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)