination was publicly portrayed as women trying to get to the pulpit and supplant their pastors," she wrote.
It was, she maintains, a manufactured controversy.
"I can't imagine that a solitary pastor, seminary president, or leader in the SBC really believed I had an inkling of interest in taking over a pulpit, nor leading the charge for female takeover of the denomination," she wrote.
In March 2021, Moore revealed that she was leaving her lifelong spiritual home, the Southern Baptist Convention.
These days, she worships at an Anglican church in the Houston area.
She drives through Arkadelphia occasionally. She paused, in 2018, to get a photo of her childhood church.
Melinda Fowler (nee Smith), who was one year behind Moore, still attends First Baptist Church in Arkadelphia, and was one of the first to buy a copy of the memoir.
"I haven't started listening to it yet, but I pre-ordered it because I was curious to see what she had to say," she said.
Fowler attended a reception with Moore in 2018 and has enjoyed her Bible studies over the years.
"I'm so proud of her. I'm so happy for her. She's just taken what she was dealt and made it work in a beautiful way," Fowler said.
The Arkadelphia church has changed a bit since Moore's childhood, she noted.
The organ's still there, but a drum set's been added, she said. Things are also a little less formal, these days.
"The women don't have to wear hats anymore and gloves, you know. We've just grown with the times," Fowler said.
Moore's decision to leave the Southern Baptist Convention doesn't bother her.
"I understand that she got hammered really bad and I don't blame her," Fowler said. "She's a Christian. She loves Jesus. That's all that matters."