Sunday, October 25, 2020

Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne: "In Reality, Evangelicals Did Not Cast Their Vote [for Trump] Despite Their Beliefs, but Because of Them"

I recently read Kristin Kobes Du Mez's book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (NY: Liveright, 2020), and thought the following passages were significant. Du Mez grew up in the household of a Christian Reformed theologian teaching at Dordt University, her alma mater, and knows the white evangelical world inside out. As her book notes, her own Christian Reformed church has in recent years moved inexorably in the evangelical direction, as have wide swathes of American white churches including the Catholic church — hence Amy Coney Barrett. She knows whereof she speaks, in other words, in Jesus and John Wayne.

Here are passages I underlined:

“But 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. By the time Trump arrived proclaiming himself their savior, conservative white evangelicals had already traded a faith that privileges humility and elevates ‘the least of these’ for one that derides gentleness as the province of wusses. Rather than turning the other cheek, they’d resolved to defend their faith and their nation, secure in the knowledge that the ends justify the means. Having replaced the Jesus of the Gospels with a vengeful warrior Christ, it’s no wonder many came to think of Trump in the same way. In 2016, many observers were stunned at evangelicals’ apparent betrayal of their own values. In reality, evangelicals did not cast their vote despite their beliefs, but because of them” (p. 3).

“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. White evangelicals have pieced together this patchwork of issues, and a nostalgic commitment to rugged, aggressive, militant white masculinity serves as the thread binding them together into a coherent whole. A father’s rule in the home is inextricably linked to heroic leadership on the national stage, and the fate of the nation hinges on both” (p. 4). 

“The diffusion of evangelical consumer culture extends far beyond the orbit of evangelical churches. Cultural evangelicalism has made deep inroads into mainline Christianity, to the point that distinguishing members of a denomination like the United Methodist Church from evangelicals obscures more than it reveals” (p. 5).

“Donald Trump appeared at a moment when evangelicals felt increasingly beleaguered, even persecuted. From the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate to transgender bathroom laws and the cultural sea change on gay marriage, gender was at the heart of this perceived vulnerability” (p. 13).

“For [Billy] Graham, a properly ordered family was a patriarchal one. Because Graham believed that God had cursed women to be under man’s rule, he believes that wives should submit to husbands’ authority. Graham acknowledged that this would come as a shock to certain ‘dictatorial wives,’ and he didn’t hesitate to offer Christian housewives helpful tips: When a husband comes home from work, run out and kiss him. ‘Give him love at any cost. Cultivate modesty and the delicacy of youth. Be attractive.’ Keep a clean house and don’t ‘nag and complain all the time.’ He had advice for men, too. A man was God’s representative—the spiritual head of household, ‘the protector’ and ‘provider of the home.’ Also, husbands should remember to give wives a box of candy from time to time, or an orchid. Or maybe roses” (pp. 26-7).

“By backing away from their support for civil rights, evangelicals like Graham ended up giving cover to more extremist sentiments within the insurgent Religious Right. Today some historians place race at the very heart of evangelical politics, pointing to the fact that evangelical opposition to government-mandated integration predated anti-abortion activism by several years. Others, however—including the vast majority of evangelicals themselves—prefer to point instead to the significance of moral and ‘family values.’ But in many ways, this is a false dichotomy. For evangelicals, family values politics were deeply intertwined with racial politics, and both were connected to evangelicals’ understanding of the nation and its role on the global stage” (pp. 38-9). 

“Within evangelicalism itself, this activism is often depicted as an expression of longstanding opposition to same-sex relationships triggered by the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, but the virulence with which conservative Christians opposed gay rights was rooted in the cultural and political significance they placed on the reassertion of distinct gender roles during those decades. Same-sex relationships challenge the most basic assumptions of the evangelical worldview” (p. 63).

“As evangelicals began to mobilize as a partisan political force, they did so by rallying to defend family values. But family values politics was never about protecting the well-being of families generally. Fundamentally, evangelical ‘family values’ entailed the reassertion of patriarchal authority. At its most basic level, family values politics was about sex and power” (p. 88).

“Billy Graham aided and abetted the southern strategy, advising Republicans on how to make inroads with southern evangelicals who, like him, were birthright Democrats. Southern Baptist pastors, too, switched to the Republican Party earlier than white southerners generally. The Southern Baptist shift to the Republican Party coincided with a ‘conservative resurgence’ within the denomination” (p. 107).

“Among Clinton's evangelical critics, it appears that their concern with Clinton's predatory behavior was more about Clinton than about predatory behavior. Within their own circles, evangelicals didn't have a strong record when it came to defending women against harassment and abuse” (p. 144).

“Among complementarians, other doctrinal commitments seemed to pale in comparison to beliefs about gender, and ideas about male authority and the subordination of women increasingly came to distinguish ‘true evangelicals from pseudo-evangelicals.’ The already mature market for resources on Christian masculinity meant that distribution channels were in place to disseminate conservative teachings on ‘biblical manhood’ far and wide, works that would further orient American evangelicalism around the gender divide” (p. 169).

“Exit polls revealed that 81 percent of white evangelical voters had handed Trump the presidency. Once again, reports of the death of the Religious Right had been greatly exaggerated. The ‘Moral Majority’ had reasserted itself, electing the least moral candidate in memory to the highest office of the land” (pp. 265-6).

“More than economic anxieties, it was the threatened loss of status—particularly racial status—that influenced the vote of white evangelicals [for Trump], and whites more generally. Support for Trump was strongest among those who perceived their status to be most imperiled, those who felt whites were more discriminated against and blacks, Christians than Muslims, and men than women. In short, support for Trump was strongest among white Christian men” (p. 267).

“However, for many evangelicals, Donald Trump did not represent the betrayal of many of the values they had come to hold dear. His testosterone-fueled masculinity aligned remarkably well with that long championed by conservative evangelicals. What makes for a strong leader? A virile (white) man. And what of his vulgarity? Crudeness? Bombast? Even sexual assault? Well, boys will be boys. God-given testosterone came with certain side effects, but an aggressive and even reckless masculinity was precisely what was needed when dealing with the enemy. If you wanted a tamer man, castrate him. Among those who embraced this sort of militant masculinity, such character traits paradoxically testified to Trump’s fitness for the job. Some white evangelicals did end up ‘holding their nose’ to vote for Trump, but for many, he was exactly what they had been looking for” (pp. 268-9).

“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” (p. 271).

“While dominant, the evangelical cult of masculinity does not define the whole of American evangelicalism. It is largely the creation of white evangelicals. The vast majority of books on evangelical masculinity have been written by white men primarily for white men; to a significant degree, the markets for literature on black and white Christian manhood remain distinct. With few exceptions, black men, Middle Eastern men, and Hispanic men are not called to a wild, militant masculinity. Their aggression by contrast, is seen as dangerous, a threat to the stability of home and nation” (p. 301).

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