Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Christian nationalism is a growing concern of mine

I have been troubled lately by the blatant Christian nationalism that I have seen displayed on social media (and in everyday life). Pastor and teacher Jeremie Beller defines Christian nationalism like this, “Christian nationalism is the intertwining of the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms of men. In the American context, it is often displayed by describing America through language reserved for the Kingdom of God. For instance, to speak of America as a “city on a hill” borrows from Jesus’ image for God’s kingdom. The marriage between patriotism and righteousness further blurs the line between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world.” I am a patriotic man, but Christian nationalism goes way too far and it makes Christians sound more like a bunch angry conservatives than true followers of Jesus Christ.

You could say that I have been keeping my eyes open for resources and books that discuss the danger of Christian nationalism. I recently started reading “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump” by John Fea. I also purchased “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States” by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry.

During this time I began noticing a number of people that I follow on Twitter discussing a book called “Jesus And John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted A Faith And Fractured A Nation” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. Kristin Kobes Du Mez is a professor of history at Calvin University.

In the book here are some of the names of people/ministries/groups who are targeted:

Pat Robertson, John Piper, Joyce Meyer, Gospel Coalition, Lifeway, R.C. Sproul, Theodore Roosevelt, Billy Sunday, fundamentalism, evangelicalism, Bill Graham, Christianity Today, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Robert Jeffress, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Jerry Falwell, Jerry Falwell Jr, Jack Hyles, Marabel Morgan, Bill Gothard, James Dobson, Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, Oliver North, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Baker, Wayne Grudem, Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, Charles Colson, Promise Keepers, CBMW, Josh Harris, John Eldredge, Douglas Wilson, Christian homeschooling, Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, Eric Metaxes, Duck Dynasty, and of course, Donald Trump.

What do all these people and ministries have in common according to Du Mez? They are white evangelicals who have contributed to an unhealthy patriarchy in the church and they have championed a vision of a godly man as someone who is domineering, militant, and just an all-around jerk.

According to Wikipedia: “Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property.”

What is the main point of Jesus and John Wayne?

I believe what Du Mez is attempting to do in her book is to explain how evangelicals got to the point where they voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Evangelicals used to be the ones who would talk about the importance of character. So, what changed? Du Mez goes to great lengths to highlight that over the past 50 years evangelicalism has done such a bad job of teaching what biblical manhood is all about that by the time we got to Donald Trump they were ready to cast their ballot for God’s man.

“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 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. P. 271

Things I think Jesus and John Wayne got right

First of all, I believe with all of my heart that far too many evangelicals have allowed politics to become an idol in their lives. There are so many indicators that this is the case. Have you noticed on social media how so many Christians are clearly more interested in talking about politics than they are the gospel or making disciples? I would also want to point out that the anxiety, anger, and despair that evangelicals express regarding politics shows that their hope is not in a God is who in control and has already won the day.

Second, evangelicals have done a poor job when it comes to teaching what biblical manhood is all about. Du Mez explains in detail how evangelicals have gone to great lengths to describe the role of a man as a militant warrior.

“As Robert Jeffress so eloquently expressed in the months before the 2016 election, “I want the meanest, toughest, son-of-a-you-know-what I can find in that role, and I think that’s where many evangelicals are.” P. 14

Quite honestly, it does seem like many Christians, not just evangelicals, are cherry picking the verses they want to use when it comes to describing manhood and leadership. If there is not place for a man to be kind, gentle, compassionate, and sacrificial than really what we are saying is that there is no room for Jesus. Yes, Jesus did turn over the tables. I hear that mentioned all the time in an attempt to justify being mean-spirited to others who disagree with our view point. We need to remember that there is much more to Jesus than his righteous anger and flipping over tables. For example…

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” -Matthew 9:26

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” -Matthew 11:29

“Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Matthew 18:28

Was Jesus a strong leader? Of course he was (and is). Yet the strength of Jesus turned the world’s standards upside down. Jesus put the needs of others first and revealed his strength by dying for them on the cross.

Things I think Jesus and John Wayne got wrong

First, Kristin Kobes Du Mez seems to be making an argument that complementarianism, in any form, is always patriarchy. Patriarchy is one of the most important themes running throughout her book. Here is my thought, if you are going to make an argument that complementarianism is always patriarchy it would be wise to explain biblically why this is true. There are many people who hold to a complementarian view of Scripture yet they believe that a husband should be eager to put the needs of their wife, family, and others before themselves.

Second, I think it is completely unfair to throw all the names, organizations, and ministries under the bus without mentioning at least a few of the good things they have done and accomplished. Let’s take Billy Graham for example. Du Mez highlights Billy Graham on many occasions. If you are going to write a book that is 356 pages long and talk about Graham time and time again would it not be fair to mention the good stuff? Regardless if you are egalitarian or complementarian, we should all be willing to admit and celebrate the fact that God used Billy Graham to help lead millions of people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Final thoughts

I think Jesus and John Wayne does have some legitimate concerns that should cause evangelicals to consider their obsession with politics and militant manhood. All Christians need to seriously evaluate if their life is more marked by politics or the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, reading this book will lead some people to the conclusion that people and ministries like Billy Graham, James Dobson, and the Gospel Coalition (and many others) have only contributed to the demise of our society by promoting a patriarchal theology. This one-sided writing is completely unfair and just further polarizes Christians against each other.

Above picture taken from Bostonglobedotcom

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