Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

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John Wayne wasn’t what one would call a “family values” kind of guy. He was married three times and divorced twice. He was a hard drinker and a chain smoker. Yet Wayne somehow became the kind of manly man that personified what Evangelical Christians and political conservatives held up as aspirational manhood. In her new book, Jesus and John Wayne, Calvin University History Professor Kristin Kobes Du Mez tells the story of how a group of fundamentalist Christians formed the National Association of Evangelicals in the 1940s and how, over the past 75 years, that group became more politically powerful as they preached a message of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism. 

Du Mez clearly and compellingly shows that the present political and religious climate is not just a recent phenomenon. She demonstrates that it has roots that go back to people like James Dobson, Phyllis Schlafly, Oliver North, Jerry Falwell, and even Billy Graham. Extreme views on issues like male headship and female submission soon became mainstream in many evangelical circles. Because Christian media has a significant impact on Christians of many theological stripes, that influence is bigger than it might first appear.

As you read, you’ll find yourself having many “aha” moments where you recognize the names of people in this book but never connect the dots the way Du Mez does. Not only is this book fascinating and eye-opening, it kept me turning pages to see how it all links to the present day. As politics and faith takes center stage again in the United States over the next months, Jesus and John Wayne is a book that will help many of us put current events in historical context. (W.W. Norton)

About the Author

Robert J. Keeley is professor of education at Calvin College and director of distance learning at Calvin Seminary.

See comments (5)


Thanks for drawing attention to this book. I've heard so many recommendations from varied places; I've ordered it and am looking forward to reading it

Thank you for alerting the Banner readers to this very important book! I'm currently reading it and it's very well written - I can hardly put it down - and I'm grateful for the careful attention that is paid to the Christian nationalism which is making deep (and concerning) inroads in the USA.

I concur with Bob Keeley's review, but I'd like to add that as I read through the second half of the book, it struck me that implicit in DuMez's history of Evangelicalism, a reader could easily detect that Christian nationalism edged very close to what we see today as White Nationalism.

So the author of this book is saying there were no Christians who admired America or masculinity prior to the 1950s? Hmmm... Maybe go back to the 1700s and see what Christians were saying back then.

Seems like a book that had a conclusion already in mind, then set out to find evidence of it.

Dan, if you haven’t even read the book, you are hardly in a position to cast doubt on the integrity of the author.