Jesus And John Wayne

I just finished reading Jesus and John Wayneby Kristen Kobus Du Mez. It was a revelation.

Du Mez clearly knows of what she writes. She’s a professor of history at Calvin University and the author of A New Gospel for Women. She has written for publications ranging from the secular Washington Post to religiously-focused outlets including  Christianity Today, Christian Century, and Religion & Politics, among other publications.

Before reading Jesus and John Wayne, I was well aware that, in America, Evangelical Christianity had “evolved” into Christian Nationalism. (You would have to be willfully blind and deaf to miss the racial and anti-Semitic bigotry that animates its adherents). What I had missed–what I had utterly failed to recognize– was the degree to which misogyny and male dominance have become central to whatever it is that the Evangelical belief system has become.

Du Mez has marshaled reams of evidence, tracing how the Jesus of Evangelical imagination has morphed from the “wimpy, feminine” prophet my  Christian friends and family members continue to worship into a “manly, dominant” John-Wayne-like warrior.

Du Mez shares data showing that today’s White Evangelical Protestants support behaviors previously considered un-Christian, like preemptive war. Today’s Evangelicals condone the use of torture, and favor the death penalty–and they do so in percentages far exceeding those of other religious communities.

The core reality documented in this very readable, very worrisome book, is summed up by the following observation:

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.

The book explains that what has been seen as a conundrum–the overwhelming support of supposedly “family values” Christians for a man who had been married three times, had cheated on his wife with a porn star, whose language was crude and belligerent, and whose biblical knowledge was non-existent. (According to polling,  81% of Evangelicals voted for Trump in 2020.)  As Du Mez reports,

Evangelical support for Trump was no aberration, nor was it merely a pragmatic choice. It was, rather, the culmination of evangelicals’ embrace of militant masculinity, an ideology that enshrines patriarchal authority and condones the callous display of power, at home and abroad.

One of the virtues of Du Mez’ book is her explanation of the significant role played by centralized “Christian” (Evangelical) publishing and media in the  formation  of a patriarchal culture.

An article about the book in The Washington Post pointed to another of its strengths: its “deep dive” into the hucksters and con men (and women) who latched onto the movement and encouraged its embrace of “warrior” Jesus.

The book also described a pattern of abuse and its coverup by several mainstream evangelical leaders, many of whom are still in leadership. Du Mez contended that evangelical leaders’ emphasis on militant masculinity created a culture where abuse was able to flourish and often kept secret, an argument that has both caught fire and created controversy.

Du Mez, who teaches at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich., wrote that mainstream evangelical leaders such as John Piper, James Dobson and John Eldredge, preached a “mutually reinforcing vision of Christian masculinity — of patriarchy and submission, sex and power.”

“The militant Christian masculinity they practiced and preached did indelibly shape both family and nation,” Du Mez wrote. Russell Moore, now a public theologian for Christianity Today magazine, said that many evangelicals are trying to understand recent developments like Trump’s rise and revelations of sexual abuse in evangelical spaces.

Moore, a theologian, ethicist, and preacher whose refusal to endorse the embrace of Trump led to his ouster as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission  (the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention), was one of the few major figures to emerge from the book with his integrity intact. He is quoted as saying that Du Mez has shown that “much of what has passed for evangelicalism over the past decades was more John Wayne than Jesus” and that some of the characters in her book who were once thought of as “fringe” turned out not to be fringe at all.

Jesus and John Wayne joins The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones as essential to understanding the transformation of Evangelical Christianity and recognizing why its control of the GOP is so dangerous. Both books–together with a veritable mountain of social science research–document the transformation of a significant number of White Christian Americans into a cult, with members who are hysterically resisting cultural and demographic change– especially the looming loss of White Male Christian privilege and dominance.

I’d previously understood the “White” part; this book explained the “Male” part.


  1. Christian evangelicals interpret the Bible literally. Patriarchy has long been a core belief of these folks despite what other parts of the New Testament say. Their seminaries reject modern Biblical criticism.

  2. Christian evangelicals do not interpret the Bible literally. If they tried, the hypocrisy would suck them into ether like a dust storm in a black hole. They interpret snippets that reinforce their bigotry literally, and ignore the rest.

  3. Correct, David. I also think that these raving lunatics who profess to know what Jesus thought are very weak in their own masculinity and are afraid that they might be…something different. Those “leaders” who fear their own sexuality pour this B.S. into the equally fearful fools who buy into evangelical rubbish.

    Once again, George Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant” written ten years ago, defined this coming storm of idiocy. Once again hyper-Christianity comes to the rescue of sanity and any sort of grace attached to faith. They simply fear their own lies.

  4. Much of what Evangelical Christianity has become today can be traced back to the 1990’s Promise Keepers. That group sought white masculine power. At that time they were driven by a paranoia about what they perceived as the demise of the family and the rise of the Muslim Religion. They used the Bible with slick certainty as these young white males brought their beliefs into the the work space, into the world of finance and finally into the government. Quietly, in hushed tones behind closed doors, they organized and set themselves up in positions of power and authority where their view of the world, and only their view of the world, became the dominate reality not only for themselves but for a major political party. They could excuse any action by themselves because they were fulfilling their “manifest destiny” in the name of God. And there are millions of them.

  5. Don’t you just love the Christians who don’t follow any of Jesus’ teachings?

  6. Archie Bunker’s version of Jesus and John Wayne (The Duke) as the symbol of the perfect “American” fits into today’s Trumpist Republican evangelical White Nationalist governing which is still a danger to our democracy. The movie “Trumbo”; the story of movie scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo and others in Hollywood who were given prison sentences as being unAmerican, give a clear picture of exactly who and what John Wayne’s true character was, along with gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.

    Archie’s belief that woman was created from man’s rib, “a cheaper cut”, was laughable but today is the basis of “…the degree to which misogyny and male dominance have become central to whatever it is that the Evangelical belief system has become.”

    Most “Christian” religions today have no connection to Jesus’ teachings as a Jewish Rabbi and John Wayne was no American hero and was a lousy actor.

    “Both books–together with a veritable mountain of social science research–document the transformation of a significant number of White Christian Americans into a cult, with members who are hysterically resisting cultural and demographic change– especially the looming loss of White Male Christian privilege and dominance.”

  7. Evangelicals are working very hard to invalidate any of the good things coming from Christianity. Then, that’s what happens to most unsubstantiated myths.

  8. The disciples carried swords. Peter cut off the ear of Malchus. Jesus restored it. Good that the disciples didn’t have pistols. Oh, but Jesus, the so-called Prince of Peace would have healed that wound or raised him from the dead.

  9. This explains the popularity of the large flags that depict trump as a bare-chested, overly-muscled “strongman” with an automatic weapon. I never understood why anyone would want a image that was so obviously “photoshopped”.

  10. Worked eight years in central Hollywood and got to know people who worked with John Wayne, including Andy Fenady, who produced a few films starring “John Wayne”. There was a much softer personality off screen than what was portrayed to create an iconic silver nitrate hero fans wanted him to be and expected in real life. So much for the far right religious fans of the Jesus created in their own image of themselves. It is outrageous. It is OK to be entertained by fantasy. It is not OK to believe in fantasy. I am a white male Christian guided by the Greatest Commandment and the second into it: to love thy neighbor. And I would have loved to call the real man behind the actor my friend.

  11. Norris, it’s nice to hear from someone who knew the actor behind the film version of John Wayne. Unfortunately, it is only the film version of the man that the majority of the world knows. No wonder that so many actors lose themselves in Hollywood, turn to drugs, dangerous lifestyles and end up destroying themselves.

  12. Patrick, thank you for your comment. I’m a Christian of the Episcopal flavor, and we are taking the word Christian back! Both noun and adjective.

  13. The real danger of the growth of the Evangelical movement is that they would love to do away with the Constitution and convert the country into a modern equivalent of the Puritan community in the 17th Century, which would be essentially what goes on in Iran and Saudi Arabia today.

  14. Indiana certainly has its share of evangelical preachers and congregations that preach male dominance and power over females. Those of us that live in rural areas are well aware of these congregations and their abuse of females.

    If you subscribe to Netflix a series called The Family is a documentary about a religious conservatism organization known as The Fellowship Foundation whose real purpose and goal is world power. Many members of Congress belong to it because they believe in meshing the church and state. If you don’t subscribe to Netflix the series is based on the book “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power”.

  15. I am pretty sure Jesus was a bleeding heart liberal. He was also a Jew who was most likely trained by Buddhist monks.

    These people aren’t Christians. They’re just ignorant assholes who claim to be Christians.

  16. Since I did not see my perspective represented in blog post or comments, I thought I’d put my view here. I’ve arm-chair studied the Bible (NT in it’s original language), its history, cultural setting, and authors for 54 years.

    The Bible is obsolete, abused, and incorrect as a spiritual guide. It was collected and authorized by a group of mostly Pharisaical Paulist bishops who all insisted that their ideas be included. 13 books of the NT are attributed to Paul, but only 6 are his … and those are edited by the bishops before inclusion. This group of 4th Century Pharisees ensured that the story of Christ (which never gets translated, and means “annointed”[by the Holy Spirit]) is locked firmly into the traditions of the OT Sanhedrin.

    The NT is largely an encomium, basically a eulogy of exaggerated praise that was usually written for Greek and Roman generals, who also walked on water and performed miracles.

    It’s time to write a modern religious text based on science and reality. Michael Dowd starts us off in that direction with his book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World. He also has an engaging TedX talk on YouTube: “Reality reconciles science and religion: Michael Dowd.” Blessings!

  17. Thinking back to the Jesus pictures of my childhood (blonde, blue-eyed) I realize that one of Jesus’s most endearing qualities is that he looks and acts JUST LIKE YOU!

    Such a convenience, right?

  18. Christopher, with all due respect, that’s a load of crap! A new book written? And who’s to write it? You?!? Lol, righto. Sounds a little like self idolatry to me.

    In Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, he actually talks about the man of lawlessness and the composite man, fervently, to the congregation in Thessalonica. These were The Men who would bring the apostasy, these were the men who would perform signs, and speak grandiose things, all the while, knowingly misleading the flock so to speak.

    The apostle John was dismayed because he knew with the death of the last apostle, the apostasy would start! And it absolutely did at the Nicene council meeting, and there were more than one! But the main change was in 325 ad. That’s when the trinitarian doctrine, the dogma of heaven and hell, and, the hierarchy of the church began to deeply dive into secular politics. The Christmas holiday, the Easter holiday, and all of those other holidays were never mentioned in scripture, that came later. It has nothing to do with the New Testament! Emperor Constantine accepted all of these things because it scared the people, aligned with the pagan holidays, and he hoped it would unite his kingdom/government. With the agreement to these new manufactured dogma, emperor Constantine gave the church leaders all of their money that was confiscated, all of the land that was confiscated, and gave them power in government. Kind of like the Pharisees and Sadducees of the Sanhedrin had power over the jews. Presently, they call the apostasy christianity, but, it really is not.

    Back to Paul,
    Why would the apostle Paul endorse political positions anyway? In Romans the 13th chapter, which Paul wrote, he talks about the difference between man’s law and God’s law. So if it was all the same, why make a difference?

    And, as far as John Wayne versus Jesus christ? Well, the way Jesus Christ was depicted in all of the early artwork, a wimpy long-haired scraggly highly effeminate white guy, that’s how Christian Caucasian men thought of themselves I suppose.

    John Wayne was actually a coward and a bigot, he didn’t like black folks, and he actually made it clear on Johnny Carson one evening. He tolerated Latinos because he liked the way the women looked I suppose. And he was a coward, he wouldn’t join the military because he said he was needed for the propaganda at home, lol! I’m just wondering about all of the other leading Men in Hollywood at that time. Most of them joined the military. So there you go, a cowardly bigot, can’t get much more of an antichrist than that.

    Jesus Christ was a jew, he was basically a construction worker. Hardly wimpy hardly Caucasian and hardly effeminate! His apostles were responsible for writing the new testament. Matthew brings first hand witness to Christ and his teachings. Of course there was no New testament at the time, so Jesus Christ always quoted from the Hebrew scriptures. Many of his teachings were directly from the Hebrew scriptures.

  19. John Wayne (me) vs Jesus (we).

    The decision that all of us make between me and we is one of the great dilemmas of life. The evolution of white man religions came (paradoxically from brown Jews) two millenniums ago and brought about over a long time the Age of Enlightenment. Cooperation. Society. The big We. That was the end of the Big Me, aristocracy, or so we (by that I mean me) thought. How can the benefits of that ever be debated again?

    John Wayne, among many others, was the re-creation of the Big Me through entertainment media. Not that that was the intention. The line from John Wayne to Vladimir Putin/Donald Trump is meandering. But then, so is the line from Jesus of Nazareth to John Wayne. That’s the nature of culture and influencers.

    What would have been the fate of religion if Facebook had always existed?

  20. “Conclusion”

    “The meaning of the term “Ashkenaz” and the geographical origins of AJs and Yiddish are some of the longest standing questions in history, genetics, and linguistics. In our previous work we have identified “ancient Ashkenaz,” a region in northeastern Turkey that harbors four primeval villages whose names resemble Ashkenaz. Here, we elaborate on the meaning of this term and argue that it acquired its modern meaning only after a critical mass of Ashkenazic Jews arrived in Germany. We show that all bio-localization analyses have localized AJs to Turkey and that the non-Levantine origins of AJs are supported by ancient genome analyses. Overall, these findings are compatible with the hypothesis of an Irano-Turko-Slavic origin for AJs and a Slavic origin for Yiddish and contradict the predictions of Rhineland hypothesis that lacks historical, genetic, and linguistic support (Table 1).”

    In case more than me was wondering.

  21. As the apparent loss of cultural clout, and I believe it is much more than apparent, continues, one can expect to see these
    folks act more, and more, like a wild animal feeling cornered, aka: increasingly flailing and vicious.
    I’m not going to echo the well put criticisms of the massive cult, but will note that they, like any cult, live in their very own bubble,
    protected from, and indifferent to, outside influence. But, that is not saying anything new.
    In my view, religion is little more than culturally supported delusion, in the first place. I can appreciate that people, throughout history,
    have felt a need to know “What’s it all about, how did we get here?” So there are origin stories all over the place. I’m wearing a tee-shirt
    bought at the NY museum of Natural History show, of years ago, called “From Totems to Turquoise.” It has a beautiful reproduction
    of “The” Raven of Native American origin myth:
    “A Northwest Coast Native Myth: In northern Northwest Coast mythology, Raven is the powerful figure who transforms the world. Stories tell how Raven created the land, released the people from a cockle shell, and brought them fire. Raven stole the light and brought it out to light up the world.”
    We, in our Eurocentric world view have no trouble calling this a myth. Just as we call the ancient Greek and Roman beliefs
    If humanity survives this century, and thrives onward, the OT, the NT, and the John Wayne myths will be seen in that light with all the others. Withsome luck themyth of Trump, and his Rambo-with-a-rocket-launcher-image will disappear much sooner than that.
    But, do recall, that not all that long ago, the Evangelicals were all over him, anointing him as the latest “Chosen One.”

  22. Robert P. Jones’ “White Too Long,” also is outstanding in its analysis of the roots of evangelicalism in the Confederacy and subsequently.

  23. All of this is made real in the Evangelical Christian sphere of the Right’s “ecosystem”. Two year’s ago I had to do some deep research into mostly exurban, not rural, parts of Texas with a focus on non-profit, faith, education and business institutions. I was shocked at how many were just “about” everything in this blog today.

    In many places, there seemed to be as many private schools as public schools, all, no doubt, financed with state-paid school vouchers. Many, many churches – a lot of Mega size. Many, many non-profits, especially ones offering “pregnancy counseling”, drug counseling, mental health counseling – some clearly church-affiliated. It was like another world…

  24. I like reality,in my own world. im a non believer,and as i said before, religion has its place and moral value, unfortunatly,its theology is how one defines it. which,well the subject today. ive had my run ins with evangs and such, but as a response, Jesus never did kill or dispise anyone, for his own needs..

  25. “It is not OK to believe in fantasy. I am a white male Christian…”

    Religion is a control mechanism.

    I also think it’s a mental disease caused by toxoplasmosis, spread by cats..

    Ants can be infected by a germ that causes them to climb as high as they can, so ruminants can eat them with the grass and complete another part of their life cycle.

    I’m a secular humanist. Speak science to me.

  26. News from the younger generation:

    Everything above is outdated, as it is written assuming that religion is still relevant. Religion exists to persuade stupid people to behave themselves. Americans under fifty years old today will have less need for this. What we are experiencing now, from Trump to right wing “christians,” is the last gasp of the old way, the pathetic attempts to prevent the inevitable death of a toxic culture.

    — As spoken by a young person, translated by an old person for the understanding of old people

  27. To “Over it” – got news for you…young people (and others) are not persuaded by religion (or anything else) to behave. Anyone who listens to everyday language, watches massive/frequent speeding and running red lights/stop signs, etc. is living it.

    If there is no religion (even “secularism”), why not just “behave” anyway we like? Think these days that is called FREEDOM…

  28. Pete,

    It really isn’t difficult to see what they are getting at. The Jews were in Babylon when the Medes and Persians conquered the Babylonian empire. Then took Babylon as their winter de facto capital along with Shushan which was a former Elamite City which they used for administrative policy making and enforcement! The Jews who were captive in Babylon at the time, were allowed to return to jerusalem. But many Jews who were born in captivity ended up staying with the Persians. There were Babylonian proselytes, there were Mede proselytes, there were Persian proselytes, all individuals that practiced the Jewish religion but were not considered Jewish.

  29. Pete – I generally like your posts, but sorry – the scholarship cherry picked and smacks of the “oh the Jews are Khazars”, they have nothing to do with the biblical people and aren’t who they say they are – Don’t try to define me by one paper –

    Ponder this – the call to grace after meals in Yiddish
    Rabbosai, Mir vellen Bentchen
    Rabbosai – Hebrew
    Mir – Middle German
    Vellen – Modern German
    Bentchen – Old French
    Pick you theory – maybe Jews (from the country Judea) displaced by the Romans to the south of France, who migrated to Germany and then eastward, picking up Slavic words
    I leave one citation, from a quick search –
    Jacobs, Neil G. (2005). Yiddish: a Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-521-77215-X. – defines Yiddish as deriving from Middle High German, as is Modern German

    Note – my mother was able to handle herself in Zurich by speaking Yiddish to their Swiss Deutsch; She couldn’t have done that in a Slavic speaking nation.

  30. Thanks for the tip, Sheila. I shall read the book.
    Jimmy Carter was an Evangelical. I think we are confusing ourselves.
    All Fundamentalist are Evangelicals, but not all Evangelicals are Fundamentalists. To set the record straight, it has been pointed out in other competent books by competent researchers and seasoned authors that it is the Fundamentalists who are the problem. Let’s not add to the confusion here please.

  31. I think you are being unfair to John Wayne. He was never bigoted, nor was he ever cruel to an innocent person.

  32. @Pete, what *exactly* are you trying to say that your “conclusion” proves? That because the Ashkenazi Jews (not even remotely the only Jews on the planet — try “Sephardi” for a comparison) appear to trace their ancestry to Jews who lived in the Babylonian exile and who later migrated to Eastern Europe, that there is no reason to claim that any Jews have ever lived anywhere else and thus that Jesus wasn’t Jewish? Or something else?

    What or whom exactly are you trying to delegitimize here? And why?

    If Jesus was a historical figure living in modern-day Israel (as opposed to merely being a composite figure made up to tell a story, which might also be true, and I have no strong opinions either way on the topic), he would have fit in just fine with the other Jews who were living in that land at that time. There were a lot of variations and local groups all claiming that they had figured out the “right” way to be Jewish. And the Jewish tradition continues to embrace quite a lot of internal diversity (“both these and those are the words of the living God”).

  33. @John Sorg, if someone is a Jewish proselyte, they’re Jewish. At least under Jewish law. We consider someone who has converted to Judaism as having always been Jewish. Not sure what your point is.

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