A Christian college in Michigan hosted an event that told students that the evils of white evangelicals brought rise to the “least-Christian president in American history,” Donald Trump.
Calvin University hosted an event titled “Jesus and John Wayne,” hosted by history and gender studies professor Kristin Kobes Du Mez. The event was based on Kobes Du Mez’s book entitled “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.”
According to the event’s description, the program was about how Donald Trump represents the “fulfillment” of white evangelicals’ most “deeply held values.”
“Challenging the commonly held assumption that the ‘moral majority’ backed Donald Trump for purely pragmatic reasons, ‘Jesus and John Wayne’ reveals that Donald Trump in fact represents the fulfillment, rather than the betrayal, of white evangelicals’ most deeply held values,” the description reads. “This cultural history of American evangelicalism explains why evangelicals rallied behind the least-Christian president in American history and how they have transformed their faith in the process, with enduring consequences for all of us.”
Kobes Du Mez’s lecture was the third in a series of seminars on the theme of “religion, racism, and white supremacy.”
Kobes Du Mez only mentioned at the end of her lecture that she does not define evangelicals as they are typically defined. The entirety of her work ascribes blame to the evangelical community for electing Trump, though her definition does not characterize evangelicals as individuals who place God and the word of the Bible above all.
The crux of Kobes Du Mez’s argument is that “militaristic Christian manhood” created a “patriarchal” “authority” that led to the rise of strong, conservative leaders such as Ronald Reagan, Billy Graham, and Donald Trump. She claims that the embodiment of “Christian masculinity” began with Teddy Roosevelt and white evangelicals’ support of wars.
According to Kobes Du Mez’s lecture, Christianity became about militarism and manhood during the Cold War. The author claims that Communists threatened the freedoms and liberties espoused in Christian teachings, so Christians militarized as a defense mechanism.
The idea of militarized Christianity was allegedly disrupted in the 1960s by the Civil Rights Movement, the feminist movement, and the anti-Vietnam war efforts. Kobes Du Mez claimed that the counterculture movements “struck at the heart of white patriarchal authority,” which made them unpopular to evangelicals.
She further blamed the late Billy Graham for introducing what she calls “Christian nationalism” and “gender traditionalism” into Christianity. According to Kobes Du Mez, Graham played an outsized role in promoting the gender roles that males are masculine and females and feminine.
“Billy Graham is also at the heart of kind of establishing this new ‘Evangelical identity’ that resonates widely. Billy Graham embraces Christian nationalism. That’s right at the heart of this evangelism and gender traditionalism,” Kobes Du Mez said. “The very distinct gender roles that celebrate [the] masculine role of provider and protector and a feminine role of being protected and being submissive and very very feminine.”
At one point in her lecture, Kobes Du Mez said that she stopped working on her book because she found the emphasis on masculinity in Christianity to be “incredibly disturbing” and “extreme.”
Her interest in the subject was reinvigorated during the 2016 election cycle when she was studying why white evangelicals dislike Hillary Clinton. Specifically, she was intrigued by how evangelicals could “betray their values” and vote for Donald Trump in the wake of the Access Hollywood tapes. She concluded that evangelical theology leads Christians to support abusive, strong men.
“In the wake of the Access Hollywood tape, it suddenly dawned on me. We’ve seen this before, we’ve seen this so many times before,” Kobes Du Mez said. “I had files on it of evangelicals who embraced and supported abusive leaders, who embraced strong men, who are rugged, who are following this Warrior Christ, who would fight to protect Christianity, to protect their interests.”
Towards the end of the lecture, Kobes Du Mez claimed that John Wayne came into the title of her book because he was considered an American idol of “Christian masculinity.”