Today I’m Excited About: Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

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.

I saw this book on a friend’s Goodreads page on Sunday, January 3rd. I immediately checked out the ebook from the library and compulsively read Du Mez’s historical explanation for a movement that has baffled me for over four years. On Wednesday, January 6th, Trump supporters rioted and broke into the Capitol building while many waved “Jesus Saves” flags.

I was both shocked and cynically unsurprised.

I have never understood the passion evangelicals have for Donald Trump. That’s too mild. A few months after he was elected president, I remember had coffee with a friend and tried to work up the courage to admit: my faith was shaken. I had been raised to value humility, forgiveness, understanding, and love. Yet the people who taught me those values were supporting a man who was the antithesis of everything I held dear. I couldn’t reconcile what I had been taught with what I was seeing. What I have continued to see.

I am not interested in pointing fingers. I want to talk about Jesus and John Wayne, and how it put these past four years into a historical context that finally made sense to me. Although the evangelicalism that I grew up with included lovely, kind people who cared deeply about each other, I kept recognizing the stories laid out in this book. Evangelical Christianity thrives on an enemy, though its face has changed over the decades: Communism, feminism, Islam, progressivism. And what better to fight an enemy with than an army? Militarism and Christianity go hand in hand more often than not (will I ever forget that 4th of July church service that started with a montage of war machines?). Du Mez charts the connections between evangelical leaders and the military since the 1920s. She also charts how evangelicals became more patriotic and patriarchal, how they consistently lauded immoral men who shouted loudly about right wing values. Donald Trump is nothing new.

Listen, I’m tired of this. Writing just this much makes me want to curl into a ball and avoid everyone forever. I am so ashamed of evangelicals. I was one. I still admire so much of it. I hate it. I sometimes agree with the people who call it a cult. I want to defend “not all evangelicals!” I’m tired.

Someday I might be able to read a book like Jesus and John Wayne with emotional distance. But for now, I’m reading it like it can reveal the world to me, explaining how the world I grew up in was full of so many cancers. It was a depressing read, but an enlightening one as well.

Recommended to people outside of evangelicalism who are confused by the violence inside and to people like me who grew up evangelical and don’t know what to do about that.


2 thoughts on “Today I’m Excited About: Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

  1. Tommy Meisel January 13, 2021 / 9:54 am

    Trisha, I understand your feelings and reactions, at least I think I can. There are many aspects of evangelism that disturb me. I find that many who evangelize are convinced that they understand all the subtleties of God and are glad to explain them to you, even though God is so far removed from human thinking that it would be impossible to understand Him so readily.

    I have always wondered why so many Christians (and other faiths as well) wish to pass laws that will restrict the behavior of the “unbelievers”. I remember as a boy growing up in Pennsylvania; the “blue laws” restricted just about any behavior on Sunday except going to church. I wonder what our Jewish friends thought of those laws? We still have some of those laws here in Illinois yet.. car dealers have to close on Sundays for example.

    The belief of many evangelists that they have all the answers leads them to be attracted other folks who also think they have all the answers…and these folks usually need an enemy to justify their own sense of superiority. They need an enemy so they can feel better about themselves. Even nations need enemies to justify their sense of self-righteousness (and to justify funding of the defense establishment).

    You have been through some very profound philosophical changes in these past few years and it must have been very hard for you. It makes sense that hypocrisy offends and confuses you. It is not easy to change. But it is a good sign that you did and you are…you are growing. Don’t stop!


    • Trish January 13, 2021 / 11:01 am

      Tommy, I agree. It always struck me as odd that Christians would demand or expect everyone abide by insider rules. I think you are right that it is connected to a very human impulse to create enemies and Others, because that is how we unite with fellow insiders and feel good about ourselves. I don’t blame the impulse. But the part of Christianity that has always appealed to me is that I see it as a religion that invites its followers to try to live above those kinds of human impulses and seek connection and understanding and love. It’s disappointing to see evangelicals lean so hard into the impulses I feel we are called to fight against.

      I also agree that we would all do better to embrace the fact that we don’t have all the answers. Saying, “I don’t know” is humbling but very important.

      Thank you for your comment, Tommy. I hope you have a good day.


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