Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2020, 356 pages
WN: This is one of the few times I also posted a book review to this Blog.
In an interview with Religion & Politics, the author discusses how she came to its writing:
Yes! Since about 2010, I had been giving talks on evangelicalism and masculinity and had been approached by publishers, but there were two things at that point that made me a little hesitant to dive into a book project. For one, the things that I was uncovering were very depressing. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to live with that for the years that I knew it would take to write a book. For another, I wasn’t sure at first how mainstream it all was. As a Christian myself, I wanted to be careful about shining a bright light on this dark underbelly of American Christianity if it was merely a fringe phenomenon . . . However, just before the  election, things clicked for me. The Access Hollywood tape came out, white evangelical elites continued to defend Trump, his support among white evangelical voters remained strong, and I thought, “Ugh, I think I know what’s going to happen and I think I know why.” That’s when I pulled some of that old research and wrote [a paper] “Donald Trump and Militant Evangelical Masculinity.”
And then the book was published in 2020.
Following is a webinar on this book with Kristin Du Mez done by Calvin University where she has taught since 2004:
A link to a wide array of her talks on this overall topic/her book may be found here.
Further, in The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump (2021) by , we discover:
President Donald Trump originated his political career by claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the USA. His “birtherism” theory was discredited, but there’s another possibility about birth. Evangelicals have given birth to Donald Trump in the immaculate mistake. Evangelicals are not a collection of dumb and irrational people; they are the creators of the demolition presidency of Trump. He is their child–the result of almost one hundred years of evangelical angst, resentment, and hurt. This is the story of how Trump has become a secular evangelical preacher and his message of fear, hatred, division, and getting even has captured the hearts and minds of evangelicals. Rather than dismissing them, this work takes them seriously and literally and offers a frank and disturbing series of portraits of their determination to win at all costs.
Another historical book was published (April 2021) by Du Mez’ good friend Beth Allison Barr: The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth. My only quibble with the title: “Biblical” should be in quotation marks.
A discussion, led by Doug Pagitt, with the author is below.
That’s the power of this book. Complementarianism, even in its softer forms, isn’t just wrong theologically and biblically. It is a heresy that hurts people, practically, emotionally, and spiritually. So, as Beth says, “Stop it!”
In the video discussion below, Barr references Junia–one of several women commended by Paul for their service in Romans 16. She writes:
Junia, I showed them, was accepted as an apostle until nearly modern times, when her name began to be translated as a man’s name: Junias (p. 66).
Another highly significant point not mentioned by Barr is:
Only one record of the male name “Junias” has been discovered in extra-biblical Greek literature, which names him as the bishop of Apameia of Syria. Three clear occurrences of “Junia” have been found. While earlier searches for “Junias” in Latin also yielded no evidence, it is reported that “Junias” has been found as a Latin nickname or diminutive for the name “Junianas,” which was not uncommon both in Greek and Latin. While this is a possibility, historical studies on the name “Junia” as a contracted form of “Junianas” has shown there are over 250 citations of the name Junia in antiquity all of which have been found to refer to women, with not one single case proven to be the abbreviated form of Junianus to Junia. Meanwhile, the name Junia is attested multiple times on inscriptions, tombstones and records; most notably, the half sister, Junia Secunda, of Marcus Junius Brutus. —Wikipedia: Junia
In other words, “Junias” was likely a made-up name because translators could not accept that Paul was designating a woman to be an apostle–especially a “prominent” one.
From her book is this:
I remember feeling like such a hypocrite, standing before my college classroom.
Here I was, walking my students through compelling historical evidence that the problem with women in leadership wasn’t Paul; the problem was with how we misunderstood and obscured Paul. Here I was, showing my students how women really did lead and teach in the early church, even as deacons and apostles. Junia, I showed them, was accepted as an apostle until nearly modern times, when her name began to be translated as a man’s name: Junias. New Testament scholar Eldon Jay Epp compiled two tables surveying Greek New Testaments from Erasmus through the twentieth century.1 Together, the charts show that the Greek name Junia was almost universally translated in its female form until the twentieth century, when the name suddenly began to be translated as the masculine Junias. Why? Gaventa explains:
Epp makes it painfully, maddeningly clear that a major factor in twentieth-century treatments of Romans 16:7 was the assumption that a woman could not have been an apostle.2
Junia became Junias because modern Christians assumed that only a man could be an apostle. As a historian, I knew why the women in Paul’s letters did not match the so-called limitations that contemporary church leaders place on women. I knew it was because we have read Paul wrong. Paul isn’t inconsistent in his approach to women; we have made him inconsistent through how we have interpreted him. As Romans 16 makes clear, the reality is that biblical women contradict modern ideas of biblical womanhood.
I knew all this. Yet I still allowed the leaders of my church to go uncontested in their claim that women could not teach boys older than thirteen at our church. I still remained silent.[The irony of course is not lost: This is precisely what “power over” compels victims to be; in this case with a quote from Paul (seemingly) commanding it!3 Thankfully, Barr now is declaring to the world how wrong it is to keep women silent–and why! She has gloriously broken her silence!] (emphasis added; Barr, Beth Allison. The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth (pp. 66-67). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)
Baker Book House brought these two writers together in an April 22, 2021 discussion moderated by New Testament scholar Scot McKnight:
A further article, describing some of the ugliness of Southern Baptist machinations around race–especially nonembrace of Critical Race Theory, the role of women–especially complementarianism, and that one must vote Republican–especially for Trump and his “stolen election” nonsense, is: Secret recordings, leaked letters: Explosive secrets rocking the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Southern Baptist Convention is by far the largest evangelical body in the United States, with about 14 million members. It is the world’s largest Baptist denomination, the largest Protestant and the second-largest Christian denomination in the United States, smaller only than the Roman Catholic Church.
It is arguably as well and ironically significantly anti-Christ/anti-Scripture in its ethics. I discovered this personally in 1997 when I was invited to dialogue (Why I Oppose the Death Penalty: “The Talking Place: Discussing the Death Penalty” Forum on the Death Penalty, Fairbanks Alaska, March 22, 1997) with Dr. Richard Land of (later-so-named) “The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission” of the Southern Baptist Convention. The dialogue was organized by the Presbyterian Church in Alaska because debate was heating up in a state with no death penalty on the books. It was initially billed as a debate. I said I would not attend unless a dialogue. Debates I said for listeners generally only establish a “winner” and a “loser,” little more. So as you may read in the above highlighted post, they used a local Native American way of settling disputes: inviting all to “The Talking Place.” Years later my wife and I discovered an identical process in the Gacaca Courts of Rwanda.
Dr. Land, sadly, went on to become one of the most outspoken American evangelical voices in support of the War on Terror. See his tragic “Land Letter.”
He told me in 1997 he respected that I was at least consistent in my peacemaking perspective upon learning I was anti-war. As I say in the above post:
That Land in this light could ever have written such an incredibly anti-Christ missive as the “Land Letter” shows the continued truth of Jeremiah 17:9, and of our own desperate need for “truth-telling” challenges throughout our lives. John Alexander observed in Your Money or Your Life that it is the rarest fundamentalist who believes that the inspiration of Scripture actually extends to the words of Jesus . . . So it seemed borne out once again in the life of Dr. Land.4
Sadly too, Dr. Land’s “teachable moment” was seemingly entirely lost (except in his private thoughts?), and he only subsequently entrenched further in the great triple Christian West heresies of Just War, Just Deserts, and Just Hell of eternal conscious torment. A personal letter to him in response to the “Land Letter” went unacknowledged, unanswered. There is none so blind as they who will not see. (For us all a sobering spiritual truth repeatedly on the lips of the prophets, of Jesus!)5
There is recently this by June 10, 2021: Pressure Mounts for an Independent Investigation of SBC Executive Committee Handling of Abuse. We read:
The chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee plans to call for an independent investigation into the committee’s handling of sexual abuse claims when it meets next week in Nashville, Tennessee.
Rolland Slade, pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, said he would also support a proposal from two Southern Baptist pastors for an investigation, which will likely be raised during the denomination’s annual meeting June 15-16. “It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing,” he said.
A follow-up story by June 14, 2021, is here: Southern Baptist Executive Committee Hires Guidepost Solutions to Review Moore Allegations.
Still more follow-up by June 15, 2021: SBC Executive Committee Rejects Request for System-Wide Abuse Inquiry. In it we read:
“At the end of the day, I want us to be fully aware that what’s coming out of this room is we can debate nominations but we cannot debate or discuss how we’re going to investigate the way we handle sexual abuse,” said Easler, a pastor from Gaffney, South Carolina. “That’s very, very telling about our situation.”
At the end of the Convention gathering June 15 & 16, there is this article: Southern Baptists elect Ed Litton as their president, a defeat for the hard right. We read:
The election result [of Ed Litton] is unlikely to end the divisiveness within the convention or satisfy attendees such as Judd Saul, a filmmaker from Cedar Falls, Iowa, who traveled to Nashville because he wanted to warn Southern Baptists of the “drastic slide” into the political left and into CRT and was distributing pamphlets about the “woke SBC.” He said he was kicked out of his Southern Baptist church three years ago for promoting conspiracy theories and now attends a nondenominational church.
“We used to be known as conservative stalwarts,” Saul said. “I miss the SBC. That’s why I’m here to help wake people up and get it steered back in the proper direction.”
However, [Litton] reaffirmed his commitment to conservative doctrine Baptists hold dear. Litton, who considers himself a complementarian which generally teaches the headship of men and the submission of women, said he thinks the current Baptist statement on faith is sufficient on women’s roles in the church. (Women are generally forbidden from the lead pastor role in SBC churches.)
The convention, which is known for adopting resolutions on all kinds of political and cultural issues,also adopted resolutions opposing taxpayer funding for abortion and opposing an LGBT rights measure called the Equality Act.
We learn further in Bob Smietana’s (June 17) Southern Baptists Approve Abuse Task Force, Say Abusive Pastors Should Be Banned that a task force on sexual abuse was approved by delegates. We read:
The task force approved by messengers had a wide mandate.
“Said task force shall ensure that the third-party review includes an investigation into any allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, a pattern of intimidation of victims or advocates, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives,” the motion for the task force read.
These are certainly signs of hope.
Please take note though of my commentary in this post: The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It.
I add this superb reflection, 10/06/21, from my wise friend Allen Harder–with permission:
I recall a year or so ago your highly recommending reading Jesus and John Wayne: How Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. Last week a friend lent me the book. Here are some reflections.
This week i did a binge reading of the book. Utterly fascinating. Much of the material I had only a passing knowledge of, and this book really filled in a lot of cracks, pardon the mixed metaphor, put a lot of puzzle pieces in place. I wasn’t aware of the extent, and depth of the evangelical right wing coopting the military and politics, as well as the cultural and social influence of their brand of bastardized gospel. Militant masculinity, authoritarian patriarchy and subservient women and sexuality to support an incredibly twisted view of male identity (and of Jesus) and definitions of “society’s ills” has certainly poisoned all that they touch. What is amazing is the marketing machine that they had at their command to influence. One wonders what the drivers of this movement are. That it depends of needing enemies to fuel the fear that they build on, and the need for a masculine, militant male ‘hero’ was clearly elucidated. It’s more prevalent than I had expected. That the groundwork for the rise of Trump was laid already 50 years ago was revealing to me, and that it won’t be going away soon as long as the movement maintains its influence. Now that Biden is in the White House, and that the American military left Afghanistan with failure written large, I wonder what kinds of demons the right wing will conjure up now to foment another militant, or military action to sustain their cause.
One thing that du Mez could have built on was the connection of wealth to the power and sex themes. The leadership that she targets also built wealthy empires. Jim Wallis maintains that the triad of power, wealth and sex is usually unbroken. Power and wealth create a sense of impunity, and when married to militant masculinity, it is not surprising that so many leaders of this movement got so involved with sex scandals. Her second to the last chapter sure nails the coffin lid tight. I was astonished to read about the extent of the culture of violent masculinity and feminine servitude is being marketed and the extent to which it is fomenting a culture of violence. That the pro-Trump rallies are rife with violence is not surprising.The book has also clarified many of my questions about how evangelicals who believe in Jesus could support such misogyny, violence, racism, anti-feminism, etc. etc. It’s a cultural phenomenon and not a religious, theological one, albeit undergirded by a contorted understanding of religion. It has also clarified for me that the extent of convictions and practices of patriarchal authoritarianism explains why democratic ideals mean nothing to this crowd and that it is pointless to call them out on these ideals. It’s all too clear that religious leaders could endorse the January 6 uprising.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of comparison between extreme right-wing evangelicalism and extreme right-wing Islam. The parallels between the masculine militancy, absolute patriarchal authority and subordination of women and sexuality can’t be missed. When I talked to my wife about this, she also drew a parallel. It must be something to do with far right-wing religion, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and even Buddhism. The more right-wing, the less tolerance there is of “the other” and the more likelihood of resorting to violence through power. The culture of violence in right-wing Islam and in right-wing evangelicalism seems remarkably similar.
I have a book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, that documents social developments in the early 1900s that created a culture of extroversion and sidelined introverts. Dale Carnegie began influencing America with his messages of what it takes to be successful. It was the beginning of modern marketing, and influenced Americans that one needs to be an extrovert to be successful. The book documents the erosion of 19th-century foundations of virtues, which were displaced by success. It also documents the rise of celebrity-ism and Americans’ fascination with celebrities, and how they became our main influencers. Business schools and educational “wisdom” became more and more oriented to extroverts, to the extent that introverts became sidelined. I also have several books on the challenges introverted church leaders have in a world that exalts extroversion. This development slightly pre-dates the author’s documentation, even though she attributes Roosevelt’s “conversion” to this era as well. Starting her analysis with this era of change could have made contributions to understanding the rise of militant masculinity (which is inherently extrovert), and sidelined a whole population of males (and females) of potential introvert male identity.A few years ago I was reading books about the neo-Calvinist movement sweeping through the evangelical world (including more conservative Mennonite conferences, including the Mennonite Brethren). John Piper, whom du Mez often refers to, is one in the vanguard of this movement. Anyway, I started wondering what neo-Calvinists, and their steel-clad adherence to the TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Preservation of the Saints) doctrine might have in common with Muslim belief. I did some digging around and found a revealing chart that did a comparison of theological approaches. What I found amazing was that their concept of God was remarkably similar—an angry and easily offended tyrant who requires satisfaction and sacrifice and absolute obedience to “God’s Law,” a hierarchical order of authority, a God who is in absolute control of even the littlest aspect of life, and the total depravity of “man” who must be totally obedient to earn a place in paradise and act out to defend God.
What astounds me is how little place there is for grace for others. Being convinced that God is unending and unbounded love and grace for all is the only remedy. Amen! And again I say, Amen!
Also, the neo-Calvinist insistence that either you believe in every iota of the TULIP doctrine, or you are apostate. As I was reading Jesus and John Wayne, I couldn’t help but be reminded of comparison between extreme right-wing evangelicalism and extreme right-wing Islam. The parallels between the masculine militancy, absolute patriarchal authority and subordination of women and sexuality can’t be missed. When I talked to my wife about this, she also drew a parallel. It must be something to do with far right-wing religion, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and even Buddhism. The more right-wing, the less tolerance there is of “the other” and the more likelihood of resorting to violence through power. The culture of violence in right-wing Islam and in right-wing evangelicalism seems remarkably similar.
What astounds me is how little place there is for grace for others. Being convinced that God is unending and unbounded love and grace for all is the only remedy.
Anyway, enough for tonight. I’m going to send this before I accidentally delete the whole thing.
Now the Review
The words “dark underbelly” and “Ugh” hardly begin to express the blatant evil majority American White evangelicalism has embraced during the past 50 years that the author uncovers.
This reviewer was 22 years of age 50 years ago, and had been raised in a (“quintessential fundamentalist”—historian Ernest Sandeen in The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism) sect known as Plymouth or Christian Brethren. Two years later, under the auspices of a mission arm of said group—Literature Crusades (now International Teams)—I embarked with 12 late-teens-and-20-somethings on a two-year evangelistic gig to West Berlin, Germany. That experience was to change the direction of my life ever after.
Most, if not all, of us felt traumatized during our time there. Several left during the first of our two-year commitment. Five stayed on until the bitter end. Only two of us debriefed enroute home at their Headquarters in Prospect Heights, Illinois, so disgusted by the (lack of) leadership. There I felt unheard and rebuffed. One of us in West Berlin developed promiscuous sexual behaviour and later died of AIDS. One of two couples fled home the moment they had pregnancy complications: their free ticket out. The other newly-wed couple told me later that their marriage nearly broke up during those years. The other two teams sent out at the same time were (mostly) recalled home within a year.
I worked through my ordeal in part by writing a novel about it. You may read more here: Chrysalis Crucible. Though all but its situational scaffolding is fictitious, the ethos of the struggle and sense of betrayal is accurately captured. After I left I spent two months decompressing at two L’Abris (founded by Francis and Edith Schaeffer) locations in Europe. I could not return home until I’d better regained a sense of what had happened. Truth told: my dogmatic fundamentalist self was part of the problem!—still at times is . . . Then I spent two years at Regent College, Vancouver Canada, still trying to come to terms with the ordeal. For me, something was rotten in the state of white evangelicalism (whose books I had devoured, my favourite author overall, disgraced Francis Schaeffer6 back then—just as the present author’s tale begins.
The much younger author begins with her own experience of being raised in a Christian Reformed, fundamentalist environment: a Trump rally in 2016 at Dordt College, Sioux Center Iowa. As she mused on the white evangelical enthusiastic embrace of the man she writes:
How could evangelicals who’d turned WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do?”) into a national phenomenon justify their support for a man who seemed the very antithesis of the savior they claimed to emulate? (p. 3)Pundits trying to explain the sick phenomenon largely had failed to catch that this was culmination of embrace of “militant masculinity,”7 such that by the advent of Trump as a conservative white evangelical saviour, every Christian privileging of humility had been banished, in favour of emulating
But it’s worth remembering what’s at stake in these battles [to foist conservative religious beliefs on America], which roughly 40 percent of Americans (30 percent conservative evangelicals, 10 percent conservative Catholics) believe themselves to be fighting. Crazy or not, roughly three-quarters of evangelicals say the Rapture will take place during their lifetimes. Conservative Catholics and Protestants alike believe that the last 60 years of movement toward gender equality, racial equality, and LGBTQ equality have threatened the very foundations of American society, that America, once a Christian nation, now stands either literally possessed by demons or fallen into the arms of Satan. — Jay Michaelson, Why Bill Barr Did It All for Donald Trump
. . . the Jesus of the Gospel [as] a vengeful warrior Christ.” (p. 3)
Du Mez further avers that
Donald Trump did not trigger this militant turn; his rise was symptomatic of a long-standing condition (p. 3).
For evangelicals, domestic and foreign policy are two sides of the same coin, Christian nationalism—the belief that America is God’s chosen nation and must be defended as such—serves as a powerful predictor of intolerance towards immigrants, racial minorities, and non-Christians (p. 4).
The author draws on the American National Association of Evangelicals to name the (theoretical) four distinctives of Evangelical theological belief:
- the Bible as one’s ultimate authority
- the centrality of Christ’s atonement
- belief in a born-again conversion experience
- active work to spread this good news and reform society accordingly (p. 5).
She however questions that these theological assertions are primary in American evangelicalism. Rather, one is counted as (American) evangelical if one:
- watches Fox News
- considers oneself religious
- votes Republican (p. 6).
Interestingly, only 25% of African Americans who subscribe to the theological points above consider themselves evangelicals. Rather, they see white evangelicalism of that sort as strictly a white man’s religion.
For conservative white evangelicals, the “good news” of the Christian gospel has become inextricably linked to a staunch commitment to patriarchal authority, gender difference, and Christian nationalism, and all of these are intertwined with white racial identity.” (pp. 6 & 7)
Du Mez says therefore that these distinctives cut across a range of sociological divides, whereby white evangelicalism
has become a polarizing force in American politics and society (p. 7).In white evangelicalism’s offering certainty in times of social change—overwhelmingly so during this pandemic as I write—promising security against external global enemies, affirmation of the moral superiority of a white “Christian” America, conservative evangelicalism has captured/dominated the imagination of a broad swath of American Christians.
How could evangelicals who’d turned WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do?”) into a national phenomenon justify their support for a man who seemed the very antithesis of the savior they claimed to emulate?(p. 3)
Yet the power of conservative white evangelicalism is apparent both in the size of its market share and its influence over religious distribution channels. As a diffuse movement, evangelicalism lacks clear institutional authority structures, but the evangelical marketplace itself helps define who is inside and who is outside the fold (p. 9).
In essence therefore, being “conservative evangelical” “is as much about culture as it is about theology.” (p. 9) And therein lies its execrable shadow cast over American culture. Ironically, while spending two years in the early 1970s in Germany doing “evangelism,” a theological student once rightly challenged me: “Can any good thing come out of [American white evangelicalism]?” I had been citing Francis Schaeffer. I was deeply offended at the time. I long since have been disabused of taking offence. On the contrary! This book meticulously explains why; also developed in the coming-of-age fictional novel mentioned above. (I have no way of thanking that theologue nearly 50 years later! Too bad. Just in case though: huge thanks! You got me thinking . . .)
Du Mez states that many militant American heroes (William Wallace, Teddy Roosevelt, Generals Douglas MacArthur and George S. Patton—and (only an) actor, John Wayne)
came to define not only Christian manhood but Christianity itself. But these ideal men’s Real Men stretch back much further in American history [more on this from me below]; but coalesced around the rise of evangelist Billy Graham in the 1940s and 1950s.8
It also coalesced around “family values” politics, but family values were always intertwined with ideas about sex, power, race, and nation (p. 12).
Patriarchy therefore was not only a rallying cry for the family but as much for the nation. When in the 1980s evangelicals began to be a political force, mobilization was enormously effective due to decades of cultural formation through vast distribution networks of books, audiovisuals, and star performers from Billy Graham to Pat Boone to Roy and Dale Rogers to . . . You meet many many more along the way in Du Mez’ book. For one who grew up within it (though also somewhat removed as a (nonetheless white male) Canadian), the back story of so many evangelical leaders was fascinating—and profoundly disturbing!
The author captures the quintessential patriarchy of all this thus:
For decades to come, militant masculinity (and a sweet, submissive femininity) would remain entrenched in the evangelical imagination, shaping conceptions of what was good and true (p. 12).
It was also, ironically enough, “hand in hand with a culture of fear: . . . (p. 12), in particular vis à vis communism. The author further develops this as the earlier threat morphed to one of a shifting American culture away from “traditional Christian values.” The likes of James Dobson, Bill Gothard, Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, Mark Driscoll, Franklin Graham, and countless lesser-knowns stoked fears of feminists, liberals, secular humanists, homosexuals, the United Nations, big government, Muslims, immigrants—with Trump a kind of apotheosis of all that ugliness and so much more. But Du Mez forebodes that it did not begin with Trump, nor will it end with him off the world stage. (To which I say for the umpteenth time: How long O Lord?, and Lord, have mercy!)9
The above was from the Introduction. The remainder of this well-researched book gives the details. But I pause. Many of the youth I grew up with followed Charles Templeton at least in their rejection of, or simply drifting away from, Christian faith. I consider that as tragic as my (only) surmising that more people have been turned away by preaching a hell of eternal conscious torment than have ever been won to an authentic faith by any kind of preaching. A perusal of some of my website posts about hell expatiates on that.
In my novel for instance, at a moment of searing enlightenment, after longstanding wrestling with telling others of the dangers of hell if they do not accept Jesus as personal Lord and Saviour, we read about protagonist Andy:
The parallels overwhelmed. God is Hitler. The ovens are God’s specially built chambers of eternal conscious torment, to which human victims by the multiplied billions are fed . . . Jesus the Jilted Lover, whose cry of wrath echoes throughout the Corrupted Cosmos. Only unlike Daniel and his companions in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, these victims would experience the full suffering of the oven for ever and ever, God be praised, amen! For there even the worm “dieth not.” This was Christendom’s “god.” This was Evangelicals’ hell. This was what Billy Graham warned his listeners about . . . This was the deep dark open secret about . . . Evangelicals’ “God who loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
. . .
“Open House at Adolf Hitler’s today. Come, get to know him, whom to know is to love,” the personal invitations all read . . . The small print reads, “But we’re constrained to say: If you turn down the invitation today, tomorrow it’s into the ovens. Sorry. ‘His mercy lasts for a moment . . . but his wrath is everlasting.’ Have a nice day and a bright forever—though it may not be quite the kind of ‘brightness’ you imagined…”The rest of Du Mez’ book fills in the details of this tragic story. There is so much insightful detail that I’ll try not to summarize so much as highlight.
For decades to come, militant masculinity (and a sweet, submissive femininity) would remain entrenched in the evangelical imagination, shaping conceptions of what was good and true.(p. 12)
The author claims that early in the 20th century, a rugged American masculinity united northern and southern white men and transformed American Christianity.
First, as mentioned, the post-War emergence of Billy Graham unified a rather disparate and, since the Scopes Monkey Trial in the late 1920s, marginalized/despised Fundamentalism, that morphed into a rebranded “Evangelicalism.” Already by then, it was turning towards a “more militant—and militaristic—model of masculinity” . . . (p. 23); and “Graham preached a gospel of heroic [idolatrous] Christian nationalism” . . . (p. 25). Through the electrifying conversion of cowboy singer Stuart Hamblen, the American white man’s nostalgia for frontier America where the white man rode tall in the saddle was
channelled into a powerful new religious and cultural identity, an identity [a few decades later] harnessed for political ends (p. 28).
With others such as Pat Boone, second in popularity in America only to Elvis Presley, Graham spearheaded a vibrant entrepreneurial media empire that spawned a vast religious consumer culture; one in which singers, actors, authors, popular pastors and revivalists both reflected and shaped a larger-than-life generic evangelical culture that transcended denominational lines.
Enter then actor John Wayne, in 1949 America’s most celebrated thespian. Thrice married, twice divorced, highly sensationalized affairs, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, no “born-again” experience,
Wayne would capture the hearts and imaginations of American evangelicals. The affinity was based not on theology [or Christian morality!], but rather on a shared masculine ideal.
. . .
Wayne’s embodiment of heroic masculinity would come to serve as the touchstone for authentic Christian manhood (pp. 31, 32).
By the beginning of the 1960s, rising evangelical Christian nationalism had taken a decisive militaristic turn: never to look back! And evangelicals had become thoroughly ensconced within the political and cultural mainstream of the nation—their highest aspiration.
But as civil rights activism arose under the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., and the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964,
Many evangelicals, too, found it hard to accept that the sin of racism ran deep through the nation’s history. To concede this seemed unpatriotic. Having embraced the idea of America as a “Christian nation,” it was hard to accept a critique of the nation as fundamental as that advanced by the civil rights movement (p. 38).
It still is.
Du Mez writes tellingly:
Invariably, however, the heroic Christian man was a white man, and not infrequently a white man who defended against the threat of nonwhite men and foreigners (p. 39).
Very quickly in the 1960s, no small help from Graham, white evangelicals transferred allegiance to the Republican Party, where it has remained ever since. And while the Viet Nam War fully supported by the GOP
demolished myths of American greatness and goodness[,] American power [more widely] came to be viewed with suspicion, if not revulsion, and a pervasive antimilitarism took hold . . ., Evangelicals, however, drew the opposite lesson: it was the absence of American power that led to catastrophe . . . With the fate of the nation hanging in the balance, conservative evangelicals “assumed the role of the church militant” (p. 50).
Graham himself in 1969 sent a thirteen-page letter to President Nixon advocating possibly bombing the extensive dikes of North Vietnam to bring that economy to a halt, potentially as well thereby killing as many as a million civilians (Nixon’s estimate). See on this: When Billy Graham Planned To Kill One Million People.
[John]Wayne’s embodiment of heroic masculinity would come to serve as the touchstone for authentic Christian manhood (pp. 31, 32).
In American white evangelical Christianity throughout the last half of last century iconically represented by Billy Graham, the Cross is invariably unsheathed (as opposed to: “When Jesus told Peter to ‘put up your sword’ he thereby disarmed the Church forever”—Tertullian), brandished then worldwide, throughout the so-called post-War “American Century” ( but . . .), and exchanged for an idolatrous “Christian” Nationalism.10
In 1972, Billy Graham was awarded by West Point Academy its Sylvanus Thayer Award for a citizen “who exhibits the ideals of ‘Duty, Honor, Country’. Cross and Flag thereby representatively in Graham met and kissed (to purposely mis-paraphrase/”travestize” Psalm 85:10), and amongst white American evangelicals that union has remained solidly in place.A much smaller evangelical Left remonstrated to be sure, sharing as it did the same evangelical heritage and theology, but was hugely marginalized in white evangelical America that increasingly embraced, ironically, non-evangelical, even secular, conservatism. And John Wayne became ultimate manifestation of rugged Christian masculinity. Wayne was:
Many evangelicals, too, found it hard to accept that the sin of racism ran deep through the nation’s history. To concede this seemed unpatriotic. Having embraced the idea of America as a “Christian nation,” it was hard to accept a critique of the nation as fundamental as that advanced by the civil rights movement (p. 38).
- virulently imperialist
- in favour of a realized masculinity through violence
- embodiment of a white male ideal: “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”—John Wayne, Playboy, 1971 (quoted on p. 57) Similar attitudes were exhibited towards Native Americans.
- a model of “masculine strength, aggression, and redemptive violence”
- one who “will save your ass,” or “In the words of Baptist scholar Alan Bean, the unspoken mantra of post-war evangelicalism was simple: Jesus can save your soul; but John Wayne will save your ass” (p. 59).
There you have it: Jesus and John Wayne—evangelical saviours in tandem . . .
As one progresses from chapter to chapter, one encounters multiple players such as anit-feminists (evangelicals) Marabel Morgan and Elizabeth Elliot, and (Catholic) Phyllis Schlafly; evangelicals Bill Gothard and James Dobson; Timothy and Beverly LaHaye (Timothy author of over 85 books, some co-authored including the Left Behind Series that has sold over 75 million copies). In LaHaye’s writings, there was denounced
abortion-on-demand, legalization of homosexual rights . . . the size and power of big government, elimination of capital punishment, national disarmament, increased taxes, women in combat, passage of ERA [Equal Rights Amendment], unnecessary busing [to white schools].” For LaHaye, these were all facets of the same [liberal, humanist] project (p. 93).
LaHaye was inspired by Christian Reconstructionism (R. J. Rushdoony), and worked tirelessly to build the Christian Right as an organized political powerhouse. LaHaye shared and echoed many similar themes as Jerry Falwell, who in 1979 launched the “Moral Majority,” and embraced overt political activism—and militarism. He went on also to found the very conservative Liberty University.
Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan in 1980 thrilled the Religious Right with his classically sycophantic:
I know that you can’t endorse me. But I want you to know that I endorse you and your program (quoted on p. 103).
Many said that was “the moment the Christian Right came into its own.” (p. 106) From Reagan on, no Democrat has ever won majority white evangelical approval. The Republican Party had become the party of conservatives, traditionalists—and segregationists.
The author delves in some detail into this Reagan-era white evangelical ascendancy, discussing for instance (white evangelical) Oliver North’s illegal diversion of money towards support of the Nicaraguan Contras, and eventually lying to Congress. The lesson learned from this was the end justifies the means: Oliver North in his illegal activities and lies; ruthless take-over by conservatives of the Southern Baptist Convention, etc. Du Mez writes:
Like North, conservative evangelicals defined the greater good in terms of Christian nationalism. It was this conflation of God and country that heroic Christian men would advance zealously, and by any means necessary, with their resurgent religious and political power (p. 117).
And North, enjoyed a season of “Olliemania”: notwithstanding his crimes and lies. Is it any surprise that the Religious Right similarly gives Trump multitudes of “Get Out of Jail Free/We’ll Look the Other Way” cards?
For majority white evangelicalism, “to be Christlike, to be a man, required ‘a certain ruthlessness’. (p. 125) As well, charted by Du Mez, it seemed also to indulge sex scandals amongst its white male leadership. She summarizes:
Sex, church secretaries, fraud, intrigue, prostitution, conspicuous consumption of the most tawdry sort—the revelations tarnished the image of evangelicalism generally, revealing the dark side of a religious movement driven by celebrity (p. 127).
And evangelical ruthlessness became widely transferred to the military through James Dobson. Military personnel were fully embraced, rendering it beyond critique, supplying war a moral bearing as well. Jesus may have taught followers to “love their enemies”—but not His enemies! Pre-emptive, crusading war was in fact called for; the ends again justifying the means.Enter a towering crusader, Pat Robertson, who, despite lies to cover up that his wife had been seven months pregnant when they married, and that his Senator dad had pulled strings to keep him out of Vietnam, Robertson espoused militarism to rout godless communists, support the Contras, and generally prosecute a Christian crusade through his Christian Broadcasting Network.
Like [Oliver] North, conservative evangelicals defined the greater good in terms of Christian nationalism. It was this conflation of God and country that heroic Christian men would advance zealously, and by any means necessary, with their resurgent religious and political power (p. 117).
Under Pat Buchanan, the Religious Right launched a war for the soul of America: an internal cultural war as critical as the Cold War. Later, Fox News quickly became the new conservative kid on the media block, eventually rendering white evangelicalism and that “news” channel inseparable. White evangelicals embraced the culture wars with full-scale hateful gusto.
In 1997, Promise Keepers burst onto the white evangelical scene. White evangelical leadership piled on in support of this seeming apolitical movement. However,
To critics, Promise Keepers simply marketed ‘male supremacy with a beatific smile.’ (p. 154);
something even more insidious than a straight-up domination play. Eventually the “soft patriarchy” of the movement led to its decline just a few years after surfacing. Its lasting legacy however was a huge market spawned for endless publications on Christian masculinity. The author discusses several such instances.
An evangelical purity movement also arose, led by pseudo-intellectual Josh McDowell. A bestseller was written by twenty-one-year-old Josh Harris. It too enabled reassertion of patriarchal authority. (Twenty years later, older and wiser, he asked his publisher to withdraw it.)
In 2001 John Eldridge published a runaway bestseller: Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. Masculinity in his Christian worldview was thoroughly militaristic. It germinated multiple copycats, and helped frame for years white evangelical perceptions of masculinity.
In her chapter titled “Holy Balls,” we meet a continuing array of kick-ass white evangelical types embracing an array of “militant masculine” pursuits, including Christian mixed martial arts with hundreds of engaged churches/ministries; a continuing militantly patriarchal Christian Homeschool movement; elevation of Robert Lewis Dabney, a Christian Reconstructionist original who amongst other despicables was pro-slavery; Patrick Henry College for the homeschooled training students for high government positions; Vision Forum that fed hypermasculinity and authoritarianism; pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill notoriety, whose “gospel” was infused with militant masculinity and products like his 2008 Porn-again Christian, and saying God created women to be “penis-homes” for lonely penises, etc. ad nauseum. The likes of John Piper, Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, Albert Mohler, Josh Harris, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Denny Burk, Justin Taylor all embraced a “New Calvinism” that Time magazine in 2009 dubbed one of the 10 ideas changing the world right then.
“Biblical hatred” towards slavery abolitionists reflected militant masculinity that painted past slave-owners as genteel brothers in Christ. Almost incestuous cross-pollination of white evangelical leaders smoothed over doctrinal differences
in the interest of promoting ‘watershed issues’ like complementarianism, the prohibition of homosexuality, the existence of hell, substitutionary atonement. Most foundationally, they were united in a mutual commitment to patriarchal power (p. 204).
White militant evangelicalism became entrenched in Colorado Springs, expanding simultaneously with the growth of the military in the region: eventually housing three air force bases, an army fort, and the North American Defence Command. A huge array of evangelical colleges, churches, ministries (nearly 100), nonprofits and businesses arose. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family relocated there, and soon Dobson had resigned from it to engage in right wing political exploits directly. He did so with gusto, wielding enormous political influence, though largely unknown outside those circles.
New Life Church under Tim Haggard also flourished, becoming a hotbed of militant evangelicalism. Together with Dobson, they worked hard—and successfully—to spread their militant faith throughout the U.S. military.
In the aftermath of 9/11, “Muslims” became equivalent to “Evil Empire.” Christian Zionism similarly was on the rise. Jerry Falwell caused international furor when he claimed, “I think Mohammed was a terrorist.” The Caner brothers, Ergun and Emir, became the toast of the white evangelical circuit with their books, speaking engagements and academic postings denouncing Islam. They were the vanguard of Islamophobia —from within. The only problem, much of their claims constituted a pack of lies. Others such as Walid Shoebat, Zachariah Anani, and Kamal Saleem became travelling anti-Muslim evangelists—as well master tall-tale spinners. They also were the toast of white evangelicalism. Their ex-terrorist stories were however full of holes others exposed.
Du Mez observes that why these liars were so successful in such circles was the politics of fear they stoked. She writes:
It’s not hard to see what this titillating narrative of imagined violence got the “ex-terrorists.” They sold books, collected speaking fees, and padded their own pockets. But what did it do for evangelicals who promoted their books, engaged them as speakers, and gave them a platform (p. 225)?
Stoking such fears played into the hands of their handlers/promoters: white evangelical leaders. They “ratcheted up a sense of threat” as both reflective of, and contributor to, militarized masculinity; one largely informed by fear.
By inciting fears of an Islamic threat, men like Falwell, Patterson, Vines, and Dobson heightened the value of the “protection” they promised—and with it, their own power (p. 226).Thankfully other white evangelical leaders such as Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, David Neff, Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis and Richard Mouw —about 300 leaders in all—signed the so-called “Yale Letter” and published it in the New York Times, calling on Christians and Muslims to work together for peace.
[White Evangelicals became united] in the interest of promoting ‘watershed issues’ like complementarianism, the prohibition of homosexuality, the existence of hell, substitutionary atonement. Most foundationally, they were united in a mutual commitment to patriarchal power (p. 204).]
Du Mez observes:
The widespread embrace of a militant Christian nationalism would have far-reaching consequences in the age of terror (p. 227).Such webs of lies once embraced, predisposed majority white evangelicalism to being anti-Islam due to its (believed) promotion of violence. They were also pro-torture of suspected terrorists—more than any other demographic in America.
“I think I speak for many people in that Trump has never actually been wrong, and so we’ve learned to trust when he says something, that he’s not just going to spew something out there that’s wrong and not verified,” she said, referring to Trump’s baseless claims that widespread electoral fraud caused his loss to President Biden in November.–Debra Ell, a Republican organizer in Michigan. Juxtapose that with: In four years, President Trump made 30,573 false or misleading claims.
Deranged actors like Lt. Gen. William G. (Jerry) Boykin worked the evangelical circuit in support of Bush’s War on Terror, and zealously pursued the no-holds-barred carte blanche Bush had given Donald Rumsfield in response to 9/11. Boykin cast the matter as an epic struggle between Satan and “Christian” America. He also pursued evading the Geneva Conventions in favour of his own notions of (violent) biblical law. He saw himself as placed in God’s direct chain of command, President Bush likewise, and therefore with the highest authorization to root out evildoers. He also oversaw the torture horrors at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Etc., etc.
Other neocons, not necessarily evangelical, also promoted the military as exemplars of the highest ideals of the nation. War provided Americans “moral clarity.” Du Mez:
With evangelicals in the vanguard, Americans had come to see the military as a bastion of “traditional values and old-fashioned virtue,” a view only possible by turning a blind eye to reports of military misconduct and sexual abuse within its ranks (p. 231).
Books such as (2002) the searingly beautiful War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by journalist Chris Hedges, though on the national best-seller list, were definitively not on white evangelicals’ favourite such list. War, Hedges finds, “exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us.” War and its military for Hedges are the very inverse of a bastion of “traditional values and old-fashioned virtue.”
In 2010 theologian Wayne Grudem published Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. It was a conservative diatribe against not only the likes of President Obama who had been elected in 2008, it was against all the evangelical right’s favourite targets as well.
Eric Metaxas emerged as a new voice in support of militant Christian masculinity, launching in 2015 The Eric Metaxas Show. A 2013 book defined what a man was and what made him great by pointing to none other than John Wayne as the “icon of manhood and manliness.”
The Duck Dynasty TV show debuted in 2013 as well, that upheld all the white evangelical values. It blossomed into a gigantic financial success.
Then John McDougall published Jesus Was an Airborne Ranger: Find your Purpose Following the Warrior Christ. Jesus was also a (Made-in-America) bad-ass. He declared you can’t spell “Ranger” without the word “anger.” Du Mez comments it was claimed that:
Both Christian theology and “this constitutional republic” reserved “a high and honored place for the warrior” (p. 248).Then in 2015 along came Trump, seemingly out of nowhere. This is described in a chapter titled “A New High Priest,” But not in fact out of nowhere—far from it! In Du Mez’ understanding, Religious Right Leadership for fifty years had been stoking fears and pitching white-supremacy American exceptionalism that had its climax (orgasim even more appropriately dubbed) in Trump. His religious biographers claim he was “the ultimate fighting champion for evangelicals.” (p. 253) The Ultimate Ugly American too. The Ultimate American Evil-Doer also.
Simon Kuper notes in the Financial Times that [Boris] Johnson’s net favorability rating collapsed from +29 percent in April 2020 to -52 percent in January 2022. “Here, in microcosm,” Kuper writes, “is the uniqueness of American polarisation”: Those who favor Trump are bound to him as with hoops of steel, come what may. This total indifference to evidence is today’s “American exceptionalism.”— George F. Will
Du Mez writes forcefully:
Journalists struggled to explain the baffling phenomenon of evangelical support for “the brash Manhattan billionaire” who seemed to stand for everything they despised. What could compel “family values” evangelicals to flock to this “immodest, arrogant, foul-mouthed, money-obsessed, thrice married [like John Wayne], and until recently, pro-choice” candidate (p. 254)?
Bottom line: not unlike Reagan before him “believing in them,” bottom line: Trump would “protect them.” Jerry Falwell Jr. and Robert Jeffress were the first big-name evangelical endorsers. Trump like Wayne was also an unapologetic racist. Evangelicals like Russell Moore spoke out against Trump, but others like Wayne Grudem claimed Trump—and a gaggle of sycophants with him—to be a “morally good choice.” Eric Metaxas hailed Trump as a great leader, seeing no connection at all with Hitler. Though Metaxas had been a (seriously distorted—yes, I read it) Dietrich Bonhoeffer biographer.
Catholic anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly penned her final book: The Conservative Case for Trump.
Du Mez understates:
Remarkably, Trump had become the standard-bearer of the Christian Right (p. 263).
Even the infamous Access Hollywood video where Trump acknowledged sexual abuse of women did not cause most white evangelical Christians to miss a beat. However Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center declared:
If you find that you have overlooked or dismissed many of the morals and values that you have held dear in the past, then it just may be that your character has been Trumped (p. 265).
As it turned out, 81% of white evangelicals had indeed been Trumped, as gleaned in the 2016 Elections exit polls. Sadly too, some like Russell Moore recanted, to stay in the fold. The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography was subsequently released to try to bolster Trump’s evangelical credentials, one Du Mez considered done by authors who went to no small creative lengths to pretty up the Trump (non)evangelical stench–like putting lipstick on a pig.
Du Mez tellingly observes:
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 had to be done. Unencumbered by traditional Christian virtue, he was a warrior in the tradition (if not the actual physical form) of Mel Gibson’s William Wallace. He was a hero for God-and-country Christians in the line of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and Oliver North, one suited for Duck Dynasty Americans and American Christians. He was the latest and greatest high priest of the evangelical cult of masculinity (p. 271).
Trump in his own right spawned a massive cult following, the majority amongst them, white evangelical Americans.
Then . . . several white evangelical leaders began experiencing falls from grace, including Mark Driscoll, C. J. Mahaney, Darrin Patrick, John MacArthur, James MacDonald. White men who preached militant masculinity, patriarchal authority, female purity and submission were repeatedly caught abusing women, or supporting those who had. Du Mez explains however that
evangelical family values have always entailed assumptions about sex and power (p. 277).
She adds a little later:
Immersed in these teachings about sex and power, evangelicals are often unable or unwilling to name abuse, to believe women, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to protect and empower survivors (p. 278).
Then there were the multiple sex scandals discussed in the penultimate chapter titled: “Evangelical Mulligans: A history.” One of the first (in 2006) was Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church, a megachurch in Colorado Springs. A host of white evangelicals immediately jumped to his defence. Pete Newman of Kanakuk Kamps is serving two life sentences for his serial molestation of boys. C. J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries, who had already fallen once from grace and later had been reinstated, had a pall of suspicion cast over him for his enabling of multiple sexual abuses at the church. Only a statute of limitation prevented him from being prosecuted.
In 2014, Bill Gothard stepped down from his Institute of Basic Life Principles after more than 30 accusers, some minors, reported molestation and sexual harassment. Doug Phillips stepped down from his Vision Forum Ministries after a lengthy extramarital affair. It was all indeed a series of very sordid affairs . . . Others such as Josh Duggar of the TV reality show 19 Kids and Counting molested four of his sisters.11 Father and son Jack and Dave Hyles, the father a pastor in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement, were involved in molestation of women. The replacement pastor after the father’s death was Jack Schaap. A cult-like culture of sexual abuse was eventually discovered, including pedophilia, sexual molestation, rape, and the abuse of children.
Then when the #MeToo movement came to American evangelicalism, Andy Savage of a Memphis megachurch admitted to sexual assault of a former teen while he was youth minister. He eventually resigned. Then Bill Hybels of Willow Creek megachurch fame (and multiple copycats) had seven women come forward accusing him of sexual misconduct and abuse of power.
At least 187 Independent Baptist Churches were caught up in allegations of sexual misconduct.Then the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was hit by allegations of covering up sexual abuse and of sexual abuse, implicating highly-placed ministers Paige Patterson and Darrell Gilyard. Further extensive patterns of sexual abuse by as many as 380 perpetrators with at least 700 victims came to light within the SBC.
Immersed in these teachings about sex and power, evangelicals are often unable or unwilling to name abuse, to believe women, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to protect and empower survivors.(p. 278)
A veritable volcanic eruption of sexual abuse cases was engulfing white evangelical churches.
A “mulligan” in golf is another chance at a flubbed shot. White evangelicalism was positively rife with the phenomenon—redemption however absent confession, repentance, making amends, and commitment to “go and sin no more.” The penultimate chapter is powerful understatement of the travesty of white evangelical mulligans offered as cover and cover-up ubiquitously within a culture of sick militant Christian masculinity.
Du Mez makes clear again in the final chapter that
. . . evangelicalism must be seen as a cultural and political movement rather than as a community defined chiefly by its theology (p. 298).
For all Billy Graham’s iconic thundering “The Bible Says! . . .” fifty years ago, indeed fully 70 plus years earlier, “frankly Scarlet (and Franklin—and a vast array of others of your ilk), white American evangelicals don’t give a damn . . .” Theirs is a studied footnote, exception clause (“except our enemies”) theology in response to John 3:16 that à la W.C. Fields has ever sought and come up with “the loopholes.” Seek and ye shall find, indeed.
Du Mez comments near the book’s end:
For many evangelicals, the masculine values of men like John Wayne, William Wallace, Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, Jordan Peterson and Donald Trump embody have come to define evangelicalism itself (p. 301).
The author ends on a hopeful though tenuous note:
What was once done might also be undone (p. 304).
. . . evangelicalism must be seen as a cultural and political movement rather than as a community defined chiefly by its theology (p. 298).
. . . evangelicalism must be seen as a cultural and political movement rather than as a community defined chiefly by its theology (p. 298).
The above story is one of great malaise and evil-doing within white American evangelicalism. “Evangelical” in name, the author repeatedly points out that such white evangelicals largely showed little allegiance to the Jesus of the Gospels, rather to a Jesus of hyped-up toxic masculinity. Which came first in importance: Jesus of the Gospels or a culture of fear à la “Jesus” of toxic masculinity—without reference to the Gospels? If you have read this far, you know the author’s answer.
Still, the book would not have been written had the author not become convinced that this “Jesus” had gone mainstream. Crawling through the venomous swamps of such evangelical landscapes, du Mez indicated as we saw that she had not wished to do such research if it represented only a kind of lunatic fringe. In fact, the fringe repeatedly became the mainstream, as so often is the case in any kind of extremism.
Reading the book, then writing a detailed book report produced in me repeated profound revulsion. In part, this must be due to my own growing up white evangelical—albeit Canadian—but well within the gravitational pull of the (GOP) elephant on Turtle Island to the south. It also occasioned the general observation that kick-ass Christianity ineluctably only served to produce an endless crop of buffoonish jackasses à la Trump. But not just buffoons to be laughed off the stage. Rather, horrifically sick puppies capable of doing/guilty of perpetrating profound evil not just within their own tribe, but to America, by extension the world.
Though details and interpretation can no doubt be disputed, Du Mez has produced a superbly researched study, and more so, one with great wisdom to heed.
I write this November 3, 2020. At the end of this day, will there (again) be horrified gasp, or (supercharged) relieved exhalation? For Trump not only did not “drain the swamp,” he engulfed rather America and the world in a vile tsunami of toxic quagmire filth that I in my nearly seventy-two years never before even came close to experiencing. As many have indicated: Trump not once properly responded to the pandemic; he was rather a whole pandemic of the first order unto himself, one for five years foisted upon America and the world.
In Less Than Conquerors: The Evangelical Quest for Power in the Early Twentieth Century (former subtitle: How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century), theologian Douglas W. Frank tells the back story to Du Mez’ back story. Though details and players differ, it’s really the same sad tale. In the second last paragraph of the book, Frank writes:
Whether in auspicious or declining times, as we have seen, we [evangelicals] display a tenacious commitment to self-deceit. It is true that we are those who like to think we heed Jeremiah’s words: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.” Our history, however, gives evidence rather of Jeremiah’s wisdom in adding these words: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:7, 9). In our very protests of trust in the Lord, we find occasion for our deepest self-deceits (p. 278).
These identical words could also sum up the book under review.
In Captain America and the Crusade Against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism, authors Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence also present a masterful study along similar lines to the above. They however take us to the back story behind the above-noted two back stories, all the way to the War of Independence and the Founding Fathers.
The authors state that there is deep biblical rootedness in two contradictory strands of American culture, evident from the beginning.
The first tradition is what we call zealous nationalism. It seeks to redeem the world by destroying enemies (p. 8).
They point out:
The phenomenon of zeal itself provides a fascinating access to the inner workings of our national psyche: the term itself, as we shall see, is the iblical and cultural counterpart of the Islamic term jihad (p. 8).
Alongside zealous nationalism runs the tradition of prophetic realism. It avoids taking the stances of complete innocence and selflessness. It seeks to redeem the world for coexistence by impartial justice that claims no favoured status for individual nations (p. 8).
No “American exceptionalism” in other words, a term first coined in the early 19th century by French American cultural observer Alexis de Tocqueville.
The authors acknowledge that these two strands have coexisted in “uneasy wedlock” in earlier times, but in a time of worldwide militant jihad, zealous nationalism everywhere must be let die.
Our conclusions are that prophetic realism alone should guide an effective response to terrorism and lead us to resolve zealous nationalist conflicts through submission to international law; and that the crusades inspired by zealous nationalism are inherently destructive, not only of the American prospect but of the world itself (p. 9).
All these authors write from within American evangelicalism. All make meticulously researched, compelling, cases. All in their conclusions are ignored by the vast swath of white American evangelicals . . .
I once gave a lecture to first-year students at Regent College, a seminary affiliated with the University of British Columbia, Canada; one of evangelicalism’s academic finest. The topic was a nonviolent reading of the atonement. An expanded version may be found here, titled: “The Cross: God’s Peace Work – Towards a Restorative Peacemaking Understanding of the Atonement”; a chapter also in Volume One of Justice That Transforms; and in Stricken by God?: Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ. Two Regent profs gave responses. The moment they each pegged the lecture to be merely a subset of pacifism, it was written off . . .
If Jewett and Lawrence are right that (white evangelical) American zealous nationalism is “the biblical and cultural counterpart of the Islamic term jihad”; if Frank is right that (slightly changed) “In white American evangelicals’ very protests of trust in the Lord, they find occasion for their deepest self-deceits.,” then perhaps those Regent profs, and a vast array of (white) North American evangelicals, in light of the book reviewed and the other two cited, should be enjoined to think again—just a little bit harder. Indeed, perhaps think again—for the very first time . . .
For the PDF of the above review, click on: Jesus and John Wayne.Footnotes
- Eldon Jay Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 60–65.
- Beverly Roberts Gaventa, foreword to Epp, Junia, xi–xii.
- Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. I Corinthians 14:34
- Incidentally, my two teen-aged boys at the time, upon viewing the video of the dialogue, said I won the “(non)debate” at the point Land informed me that no self-respecting Reformed scholar would ever argue as I do in Part III of the presentation. Upon that claim, I walked to my backpack in front of me, pulled out a copy of the Reformed Church of America Acts of Synod 1981, “Report 31: CAPITAL PUNISHMENT STUDY COMMITTEE,” Grand Rapids: Christian Reformed Church in North America, pp. 72-73, 448-91, ), and told him that six Reformed theologians had been commissioned to present their findings published in that book, and that most of my exegetical points of Part III were taken from that publication. Dr. Land fell silent then.
- Dr. Land went on to become President of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, a post he has held since July 2013. However, judge for yourself about Land’s integrity in light of this portion of the Wikipedia post about him. (I wonder of course what will come back to haunt me?):
Trayvon Martin remarks and ethics investigation
On the March 31, 2012 edition of Richard Land Live!, Land accused the Obama administration and civil rights leaders of using the Trayvon Martin case to deliberately stir up racial tension and “gin up the black vote” for Obama in the 2012 presidential election. His comments were criticized by several black Southern Baptist pastors, who felt they reversed a long effort by the SBC to distance itself from a past history of racism. One of those pastors, Dwight McKissic, even announced he would introduce a resolution repudiating Land’s remarks. Land refused to back down, saying that he would not “bow to the false god of political correctness“. Soon thereafter he wrote an open letter of apology for “any hurt or misunderstanding” that his words might have caused.
On April 14, 2012, Baptist blogger Aaron Weaver discovered that Land’s commentary on the Martin case had been lifted almost verbatim and without attribution from a column by Jeffrey Kuhner of The Washington Times. According to Weaver, while Land included a link to the article in show notes that were posted online, he did not disclose that his commentary was based almost entirely on that column. Weaver also discovered that Land had also lifted material in previous broadcasts from other sources as well and passed them off as his own words.
In response, the ERLC’s executive committee removed the entire archive of past broadcasts of Richard Land Live! and launched an internal investigation. It also expressed concern that Land’s comments about the Martin shooting “opened wounds from the past”. The committee released the findings of its investigation on June 1. It reprimanded Land for using “hurtful, irresponsible, insensitive, and racially charged words” about the Martin case, and apologized to Martin’s family. It also found that Land had used “carelessness and poor judgment” in lifting material from other sources without attribution, calling it a case of clear plagiarism. It found no evidence that Land had plagiarized any of his written work. The committee also announced that Richard Land Live! would be canceled as soon as its contract with distributor Salem Radio Network allowed it to do so, saying that the show was “not congruent with the mission of the ERLC”. The next day, Land announced on the weekly edition of Richard Land Live! that the show was leaving the air, effective immediately.
Land was one of 25 nominees to an “executive advisory board” of evangelical pastors proposed by then-candidate Donald Trump in the runup to the 2016 Presidential election.
- See my book review of: Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America.
- With an attendant “militarized capitalism”—see Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society—though this phenomenon is most pronounced in America, it is ever present in the West and beyond.
- Billy Graham in my novel is the iconic “white male evangelical” who profoundly distorted Christianity and Jesus—to a point beyond recognition by the novel’s protagonist, Andy. This dawning realization was part of his coming of age.
Personally for this reviewer, Billy Graham in my formative years was the ultimate evangelical ideal for my parents and church—and me. Canadian Charles Templeton however, an early crusader with Graham was a disturbing defector from this near idolization. For Templeton’s part, he became part of the anti-Christian liberal Canadian Establishment. Though unlike Andy in my novel, Templeton fully exited the tradition, and describes this in Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.
- See on Mark Driscoll the podcast series: The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The Introduction to the series reads:
Founded in 1996, Seattle’s Mars Hill Church was poised to be an influential, undeniable force in evangelicalism—that is until its spiraling collapse in 2014. The church and its charismatic founder, Mark Driscoll, had a promising start. But the perils of power, conflict, and Christian celebrity eroded and eventually shipwrecked both the preacher and his multimillion-dollar platform.
- For a sophisticated (no less sycophantic) Christian apologia for such, please see Jean Bethke Ehlstain’s book, Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, reviewed by me here.
- See also: Discovery owes the nation an apology for helping the Duggars defraud this nation. We read:
It simply boggles the mind that Discovery continued working with the Duggars after Josh’s molestation came to light. Surely someone at that company would have realized that it had been an accomplice to what can only be described as an attempt by manifestly unfit parents to pull the wool over America’s eyes. But they didn’t. Instead, they got another show, Counting On.
Now that it’s apparent that Discovery may have inadvertently helped cover up an outrageous case of child neglect and child abuse, there is only one way that it can even begin to make this right. That is, cancel Counting On, tear up its contract with the Duggars, and nuke every Duggar-related episode from its archives. For good measure, it ought to donate an amount equivalent to the money it paid the Duggars to a child abuse charity.