A Church Now Conversation
with Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Church Now Conversation Notes

Jesus & John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation 

Kristin Kobes Du Mez

In her book, Kristin tried to show how much things have changed over time.  Religious beliefs and values have changed over time.  She looked at the 19th century when the dominant conception of Christian manhood was one of self restraint.  A militant conception of manhood emerged in the early 20th century.  She also shows that Christian nationalism isn’t a given.  Destabilizing histories help us ask the question of “how did we get to where we are now”.  

During the 2nd World War and the post Cold War Era, she shows how Christian nationalism was very formative during this time. This is an era that was shaped by anti-communism.  Emphasis was placed on men as protectors and providers.  Conservative values were widely held.  In the 1960's, these values started to come under question.  (civil rights movement, feminism, gender roles, Vietnam war and anti-war movement)  People were questioning American goodness and American greatness.  Americans started to question traditional values.  Evangelicals started becoming a partisan political movement. It was a time of partisan realignment.  They perceived themselves to be in opposition to many others and as a force to preserve American goodness/American power/American Christianity.  Part of preserving masculinity/strength/aggression was part of that.  

Popular/consumer culture was important to the formation of evangelical identity.  They wanted to assert their influence through networks/organizations/distribution networks that connected us and take control of popular culture.  They did this with great success. 

The 1990’s is when the cold war came to an end.  Lots of cultural confusion.  By the end of that decade, a re-assertion of conservative and militant conceptions of Christianity happened.

In many cases, ideals that were packaged and sold as Biblical were products of particular historical and cultural moments and need to be understood in that light.  

Kristin’s book has created quite a conversation in a time period of an evangelical reckoning.  There is questioning of the deep divides that have been opened up.  Divides of what it means to be a faithful Christian.  What are Christian values when it comes to the political realm?  People are looking at each other across this divide and wondering how they can believe the way they do.  

Evangelical reckoning is a good thing in a number of ways.  Many people are lamenting division within the church.  Kristin feels there was already a deep division within the church (particularly around race and nation).   This could be a painful step towards more unity.  Good for individuals and Christian institutions to take a deep look at their own values and actions and look at scriptures together.  The more critical eyes we have, the better to see if we are living faithfully according to Biblical teachings.  Institutional reckoning is not happening as much (or at all) due to fear and comfort with the status quo.  This is a very dynamic and unsettled time.  

Q & A:

Q:  What couple pieces of advice do you have for church leaders as they seek to face a past and face a present that may lead into kind of abusive actions?

A:  Be brutally honest with yourself.  If you’re leading, don’t be surprised to find abusive behaviors.  Educate yourself.  Understand this isn’t just about good or bad people but about institutional context that allow bad patterns to continue to happen.  Churches can’t protect and cover it up--need to be open and confront abuse and set up cultures where that doesn’t happen.  Don’t show undue deference.  Put best practices into place.  

Q:  How does Charles Colson fit into what you mention today?

A:  He’s seen as a shining example of justice oriented Christianity.  He was a ring leader in religious right and perpetuating the posture that comes under critique in this book.  

Q:  Comment on how many evangelicals are interacting with or responding to the Biden administration.

A:  Much less of a response because there is much less of a connection there.  

Q:  Comment on reckoning of purity culture of the 1990’s and the pieces that go along with it (sexual ethic, possible abuse)

A:  Right now there is a lot of rejection, bitterness, etc. toward this time period and this is a huge challenge for the church right now to pursue a sexual ethic that is Biblical and not tainted by the past.

Q:  How do you think future historians will look back on this evangelical sorting out or unrest; if you could predict the future, are you hopeful the church can come through it stronger/more representative and what might we need to make that happen?

A:  Trust in God.  The Church is in God’s hands.  Spirit can work through difficult times.  Quite often those are times when there’s a return to faithfulness. White evangelical church has set up many boundaries.  There needs to be a re-sorting right now.  Wonderful opportunity to have a new posture and spend time with Christians who are very different from us and to listen to each other and seek unity.  We need courage, honesty, and grace throughout this.  She is cautiously optimistic.

Q:  What caused you to start the research?  Did you have an agenda?

A:  All historians have an agenda-they all research based on their worldview/positionality.  There’s a very clear argument and it is not hidden.  Calvin students brought masculine Christianity to her attention, which caused her to see connections between American evangelicals, US foreign policy, embrace of militarism, and the Iraq War. She put the project aside for a while, but in 2016 started it up again when she saw what was going on nationally and the deeper history was relevant to the current situation.

Q:  Can deeply committed progressive reformed Christians still be called evangelicals or do we need a new identifier?

A:  She doesn’t insist that there’s one way to define evangelicalism.  Who gets to define it?  Everybody’s making that decision for themselves.  If you want to hold on to that word, it’s kind of rough out there right now.  Ask yourself why you want to hold onto that term.

In conclusion, for RCA & CRC churches, we need to be aware of the ways in which our members are spiritually formed.  There is a rich tradition on which to draw.  You can bring that into conversation with things that come your way.  We need to cross boundaries and listen to voices that are different from our own.  Open ourselves to those conversations and think about who we’ve excluded and make amends.  Think about who we haven’t invited.   This is a time for us to be courageous--not in a militaristic way.  We need to speak truth to power and truth to our neighbors.  Talk across the differences.  Have more transparency and honesty.  Things are not black and white.  Trust that God will hold us together in Christ and we can have these conversations that are long overdue.

**This is a very brief summary.  Please listen to the conversation for a more complete view.

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