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Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation

4.46  ·  Rating details ·  3,562 ratings  ·  882 reviews
A scholar of American Christianity presents a seventy-five-year history of evangelicalism that identifies the forces that have turned Donald Trump into a hero of the Religious Right.

How did a libertine who lacks even the most basic knowledge of the Christian faith win 81 percent of the white evangelical vote in 2016? And why have white evangelicals become a presidential re
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published June 23rd 2020 by Liveright (first published May 19th 2020)
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Michael Brown To answer your question:
Author looks at the specifically *contemporary* evang. phenomenon as a culture, or sub-culture, emerging in the late 20th C., …more
To answer your question:
Author looks at the specifically *contemporary* evang. phenomenon as a culture, or sub-culture, emerging in the late 20th C., not primarily as a theology. Only the evang's claim to define themselves according the their beliefs; but in the US this is actually a cultural (& political) movement more than a theological one. The book's approach is increasingly valid as church attendance and familiarity with the tenets of the faith, theology & Biblical text are cratering, but the culture of consumption of "Christian" media products (radio, TV, books, music, the "gift" industry) is immersive. She stresses the fusion of show business and bible-crusading that took hold in the 1940's. (Not sure yet if she covers the heavy financial backing of Billy Graham & similar preachers by oligarchic business figures in California and especially the oil industry.)
"John Wayne" in the title alludes to the extreme emphasis on gender roles & exaggerated masculinity in the evang. culture, as exemplified by Hollywood figures they revere, like Wayne, Reagan; divorcees, immoralists, (Trump), who can seem to defend the vision of Christian nationalism as they increasingly see themselves as beleaguered & persecuted on all sides (communists, humanists, secularists, Muslims) in a secular market-oriented & transactional cultural context.
Their sense of persecution & the resultant militancy is stoked by evangelical leaders (usually a "strong man") who seems to offer protection, but the militancy really comes first, and requires the rationale of persecution in order to be justified & sustained. The leaders need the loyalty, and the money, but the rank & file need the sense of righteousness, protection & community. Same mechanism as used by authoritarians like Putin, Mussolini, etc., in eras of social instability & economic distress.
They re-invent Jesus, not as a figure of peace & forgiveness, but in the image of a muscular militant warrior, wielding a sword, etc.
Popular evangelical books on Christian manhood are not very biblical, but are more informed by portrayals of Hollywood figures; Mel Gibson, John Wayne (see Wayne's May 1971 Playboy interview for his explicit racism & justification of violence). Men unrestrained by Christian values are the ones admired for their ability to defend the faith, like trump. Evangelical support for trump wavered only briefly and slightly when the Access Hollywood video (the "pussy tape", sorry) came to light. There is a long history of Evangelicals supporting abusers in their own communities, dismissing allegations, blaming victims, in the embrace of a rugged, militant masculinity. The sex scandals are legion. Maybe you could tell me the name of the guy who held bible study sessions with boys in his hot tub. I do know about Fallwell Jr., (and many, many others) but not this one.
Anyway, the fact that most of this world exists so completely out of the view of any conventional elite means their culture remains largely unexamined and unchallenged, even as they use radical political hardball based on weaponization of their beliefs, malice, dishonesty & disinformation to entrench minority rule (by whites) in the US and retard public health, human development & material & cultural progress on all fronts.
Thus the importance of this book. There are many others like it. See Christopher Hedges for a much, much more dire & trenchant view of the topic. (less)

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David Wineberg
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Usually I will stay away from books on religion. Everyone’s passions overtake their judgment, facts are few, fleeting and ignored, and no minds are changed in the reading. But the pop culture intersection of American politics and American evangelicalism proved tempting, and thankfully, most worthwhile. For a title like Jesus and John Wayne, I broke my rule.

“To be an evangelical, according to the National Association of Evangelicals, is to uphold the Bible as one’s ultimate authority, to confess
Sep 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recs, 2020
cohesively maps out the rise of the American evangelical movement, homing in on how its leaders gained and wielded political influence. the book is great and provocatively argues that evangelicals’ early support of Trump wasn’t transactional but predictable and in line with the path of the entire movement, which has always supported coarse and oppressive white male leaders with roots in the entertainment industry.
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, religion
A Salty Jesus

Church services had just ended, and now I was standing in the hallway waiting to get into the restroom so I could then go home. A woman was standing in front restroom door with a megaphone in her hand, and she was preaching a different gospel, an evangelical one. I wondered why the Methodist Church was allowing her to be there, to preach. I just wanted out, and I never wanted to ever return to this church or any church. But, first, I needed to use the restroom. Fat chance of that ha
Michael Perkins
Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
“One way or another all religions are magical thinking. Through the blurred eye of faith people see what they want to see, basically a god in their own image.” (Michael Perkins)


Why Evangelicals are suckers for Qanon...

and why it's the ugly return of medieval anti-Semitism


A precedent, Christians in Nazi Germany....

Germany was filled with Christians whose understanding of their faith had so converged with German national culture that it
“Christian nationalism—the belief that America is God’s chosen nation and must be defended as such—serves as a powerful predictor of intolerance toward immigrants, racial minorities, and non-Christians. It is linked to opposition to gay rights and gun control, to support for harsher punishments for criminals, to justifications for the use of excessive force against black Americans in law enforcement situations, and to traditionalist gender ideology.” Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Kristin Kobes Du Mez ho
Jan 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, audio
This is a really cohesively argued piece of historical non-fiction that persuasively traces the connections between the muscular Christianity that arose in the 1800s to early 1900s American fundamentalism to the neoevangelicals of the 1950s through today. I am used to seeing these kinds of histories drop off around the first Reagan election, so I was really interested to see the more detailed history outlined of the movement between 1980 & 2020. I also really enjoyed seeing the connections to mi ...more
Jan 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
I have no idea how to translate what I just learned into a “star” rating. Was her research five star? I feel pretty confident saying it is. Was the content unbearable at times, so cringey that I wanted to quit? For sure. One star. Is there room for disagreement on some of her conclusions? 4 stars? I don’t know.

This book won’t sit easily with most evangelicals. It shouldn’t. Du Mez has left no stone unturned in her quest to connect the dots between evangelicalism and Trump. Is their support for h
Clif Hostetler
Dec 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
The apparent contrasting dissimilar spirits contained in the book's title, Jesus (turn the other cheek) versus John Wayne (militant white masculinity), illustrate the stretch between the Christian ideal and American evangelicals today. This book also suggests that this striving toward visions of militantly muscular Christianity to be the motivation for evangelicals to participate in the fracture of the nation via their support of Donald Trump.

The degree to which this emphasis on masculinity by
Sep 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I was raised in a conservative Evangelical household. So was my wife, and so were most of my friends of my generation. Part of this identity was theological: the inerrancy of the Bible, which for most of us entailed young-earth creationism, was the critical plank. But a politics defined by opposition to abortion and homosexuality was at least equally important for our parents’ generation. I first realized this when, without any real shifts in my theology, I began to slide toward full libertarian ...more
May 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an unsettling read. It stirred me up to read the particulars behind the philosophy of millions of evangelicals. Nothing was particularly new or eye-opening for me, but to read the numerous examples and details tended to rile me up. There is a great deal of information here that evangelicals should know about their own history and philosophies and practices, especially as it relates to contributing to today’s political divide. The frustration is that those who need to read this probably ...more
Alex Sachak
Jan 21, 2021 rated it liked it
Well, I have mixed feelings about this book. There was much that I really enjoyed. It is first of all just a really good, easy read. Du Mez introduces a whole host of major "evangelical" and conservative figures who have exerted considerable influence on the American church and American politics in the past 75 years. She quite convincingly demonstrates American "evangelicals" unhealthy obsession with a particular kind of militaristic, masculine leadership and the many unhappy consequences that h ...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
82% of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump. For ease of use, I’m just going to refer to them as Christian Supremist. Their epistemic bubble reinforces all of their hates, fears, doubts and uncertainties. As the author mentioned in the very beginning of this book Trump campaigned by saying anyone who disagreed with him was weak, corrupt and not worthy of consideration. That is in synch with how they see the world and that lets them hate the same people and long for the good old da ...more
Carmel Hanes
Nov 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Not being a terribly "political" person, I haven't paid much attention to elections until the last 12 years. Watching the last four in particular led me to question many things about how and why others vote as they do. When things baffle me, I seek more information. This book offers one perspective on why those categorized as "white evangelicals" vote as they do--what matters to them and how they see our culture. The author explores previous elections and presidents along with more current ones. ...more
This book is a history of white American evangelicalism and its highly readable while managing to pack in a lot of history. Its also highly depressing and frustrating. I feel I grew up in the best of white American evangelicalism but as I look around, I fear the worst has won out in the end.

I grew up in American evangelicalism, though I was not conscious of that until I left home for college. My church growing up was certainly evangelical, but most of the focus from the pulpit was on living as a
Gregory Jones
Jun 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book about masculinity and Christianity. As someone who grew up idolizing John Wayne in reruns of his films in the 1980s, this book resonated with me from the title to the last word. For many men who struggle to reconcile America's "rugged individualism" with the gentle servant heart of Jesus, this book connects a lot of dots.

There are so many good sections of the book that I could highlight, but for me understanding the common thread of masculinity in evangelical churches is
Aug 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many outsiders were shocked at evangelical Christians' embrace, and continued support of, Donald Trump, by all accounts a vulgar and uncouth man who seemed to go against the "values voter" and "moral majority" image they worked for years to cultivate. However, as DuMez illustrates here, Trump should be an unsurprising outcome for those who have observed how the evangelical right wing has morphed and grown in the 21st century.

In their fight against feminism, LGBT rights, and all other things deem
Jacob Hedlund
Aug 11, 2020 rated it did not like it
As an Evangelical who voted for Trump, I have to say that this book missed it's mark. DuMez does not understand how we think or why we overwhelmingly supported Trump and the Republican Party in 2016.

If you are not an Evangelical and you are genuinely curious about why we supported Trump, this is not the book you are looking for. DuMez clearly did a lot of historical research, but she has such a different worldview then Evangelicals so when she tries to interpret events, movements, etc. she almos
Jan 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
If you want to know how we got here (as in 81% of white evangelicals voting for Trump in 2016 and continuing to support him, all the way to what happened on January 6, 2021...) this is a good book to read.

Here are some quotes:

“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. Many Ame
Jul 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Difficult to pick a rating! This was an eminently enlightening and entertaining book, and very timely. I quibble with some of DuMez’s analyses, though, and did note that this book skewed extremely left-wing, most markedly in its unadulterated defense of Hilary Clinton as a devout Christian and a candidate evangelicals should have been enthusiastic about. (One example of several.) But DuMez has begun an important conversation that is very necessary in the modern American church. 5 stars for enter ...more
Rachel Phelps
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I can’t remember the last time I had such a visceral reaction to a book. I am so angry, but it is a righteous anger. I am angry at how the faith I hold so dear has been twisted and manipulated into the evangelicalism of America. I’m so angry that I was gaslit into believing that people like John Piper, Focus on the Family/James Dobson, and even Billy Graham were good and had the purest of intentions. I’m so angry. Anyone who grew up evangelical needs to read this.
What a week to read this book! (2020 election week)

The author is spot-on in diagnosing how much evangelicalism was shaped by cultural forces, parachurch organizations, the publishing industry, and political and economic fears rather than Word and sacrament. This is a sobering and oft-times painful read because of what is revealed:

1. The mission of the church was co-opted by Christian Nationalism and the pursuit of the American Dream. Piety in exchange for national security and your best family
Jan 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2021
Feb 20, 2021 rated it liked it
I have a lot of thoughts on this book, but I'll try to keep it short. I would start out saying that I think her critique is valid on how as a culture American evangelicals prize "manly men" a la John Wayne and accept all the sexism, racism, etc. that comes along with that. I think that the church collectively needs to think through what they believe and where those ideas are coming from. Are we actually believing what the Bible says or our own cultural amalgamation of what men want it to say? I ...more
Jason Kanz
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, 2021
I picked up this provocative title on the recommendation of one of my favorite authors, Chuck DeGroat. Dr. Kobes DuMez, a professor at Calvin, writes as a historian tracing the roots of rugged masculinity through 20th century evangelism and what she sees as its effects, especially on politics. Beginning with men like Theodore Roosevelt and Billy Sunday up through the evangelical support of Trump, whom she describes as the new “high priest” of the Christian Right.

Even if readers disagree with he
Adam Shields
Aug 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Summary: American Christianity has slowly adopted a Jesus that looks and acts a lot like John Wayne, and that has distorted Christianity.

When I first heard about Jesus and John Wayne, I had it connected to books on Christian Nationalism, like Taking America Back for God, maybe because that is how Matthew Lee Anderson framed his review in Christianity Today. That isn't completely wrong, but I am not sure it really gets the main point of the book any more than framing it as an Anti-Trump book as t

Melody Schwarting
Jan 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is my 700th Goodreads review--serendipitous, since the 700 Club is given a few nods in this book.

Jesus and John Wayne, as you may guess from the title, is a book about American Christianity, masculinity, and fear. Du Mez is one author in a long line seeking to explain the Trump phenomenon. Of the many articles and few books I’ve read on the topic, I found her explanations to be the most logical, even though I have so much cognitive dissonance on the topic that no explanation could ever real
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alternative subtitle: How Jesus/ Christianity was abused to promote white patriarchal rule in America.

I absolutely don’t have words to neatly summarize all that I just read and learned. What I will say: Fascinating, infuriating, sobering, thought provoking.

I’m not sure how to move forward with this information, but it did bring the light of greater understanding to much that happened in America in the past five years. 4.5/5
Erika B.
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was incredible. Heartbreaking, eye opening, and incredibly enlightening. Absolutely a must-read for exvangelicals or anyone else looking around wondering “how the hell did this happen??” This is a steady historical walk through the last 75 years that helped sort out how the white evangelical church merged their culture with militarization and nationalism into the behemoth it is today. It’s super sad and anger-inducing, but I feel much more educated about how we got here.
Anita Geevarghese
Jan 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Very well-done. Extremely sobering read. The sins of white evangelicalism has affected global mainstream culture. Nothing surprising but when all the points connected, everything makes so much sense. Has left me with a lot to reflect and chew on. If you are or have been affiliated with evangelical church/culture in any form, I highly recommend reading it with a friend.
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: academic-history
We’ve been waiting for this book. It brings together so many elements of the mid-to-late twentieth century. It’s a book whose time as come. We finally have the distance to see the impact of the reaction to the women’s movement and masculine Christianity. I feel like this explains so much of my childhood—James Dobson, the Bill Gotthard and the Youth Institutes, Elizabeth Elliott, evangelical sex manuals from the 70s—-it all showed up in my life. Fortunately my sectarian upbringing meant we didn’t ...more
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Born and raised in Iowa with brief sojourns in Tallahassee, FL, and Ostfriesland, Germany. PhD from the University of Notre Dame, and now I reside in Grand Rapids, MI. I have 3 kids, 2 chickens, and a dog, and I write on gender, religion, and politics.

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“Christian nationalism—the belief that America is God’s chosen nation and must be defended as such—serves as a powerful predictor of intolerance toward immigrants, racial minorities, and non-Christians.” 5 likes
“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. 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.” 3 likes
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