Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I didn’t originally give this book a rating when I marked it “read.” That’s largely because I felt pretty ambivalent about it — things about it drew me towards a high ranking, like 4 or 5-stars; but other things I found more dissatisfactory or more mediocre.
However, given the popularity and influence of this book, I had several folks ask me for my thoughts. So I guess I’ll oblige. And I’ll give the book a balanced 3-starts, which Goodreads describes as “I liked it” [good, above average], to express my general appreciation of the book, its argument, and form, while also taking into consideration my quibbles and hesitancies.
One note: I listened to this book as an audiobook, which always creates a different experience (at least for me) than a more careful read. I’m a visual learner. So when I listen to books I expect I inevitably overlook or don’t absorb some of its details, but nonetheless gain an overall impression of the book. But anyway, that means you should take any critique or quibbles below with a certain grain of salt in case the fault, in this case, lies with the reader (me) and not the book/author.
But allow me to list out some of the thoughts I have in terms of assessment:
(1) I very much agree with and appreciate the overall message of the book. I personally grew up in the orbit of the evangelical world Du Mez is describing. So I know the truth of her thesis not just academically, but also on a personal level from my own experience. I don’t think she uses the term “toxic masculinity.” But (defined in the best possible way) I think this term fits what she’s describing. Her point is that much of evangelicalism is fraught with such a view of masculinity. And that’s very, very true, in my opinion. No push back there.
Integrity matters. If you want to serve as a testimony to Christian ethics, then you’re actually going to need to hold them, and that means holding them with consistency. Hypocrisy and double-standards will effectively serve to mute your witness.
It’s hard to cry out against a sin in one instance when, in another instance, you’ve excused, blown-off, or chosen to overlooked that sin.
What if the sort of “power” and influence Jesus intended for his followers wasn’t one of ends-justify-the-means ethical compromise and political power-plays, but witness to a “revolutionary”-like ethic like that of Mt 5-7, with all the integrity, lowliness, and self-sacrifice involved therein (5:13-16)?
Many advocate ethical compromise for the sake of “the greater good” (or “the lesser of two evils”). But what shall it profit the church if it gains a whole election but loses its witness? What if the church’s witness is the actual means of its impact?
Some evangelicals are saying, “The election is over. What’s done is done. There’s nothing we can do about it now. Besides, maybe he won’t be as bad as you thought. Let’s see what happens.”
If that’s you, I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood folks like myself from the very beginning.
Large swaths of evangelicals defended and/or excused Mr. Trump’s moral corruption and damaging rhetoric — his racism, misogyny, degradation of the handicap, dismissiveness of sexual assault, inciting hatred towards immigrants, prompting fear and callousness towards refugees, etc. Regardless of what type of president Mr. Trump turns out to be, that still happened. That can’t be undone.
You see, for some of us — at least as much as I can speak for myself — our outcry against evangelical support of Trump has never been centrally about the electoral contribution of your vote Tuesday, as if we had some political agenda that now becomes moot after the election (“What’s done is done”). Nor has it ever been about “providing a solution” to a dilemma we never claimed to be addressing in the first place — the nomination of two generally unlikeable candidates.
Our primary concern is and always has been the spiritual condition of evangelicalism, about the church’s witness, integrity, and faithfulness to truth. And that’s something that obviously transcends the election itself. The 2016 election didn’t create (and therefore conclude) the concerning state we now see; it merely exposed it.
Now that some of the tense political posts have subsided a little, allow me to make a sincere appeal to my lesser-of-two-evils, evangelical Christian, Trump-supporter friends:
(1) If Mr. Trump was in fact, as you believed, the lesser of two evils, than I can understand your pleasure that one perceived evil was avoided; but do not rejoice that another — even a perceived lesser — was elected.
(2) Notwithstanding the question of whether it was legitimate in the first place, any appeal to a lesser-of-two-evils argument is now assuredly moot. In other words, one can no longer attempt to justify Mr. Trump by means of an appeal to a perceived worse alternative, because now there is no alternative.
As such, join us as the church in our testimony to truth, compassion, and justice in respectfully calling out this administration if/when it violates our Lord’s ethic to love neighbor. My fear is that in a self-righteous attempt to justify one’s past vote for Trump, many evangelicals will feel it necessary to defend him while in office, and, as Jesus might say, “The latter state will become worse than the former.”