In ‘Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation,’ author Kristin Kobes Du Mez seeks to solve the mystery of overwhelming American Evangelical support for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, yet ends up mostly recounting major scandals among conservative leaders due to, as she sees it, toxic masculinity and the patriarchy.
Dr. Du Mez is a professor of history, gender studies, and urban studies at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She holds a PhD in American History from the University of Notre Dame, with specialties in both women’s and religious history. Her first book, ‘A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism’ was published in 2015. And if the subtitle of the work were not enough, all of this together comes through in the kind of book ‘Jesus and John Wayne’ ends up being.
I am on the opposite end of the theological and political spectrum to Dr. Du Mez, and knew a month ago today from reading an excellent review by Michael Young at American Reformer – we’re not going to agree about what to make of conservative Americans, Christians or not. Yet I read her book anyway much the same way a defense attorney or judge or member of the jury would listen to the prosecuting attorney make their case when they know the defendant is innocent, or at least not guilty of the crime they stand accused of.
The trouble with this work is a common one with the worldview of the Left. The conclusions are foregone, and the underlying premise is unquestionable even as it molds and shapes every conclusion drawn from the evidence considered.
If you enjoy Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States’ – written by an avowed Marxist as an argument that free market capitalism and the original vision of limited government have served as little more than a veiled will to power by wealthy straight white Protestant men seeking to oppress women and minorities – then you will also enjoy this. It follows the same pattern.
Present all the worst scandals like a greatest hits album, then use said scandals disgracing leaders and churches and movements to throw everyone who holds to a conservative interpretation of either the Bible or America’s historical and founding documents into, as Hillary Clinton put it, “a basket of deplorables.”
What gets overlooked, however, is the fact that conservatives also have denounced the abuses Du Mez is recounting here. Otherwise it is a wonder so many of the men mentioned have been defrocked when their indiscretions and sins came to light. Furthermore, were Du Mez correct in her insinuation that such are totally fine and acceptable to “White Evangelicals,” then it is very curious indeed that all of the scandals listed were kept secret by the transgressors for years and decades. Clearly the leaders who fell by scandal into disrepute believed their sins would not be tolerated by their followers and fellows were they to come to light. Nor were they tolerated.
Du Mez meanwhile plays fast and loose not so much with the facts themselves, so far as I as I can tell. Rather, it is her characterization of the facts and what conclusions we should draw from them which are troubling and given to confirmation bias.
That is, the conclusions drawn do not follow the facts presented, but rather preceded the telling of those facts.
‘Jesus and John Wayne’ ends up reading like one long Leftist argumentum ad hominem, and one great big non sequitur diatribe against those who stand in the way of “progress,” as folks like Dr. Du Mez define it. She offers no meaningful exploration of whether the views and positions of conservatives are objectively true or correct, however, contenting herself instead with smearing the reputation of the whole lot.
Suffice to say, there are real examples of toxicity to be found in this work; I just think Du Mez’s treatment of the subject is among them. It’s an angry and defiant screed against male headship of families and churches, hoping to find justification for upending and overthrowing the traditional and Biblical order. And in her mind at least she does find said justification in spades.
To that final end and goal which is so apparent for “Christian feminism” and a proponent of the same, all I can answer is as follows: ‘Take it up with God.’
If we were not sinners with sinful natures, we would have had no need for Christ, therefore no need for Christianity. Even with Christ, we still have this old man in us to contend with. And try as we might, praying God would deliver us from thorns in the flesh, God is content for His purposes to involve us flawed creatures – male and female – only being perfected when Christ returns or calls us home.
This holds true for both men and women, by the way, and both those in positions of authority and those under authority. It is not a problem unique to conservatives, “White Evangelicals,” men, pastors, husbands, fathers, Americans, or any other singular category of people; nor is the problem to be found especially at the cross-section of all those categories I just listed, as though when they come together in a person or people they make for a perfect storm of ultimate sin and corruption. If anything is sexist, racist, and bigoted, Dr. Du Mez, it is the recurrent necessity to say that.
On the other hand, it is entirely fair and valid, moreover necessary, to correct and rebuke sin in the Church, particularly among those who teach and lead. The Apostle Paul said those who teach will be held to a stricter standard. So that follows. But the response when sins are made known and confronted by the Church should not be to respond with still more sin.
Yet that is just what it would be – more sin – if we were to conclude that “the patriarchy” writ-large – i.e., male headship of families and churches – is uniquely or exclusively to blame for these scandals catalogued in ‘Jesus and John Wayne.’
Or what, do we have to throw out the authority of God’s Word in order to save the testimony and practice of God’s Church from Himself?
Of course not! Yet it is just such sorts of conclusions which liberal theology routinely comes to, all the while concealing them with rhetorical sleight of hand about the most recent scholarship and getting with the times, et cetera.
And this is why conservative Christians – theologically conservative first, secondarily and consequently socially and politically conservative – campaign and contend against the warped interpretations of the Scriptures and our duty as God’s people so often and so consistently perpetuated by liberal Christianity, so-called.
But it is not, as Dr. Du Mez implies, because we are masking our ambitious schemes to get more sex and power for ourselves. If such were what we were really all after, the progressives have shown us clearly enough that any rationalization can be made long and loud on their side of the aisle to justify any and all grabs for sex and power, and the normalizing and moralizing of the same. We wouldn’t be contending against liberals, then, if we really just wanted more sex and power. Rather, we’d be joining them!
At the end, the answer to the question posed at the outset of ‘Jesus and John Wayne’, with Kristin Kobes Du Mez questioning overwhelming support of Donald Trump by American Evangelicals, is as she sees it that the reason said Evangelicals were able to put aside their concerns about propriety and morality to vote for Trump is that they never truly cared about those things in the first place, as the 75-year history told is undeniably trying to establish.
This is not a new accusation from the Left, though; rather, this is the constant smear tactic. Call us sexist, racist, homophobic oppressors. Point out how many guns we own, and criticize us for being somehow simultaneously greedy rich folks and also poor, stupid, blue collar rubes.
The fact is that sometimes the accusations will stick to some individuals – not because they are conservatives, but because they are people. But that tactic is a poor stand-in for treating the substance of the positions taken, particularly when the difference is primarily theological.
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