Two months ago, Carla Barnhill was just a multitasking mom from Minnesota who did freelance writing and editing on the side. After working at several Christianity Today sister publications in suburban Chicago—editing Campus Life for several years before helming Christian Parenting Today magazine—Barnhill returned to Minneapolis to raise a family, continue writing and editing, and teach a writing class as a Bethel University adjunct professor.
Today, Barnhill is on the brink of becoming a celebrity of sorts, as one of the final four candidates for the new "advice guru" for ABC's Good Morning America (GMA). More than 15,000 applied for the gig, and Barnhill has impressed the GMA producers enough to make it to the final round. While viewers have been voting online (Barnhill and Cooper Boone are far ahead of the other two finalists), the final decision, to come in the next couple weeks, rests with GMA.
Barnhill was interviewed live on GMA last week by hosts George Stephanopoulos and Elizabeth Vargas. While the appearance went well, Barnhill emphasizes that the "advice guru" gig is a writing job. That's what attracted her in the first place: "It's a journalism job. It's writing about people and their lives, in a way to help them out. That's what I've always done, and that's what I love to do most." (See her latest advice on fear-filled parenting here.) CT senior associate editor Mark Moring spoke with Barnhill about the competition—and broke the glass ceiling as Her.meneutics' first male contributor.
What are your strengths for being an advice guru?
The writing part. That's what I've been doing for 15 years. I'm a pretty intuitive person. I have a good sense of people, of what makes relationships work. Every problem is really a relationship problem, when you get down to it. I'm good at helping people get to the root of their relationship challenges.
You told GMA that most people know what they should do, but that they just need a nudge.
I think most people are good and want their relationships to work. But we don't always know what to do. We let other things get in the way, or we let ourselves get talked into something that we don't want to do. Sometimes you've just got to weed through the muck with people and help them see, "This is the right thing to do. It's not going to be easy, but here's how you can do it in a way that will work."
What's the toughest question you've received?
I got one that they never posted online, but used it as part of their decision-making process. It was from a woman whose two adult children had died in the past year, and her parents hadn't been involved in the grieving process. They showed up at the funeral but hadn't checked in with her, and she was feeling abandoned. The weight of her grief hit me. Here's someone in the worst place a person can be, and she's trusting me to speak into her life in a way that's meaningful. That was a hard one.
If Facebook is any indication, your husband, Jimmy, has been a big encouragement through this process.
He really has been. The first question I got was, "My son has just been diagnosed with ADHD," so I turned to my special-education teacher husband and said, "Here's what I'm going to say. What do you think?" He's been great to bounce ideas off of. And he was so excited for me when I came to New York the past couple of days. He's like, "However long you need to be gone, we'll make it work. Don't worry about a thing." He's been cheering me on, getting his friends involved, telling me how proud he is of me … [voice trails off.] I'm getting all choked up here. He really has been great.
How does your faith inform your advice-giving?
I believe in grace, forgiveness, compassion, goodness, second chances—all those things that are the hallmarks of our faith. For me, it's consistent to want those things for other people too, whether they're people of faith or not. Everybody can agree that living as a person of grace and compassion and forgiveness—and loving our neighbor as ourselves—is always a better option, whether it comes from a place of faith or not.
Have you had to tiptoe around your faith during this process?
It's all there on my resume. My very first application said I was the editor of Christian Parenting Today, that I write books for the Christian market, that I went to seminary. I haven't hidden anything. In terms of the audience, because I've been writing for Christians for such a long time, it's been harder to work outside of that worldview in my answers: How do I write in such a way that doesn't compromise my faith, while recognizing that not everybody shares the same worldview?
At the GMA website, several of the stories include comments from readers who are concerned about your religious beliefs, going so far as to accuse you of being narrow-minded, fundamentalist, intolerant, and so on. What do you make of those reactions?
When all that extremist stuff came up, I was talking to my producer at GMA and said that my concern is that it's going to raise a red flag that I'm going to be perceived as a divisive person. I was worried that the GMA folks might think that, but she was like, "Don't worry about it. We have all faiths represented here, we have a lot of people who are very overt about their faith. Don't give it another thought." What that said to me was that this idea that a secular media company that doesn't want any Christians, that's just not the case. It's not a concern to them at all.
If you don't win, how big of a disappointment will that be after coming this far?
It will be disappointing mostly because it's been so consuming for the last few months. It'll be more of a letdown than a disappointment. It'll be like, "Okay, now what do I do?" But the thing that I've reminded myself all along is that nothing that truly matters to me is on the line. I have work that I love, great people in my life, a wonderful family, and dear friends, and none of that is going away. The life that I'm coming from is a good one, and if nothing changes, that's okay.
February 4 update: Good Morning America announced this morning that Liz Pryor, a single mother of three from California, will be their new "advice guru." Upon hearing the news, Carla Barnhill posted this on her Facebook page: "This has been an amazing, life-altering experience for me and I don't regret a second of it. You, my friends, have been so good to me and I am so, so grateful for you. Thank you for your endless encouragement, your votes, your comments, and your love. Now, let's see what we can conquer next!"
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