Jesus and John Wayne

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, by Kristin Kobes du Mez

Well, that's an arresting title!  When I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it.  Kristin Kobes du Mez is in a good position to write it, too; she's a long-time member, observer, writer, and journalist in the American Protestant culture.  If she's going to say that it has 'corrupted a faith and fractured a nation,' she's in a position of some authority to do so, and to discuss what she calls 'militant masculine Christianity.'

 Du Mez writes a cultural history of about the last 100+ years of Evangelicalism and conservatism in American Christianity, especially the history of cultural attitudes about masculinity, the roles of men and women, and how race has combined with that.  (She specifies white Evangelicals because black churches are mostly very different.)  She documents Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Mark Driscoll, and cultural shifts to the left or the right over time.  Evangelicals were always trying to combat the popular image of Christianity and church as being...well, girly.  For women, not for Real Men.  They needed men to participate, and so they tried to boost their appeal by casting Jesus as a warrior, a man's man -- just like John Wayne, really.  Thus the tattoos and the tight black t-shirts in more recent years.

Now, I did not grow up with John Wayne at all.  I've never seen any of his movies, or had anybody present him to me as a person to be interested in.  But it turns out that Evangelicals have had a long-running love affair with John Wayne, and with ideals of manhood being inherently wild, aggressive, and domineering.  And all this ended up as a perfect formula for being attracted to Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

That's not to say that evangelical establishment leaders liked Trump from the first.  They did not.  But as Trump's popularity grew, they seem to have found that few people were going to listen to their preference for Ted Cruz (himself a Seven Mountains Dominionist), and they had to choose between getting on the Trump train or falling out of favor with their audience.  Some few chose to be Never-Trumpers, and fall out of favor they did.

A good chunk of the history was somewhat familiar to me; since I used to homeschool my kids, I spent time adjacent to the people who specifically homeschooled for religious reasons.  I read a lot about the various movements, and the names of Rushdoony, Gothard, and the two Dougs (Wilson and Phillips) became known to me.  I even read I Kissed Dating Goodbye out of curiosity.  However, I've never actually been an Evangelical or a Protestant, and so I've only ever observed bits and pieces.  Du Mez made a lot of connections clear.

It was all very fascinating, and I recommend this book.  I learned a lot.


  1. Now that I'm on WP I'm one of those that now find Blogger so clunky when I come by to I want you to know that I do visit regularly, but commenting is a clunkier affair (compared to WP) & I never thought I would say that!!!!

    But this caught my eye. Religion doesn't have anywhere near the sway or influence in Australia that it does in the US, but Hillsong is growing here and our current PM is part of an evangelical, pentecostal church group. It has some groups concerned that his response to Covid has been affected by his possible belief that prayer and the blood of Christ will save us all from the pandemic, more than science.
    Hillsong has been very successful at getting men on board. One could say that is a wise thing for them to do as most men still have the highest salaries, therefore they will be able to get more money for the church if the men take up the cause.

  2. To add a thought, I suspect the American (Protestant) church movement has a flavour to it that is absent elsewhere. I know when I think American Evangelical I think, goodness gracious!, but an evangelical here has a very different approach and outlook. So while this book might be relevant to the U.S., it might not be a good indication of other places. Just sayin'. But glad it was interesting to you. You always find such unique books!

  3. Cleo, I think you're right about American evangelicalism being kind of different. However, I would guess that it's also the largest group in evangelicalism, and probably the pop culture and so on can't help but be absorbed in other parts of the world. If that convoluted sentence makes any sense! We tend to absorb cultural shades from evangelicals even though we're pretty different -- back in the day, a few moms would ask me if I thought Harry Potter was OK for the kids, for example. (I'd tell them to try reading HP themselves and see what they thought, and they all ended up loving the books.)

    Brona, I wish Blogger had threaded comments! I agree that it's a bit on the old-fashioned side, but I find WP to be kind of treacherous, liable to eat my comments without warning. And I don't want to migrate everything over to WP, what a horrifying prospect...anyway, I sure hope your PM isn't thinking that prayer will fix Covid. I feel like that whole thing is a bizarre reaction to the pandemic. Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus say that God will save us from germs or the other normal difficulties of mortal life. We don't expect God to suspend the laws of gravity so we can jump off cliffs with impunity.

    I don't know if you have the joke about the guy in the flood in Australia. There's a flood, and this guy is in his house, and some people come by in a rowboat. "Come get in the boat, we'll take you to safety!" "No, I have faith that God will save me." So he stays in his house, and the water rises so he has to go upstairs. People come by in a motorboat. "Come get in the boat, we'll take you to safety!" "No, I have faith that God will save me." As the water rises, he has to sit on the roof of his house, and a helicopter comes with a rope. "Grab the rope, we'll take you to safety!" "No, I have faith that God will save me." So he drowns, and in the afterlife he meets God and says "I had faith, why didn't you save me?" God replies, "I sent you two boats and a helicopter -- what exactly did you want?"

  4. It's funny you bring up that joke, I was thinking of it too. It's used in West Wing when Bartlett is having a crisis of confidence and a minister reminds him of this story.
    It's a good reminder that it is always up to us to help ourselves, with the tools to hand, and not wait for someone else (or a god) to do it for us.

    I used to be able to use threaded comments on Blogger. It's in the settings somewhere from memory.


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