Book Review: Jesus and John Wayne
By Kristin Kobes Du Mez
Length: 368 pages
Don't be daunted by it's size. This is the most compelling modern history I've read in a long time. As someone that grew up in evangelical culture and who currently studies Christian nationalism, it was amazing to see Du Mez masterfully connect familiar names and movements like Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Promise Keepers to a larger narrative about the shaping of evangelical politics and culture in the 20th century that once seen cannot be ignored.
Du Mez convincingly argues that the transformation of American society from rural to urban and agrarian to industrial precipitated a change in how manhood was viewed. Instead of valuing "hard work and thrift" the new model emphasized violence and aggressiveness. Further, the redefining of masculinity spawned a movement that believed Christianity, according to Du Mez, was inherently masculine and that Christianity needed to be "re-masculinized." As she weaves her way through the last century, she displays how this idea of masculinity intertwines with nationalism (starting with Billy Sunday and ending with Robert Jeffress), patriarchy in the guise of family values (evangelicals fought the Equal Rights Amendment), and racism (the private and home school movement boomed after Brown v. Board of education).
For those of us living in the evangelical world, Du Mez's work helps shine the light on our culture today. It allows us to investigate and interrogate the roots of ideas that are taken for granted in most evangelical churches and homes. It is an absolute must read for anyone interested in how evangelical culture arrived at its current location and for those interested in dreaming of a new direction for the future.