Recently read: Du Mez’s “Jesus and John Wayne”

Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (Liveright, 2020). (Amazon; Bookshop)

Wow! But also, duh!

Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne simultaneously made me say “wow!” as she articulated the development of an Evangelicalism centered on white patriarchy as the unifying doctrine and “duh!” as she made a wide-array of connections that seem so obvious in retrospect.

For anyone who sat shocked on the night of November 8th, 2016, as Donald J. Trump was elected as the next President of the United States, and for those wondered how the “Moral Majority,” “Family Values” Evangelicals could serve as the electoral engine who made that happen, there’s an answer—at least with regards to Evangelicalism’s obsession with rigidly hierarchical patriarchy, 1950s gender-roles, and macho masculinity. As someone who is what has been called an “Ex-Evangelical,” I was both shocked and completely unsurprised by the level of support Trump received from Evangelicals. (I know, sounds contradictory, but its a real experience.) When I left Evangelicalism, I had concluded that many of their Shibboleths—inerrancy, complementarianism, anti-LGBTQIA+ exclusion, Islamophobia, etc.—had little to do with a “plain reading of the Bible” (a ridiculous notion) but instead was an effort by some to retain cultural hegemony in an increasingly pluralistic American—a white, patriarchal hegemony at that. If Jesus is the Jesus of white Evangelicalism, then it’s easy to see how “Jesus” and Trump are compatible.

Du Mez puts all the loose stands together in one place. As she writes toward the end of the book,

Evangelicals hadn’t betrayed their values. Donald Trump was the culmination of their half-century-long pursuit of a militant Christian masculinity. He was the reincarnation of John Wayne, sitting tall in the saddle, a man who wasn’t afraid to resort to violence to bring order, who protected those he deemed worthy of protection, who wouldn’t let political correctness get in the way of saying what had to be said or the norms of democratic society keep him from doing what needed to be done.

Jesus and John Wayne, p. 271

While we’ve become accustom to Evangelicals claiming the moral high-ground, the reality is that Evangelicals have drunk deep from the wells of Dominionism as the real motivation for their thirst for power. Their Christian Nationalism is a patriarchal one—a white patriarchal one. In other words, Christianity means maintaining the status quo of white, male superiority and privilege with an American Jesus who is a muscular, patriotic man just like them.

As I said, Du Mez ties together the loose strands together showing how American views of masculinity, modeled by figures like John Wayne, informed the key orthodoxies of American Evangelicalism. Coalitions were built that could overlook different interpretations of predestination, baptism, etc., etc., as long as they could coalesce around a shared conviction that civilization—Christian civilization—demanded male headship and strength. Along the way, politicians like Ronald Reagan (more “masculine” than Jimmy Carter) and eventually Donald Trump became darlings to Evangelicals who were shaped by people like Chuck Colson, James Dobson, Mark Driscoll, John Eldredge, Jerry Falwell, Mel Gibson, Wayne Grudem, Tim LaHaye, Al Mohler, Oliver North, Paige Patterson, Doug Wilson, et al.

For those trying to make sense of recent developments in Evangelicalism ranging from the popularity Duck Dynasty and 19 Kids and Counting; to the collapse of Driscoll’s Mars Hill amidst a variety of abuse scandals, the downfall of Willow Creek’s Bill Hybels amidst a variety of sex scandals; to the rise of The Gospel Coalition as evidence that unity has hardly anything to do with traditional doctrines, there’s something new to learn. As I said, you’ll say “wow!’ and you’ll think to yourself “duh! this all makes so much sense”. For a succinct review of the book, see the Kirkus Review or listen to Du Mez’s NPR interview with Steve Inskeep, “‘Jesus and John Wayne’ Explores Christian Manhood—And How Belief Can Bolster Trump”. But more importantly, read this book if you want to make sense of modern, American Evangelicalism and its connection to Trumpism.

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