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How we got here: ‘Jesus and John Wayne’

If you have wondered about the disconnect between your faith and the Christianity espoused by our culture, read Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. In this remarkably accessible work, scholar Kristin Kobes Du Mez traces the roots of the evangelical political machine. Simultaneously eye-opening and deeply troubling, Jesus and John Wayne exposes a cultural thread that led us to this uneasy place of disconnect between the faith we know and the one portrayed by those in power.

John Wayne?

Du Mez convincingly argues that a theology of masculinity and power, symbolized by John Wayne, has had a powerful influence. Concepts like complimentarianism, the idea that men and women have different but complimentary roles (with men as leaders and defenders), grow out of this. Pastors espouse toxic masculinity. Homophobia is normalized, purity culture popularized, and Christian nationalism sanctified.

In her introduction, Du Mez writes:

Generations of evangelicals learned to be afraid of communists, feminists, liberals, secular humanists, “the homosexuals,” the United Nations, the government, Muslims, and immigrants—and they were primed to respond to those fears by looking to a strong man to rescue them from danger, a man who embodied a God-given, testosterone-driven masculinity.

KIndle, location 263

As I said, eye-opening and deeply troubling at the same time.

Pervasive toxicity

My intersections with the story Du Mez shares are many. As a mainline protestant and United Methodist clergy person, I watched mostly from the sidelines—occasionally dipping my toe into these waters—but it’s been impossible to miss.

  • I remember Jerry Falwell (Sr.) and the Moral Majority, and the jokes that they were neither.
  • As a youth, I attended an Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts seminar with my church youth group.
  • Nearly 20 years ago, I attended a Promise Keepers event with my then-young son and some men from our congregation. I never quite put my finger on why it bothered me so much.
  • When it was a best-seller, I read John Eleridge’s Wild At Heart.
  • I lived in Colorado Springs (the subject on an entire chapter), and attended events and services at New Life Church.
  • In Colorado Springs, I also became very aware of James Dobson. There I also saw one of my all-time favorite bumperstickers: “Focus on your own damn family.”

Jesus and John Wayne shows how pervasive this “theology” has been in the church and culture. Even as one who has never identified as an evangelical, my exposure is significant.

Recommended

If, like me, you struggle to comprehend how evangelical Christianity supports positions, activities, and people that seem directly opposed to your understanding of your faith, you are not alone. Jesus and John Wayne offers a helpful lens to help you understand how we got here.

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