“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.