"Patriarchal Power and Evangelical Myth-Making with Professor Kristin Kobes Du Mez" Transcript
Season 1, Episode 10
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: I initially kind of understood the narrative to be something like, evangelicals were radicalized politically, or they voted for Donald Trump because they were just so afraid. Historically, I came to see that, in many ways, we had to flip the script- that it wasn't fear that engendered militancy, but in many cases, the militancy was there first. And then leaders actively stoked fear in the hearts of their followers in order to justify and consolidate their own power.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]
Suzie Lahoud: Welcome to Shake the Dust- leaving colonized faith for the Kingdom of God, a podcast of KTF Press. I'm Suzie Lahoud here with Jonathan Walton and Sy Hoekstra.
Jonathan Walton: Our guest today is Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of history and gender studies at Calvin university. She holds a PhD from the University of Notre Dame and her research focuses on the intersection of gender, religion, and politics.
She's written for the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News, Religion News Service, Christianity Today, and been interviewed by NPR, CBS, the BBC, and all these other wonderful places. Her most recent book is the New York Times bestselling Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, which is now available in paperback.
Now we talked to her about that book; the history of white evangelical patriarchal politics; what it was like writing the book; how Christian patriarchy works differently for BIPOC and disabled men; the book she's writing now on evangelical femininity called Live, Laugh, Love; and a whole lot more. Sit down, relax, and enjoy this episode.
Sy Hoekstra: Just a reminder, if you like this show, the best way to support us is to go to KTFPress.com and subscribe to our blog there. That gets you our weekly newsletter with resources to help you leave colonized faith for the Kingdom of God, bonus episodes of this show, and writing from the three of us. It also supports other projects like our future book projects.
If you're not in a position to do that, then go ahead and hit the subscribe button on this podcast; follow us @KTFPress on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter; tell your friends about us; give this show a rate and review. Any of those things, all those things are extremely helpful to us, and we really appreciate it.
Also, remember to send in your questions, written or in voice memo form, to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're going to have a couple of episodes in future where we're sort of digesting some of the stuff that we've been hearing from all these incredible guests. And we would love to hear your questions so we can talk about them and talk about the stuff that you want to. Thank you so much!
Suzie Lahoud: Now that that's out of the way, let's get to it. Here's our interview with Professor Du Mez.
[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in briefly, then fades out.]
Suzie Lahoud: Professor Du Mez, thank you so much for joining us on Shake the Dust today!
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Oh, thanks for having me.
Suzie Lahoud: Well, we're just so grateful to have you on. And just to give listeners a sense of your book, Jesus and John Wayne, and kind of what it's about: you trace the history of white evangelical conceptions of masculinity from the forties up until the present day, and your conclusion is that Donald Trump was a logical choice for a lot of evangelicals to elect as president because he represented and embodied that picture of masculinity.
And you start in the mid-20th century and write “it was in the 1940s and 1950s that a potent mix of patriarchal ‘gender traditionalism,’ militarism, and Christian nationalism coalesced to form the basis of a revitalized evangelical identity. With Billy Graham at the vanguard, evangelicals believed that they had a special role to play in keeping America Christian, American families strong, and the nation secure. The assertion of masculine power would accomplish all these goals.”
So that's just one sort of powerful quote summing up what you talk about. And then you describe how these ideas were passed on for the next 80 years and how they were shaped by important political and social movements.
Would you say that that's a fair sort of 30,000-foot view of the book? And is there more that you would add to that, just to again, give our listeners kind of a bite-sized piece of what this is all about.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: No, that's, I mean, that's a great choice. That's a great quote. I think that that does get right to the heart of the history here. You know, I think one thing I would add on top of that is one of the things that Jesus and John Wayne does that I think is different from a lot of previous histories of evangelicalism, is that it takes popular culture very seriously.
And so a lot of, you know, studies of evangelicalism up to this time have kind of focused on intellectual history, on theology, on what was going on in elite institutions. And this is much more so focused on ordinary evangelicals and on evangelical consumer culture. And I think that's one of the reasons why this book is resonating so widely with ordinary evangelicals because, you know, I hear from so many who just say, you know, some version of, “This is the story of my life.”
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.
Jonathan Walton: So, that resonance was not lost on me either. I thoroughly felt like I'm reading about how I was discipled in college. And so, as you write in the introduction to your book, you write about growing up in Sioux City, Iowa; and then attending Dordt College; and then frequently participating in worship services where Trump gave his famous, or infamous, speech about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue to the delight of the people present; just like clapping. And then we come to find out they voted overwhelmingly for him in 2016, and, as we know now, they didn't much depart from that in 2020.
And so you also write that when 2016 came around, you no longer recognized yourself as evangelical. And so this podcast is about, it's called Shake the Dust, it’s about leaving things, it’s about stepping out and going somewhere new because of Jesus and to be closer to him. So what changed for you in the midst of these things?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Yeah. You know, I think that I always had kind of one foot in, and one foot out of evangelicalism because I did grow up in this subculture, ethnic and religious subculture. I actually grew up in Sioux Center, not Sioux City. So Sioux Center is a small town about an hour up the road. So I need to clarify that, but, and you know, it was this Dutch immigrant community. My mom was an immigrant from the Netherlands, my dad an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church, a theology professor.
And so my religious identity was Reformed- confessionally Reformed, Dutch Reformed, and very much over against American evangelicalism. That said, looking back, I can see how deeply I was also shaped by popular evangelicalism because there was one bookstore in my small town, and it was a Christian bookstore. That's where we got all the birthday gifts. And I grew up listening to Christian music and only Christian music- Top 40 was sinful. And, you know, went to youth group. And was immersed in this kind of popular evangelical culture without even realizing it. And so again, kind of one foot in, one foot out. My identity wasn't wholly evangelical, but I was shaped by the cultural values.
And then when it came to 2016, yeah, I was watching Donald Trump visit my alma mater, you know, Dordt College. I grew up just a few blocks from the college- that's where my dad taught. And I was watching this play out and, you know, that's where he gave his infamous, “I could shoot anyone on Fifth Avenue; would not lose any supporters” speech. That was also one of the first times that he expressly appealed to evangelical voters. And I remember thinking at the time, “He doesn't know where he is. Dordt's not evangelical. Dordt's not Liberty University.” You know, “He didn't, his team didn't do their research.” You know, “We're not who they think, who they think we are here.”
And then I was looking at the live stream, and I was trying to see faces when people would turn around in the crowd and say, you know, “Who was there?” cause I heard the cheering, and I thought, you know, I didn't recognize anybody there. I mean that quite literally. I didn't recognize people I knew in the crowd. So I was like, “Who even are these people?” And so I think even then I wanted to tell myself, you know, “They came in from outside of Sioux Center.” “These are not,” you know, “I don't know where these people are coming from. These aren't my people.” And then, of course, they were, and we saw Sioux County, Iowa voted in great numbers for Donald Trump- higher than the infamous 81%. I think it came in around 86% in my county.
And so yeah, I had to kind of reckon with, you know, what, who am I, and what has become of my tradition? And I came to see how this evangelical culture really had permeated my own theological tradition, and my own community in many ways. And I could see that happening as a historian, and I could see that happening in real life as well.
Sy Hoekstra: So I guess, with that background in mind, we would also really like to know, like, was this book difficult for you to write because you're writing about, you know, a lot of oppressive things that have happened in what may not have been exactly your tradition, but it was, you know, in the culture that you're a part of.
And, I mean, some of the stuff you write about is, honestly, quite dark. And, you know, especially with you- you're sitting there doing all the research, reading through all of this stuff, not really having any idea whether or not your book is going to be successful or have the impact that it has had. How was that for you? Was that hard?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: You know, I gave very little thought to the impact of this book as I was writing it. I was just really, really set on getting things right. I was just set on telling this story. When I thought of the reception of the book, I actually rarely thought about positive reception. I was just thinking about how many people would hate me and how bad it would get. So I really didn't, it caught me a bit off guard the popular reception with the book, to be honest.
It was hard to write. It was, on the one hand, I mean, I've been, I'd started this research more than 15 years earlier and then set it aside. So what that means is, I had kept my eye on this community and on some of these tendencies for a long time. And I've watched what was happening in terms of this militant masculinity, in terms of sexual abuse in evangelical spaces, in terms of coverups. Long before #MeToo and #ChurchToo were a thing, you know, this was all on the blogosphere, if you cared to look.
And so I was, in some ways, the writing process itself was cathartic to put this all into words, and to really hold evangelicals to account. It, honestly, felt very empowering to write this narrative and, which doesn't mean it also didn't have it’s difficult stretches. Really the research and writing of that final chapter, “Evangelical Mulligans: A History,” where it's, you know, really reveals the extent of sexual abuse and coverups within evangelicalism- that was incredibly hard. It was hard to research. And then I really, really wanted to make sure I got the stories right, and that I dealt with the survivor’s accounts with respect and integrity, and that I could use them for the purposes that they would want them used for.
And so I felt a real burden with that chapter. And then, of course, the stories there are devastating. And so every time I edited it, I hated it. I really, really, I, you know, I’d get all the way through the book, almost, on a read, on an edit, and then think, I’d just like run up against that chapter and it was, I hated it. I asked my editor more than once, “Does this really have to be in here?” And each time he's like, “Yeah, it does.”
But I will also say I had three research assistants who helped me research this book and they were phenomenal student researchers- students at Calvin from within this culture, one in particular from very deep within this culture, and they were amazing. And so I think we were a community for each other and we really helped each other kind of through some of this really dark research.
Suzie Lahoud: Wow. Yeah, I have to say, reading this book, I was sharing this with Sy and Jonathan earlier, so when I first started it, one, I was just so impressed by the massive amount of work that went into it. And I just love the way that you get into the history and unmask these mechanisms of, like you said, the popular culture and all of that. I had just never seen anything like that so clearly laid out. And so it was really clarifying for me as a woman who also grew up in evangelicalism. But then I, you know, put the book down, went to bed, and dreamt about your book the entire night. And it wasn't exactly nightmares, but I woke up and I realized, I'm really angry. And I'm angry because, I think, the thing that, you know, most breaks my heart and I think should most break our hearts is when we, as Christians, as people who claim to be the people of God, who claim to follow Christ, deface the image of God in other people.
And growing up under that, I mean, I'm angry for my, you know, 13, 14, 15 year-old self praying, because I so desperately loved Jesus, you know, “God- you are the most important thing in my life. I just need to know, am I really a second-class citizen in your kingdom?” You know, “Do I really have a voice?” “How do I exist in my own body without shame?” And so, again, what you write is just so clear and so powerful and just exposes so much that needs to be exposed. And so one, I mean, just thank you for all of the work and even emotional labor that went into that.
But to kind of pivot a little bit to sort of, a broader take more than just kind of my own personal reaction, we talk on this show about leaving colonized faith. And part of that exercise is trying to identify the ways that our beliefs uphold and perpetuate the use of power to oppress people. So can you give our listeners an overview of some of the ways that evangelicals have used this vision of masculinity that you trace in your book to consolidate and wield, not just power interpersonally, but political power?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Yeah. You know, ultimately, this is a book about power. That's what it comes down to- the relationship between Christianity and power. And the story that I tell it's, by elevating this model of warrior masculinity as the ideal of Christian manhood, it ends up not just shaping visions of what it is to be a Christian man, although very much that, but it ends up also shaping ideas of Christianity itself- what it is to be a Christian, a follower of Christ. It ends up distorting images of Jesus, the Jesus of the gospels. You can see this happening in somebody like Mark Driscoll, right. Who describes Jesus as this warrior with tattoos down his leg charging into battle on horseback wielding a bloody sword, setting off to slay his enemies.
And, you know, that is just so counter biblical in terms of the Jesus of the gospels who divests himself of power. And that's what's so radical about Christianity. And we have all of these teachings of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love your enemies.” “Turn the other cheek.” We have the Beatitudes. We have the fruit of the spirit, you know. This is really what is so counter-cultural about Christianity.
And instead, with this warrior masculinity, and the kind of militant faith that is built around it, it really, that's the corruption of the faith that I am talking about in the subtitle. So it also really requires and perpetuates an “us versus them” mentality, right, where this kind of language of war- it requires enemies. So somebody like John Eldredge writes, you know, “God is a Warrior God, and men are made in his image. Every man needs a battle to fight.” Well, if you need a battle, you need enemies. And so you're constantly on the lookout for enemies, or you're creating enemies.
And, you know, I think one of the big kind of “aha” moments for me as I was researching this book was, I initially kind of understood the narrative to be something like what I was hearing a lot of pundits describe and evangelicals themselves- that evangelicals were radicalized politically, or they voted for Donald Trump because they were just so afraid. You know, they were afraid of demographic decline; of, you know, the religious liberties; and there's this whole list. Always a list. And historically I came to see that, in many ways, we had to flip the script. That it wasn't fear that engendered militancy, but in many cases, the militancy was there first and then leaders actively stoked fear in the hearts of their followers in order to justify and consolidate their own power. And once that clicked for me, it made so much sense of people like Jerry Falwell senior, of people like Mark Driscoll. It made sense of those fake ex-Muslim terrorists post 9/11.
Sy Hoekstra: That was wild.
Jonathan Walton: That was on some other level. I was like, “Whoa!”
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Yes. That was.
Sy Hoekstra: Just in case people like me, who haven't heard of the fake ex-Muslim terrorists.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Yeah, quick overview. This is, it's such a bizarre story. And I first learned about these guys because they visited my college campus, and I write about that in this book. It was actually one of my colleagues, Doug Howard, a historian of the Ottoman Empire, who raised some objections to these guys who were… So in the years after September 11, there were a whole slew of supposedly ex-Muslim terrorists. So former terrorists who had converted to Christianity and they were all over the place on the evangelical speaking circuit, supported by institutions, organizations like Focus on the Family, CBN, the SBC. And they were just riling up audiences, warning them of the dangers of radical Islam, of how Muslims want to kill them. Like very specifically wanting to kill, not just Americans, but American Christians and American evangelicals and their families. And it turns out, all of these guys were frauds, like complete frauds. They were not former terrorists. Some of them not even really former Muslims. And, I mean, that was bad enough, but what was, what was really jarring was when I came to see that these organizations knew that and continued to support these quote unquote “ministries” long after they knew that these guys were frauds.
Jonathan Walton: So full confession, my master's degree is an intellectual history of Jerry Falwell. Yeah, fun times. And then my second level research was a capstone on the connection between right-wing evangelicalism, particularly Jerry Falwell, and political violence in Latin America. So the militarization of these ideas.
So, and that is fully coupled with the racialization that comes along with this vision of masculinity, right. And so, particularly for me, the image that stands out in my mind is 1983. And you may have seen this, or your researchers did, when Jesse Jackson was debating Jerry Falwell about apartheid in South Africa; and similarly with what happened in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras- just these arguments. And so race would come in and come out. And specifically Jerry Falwell said, “I have been delivered from that.” And that's all he said about it.
Sy Hoekstra: From racism?
Jonathan Walton: From, yes, from racism. And so I wonder, as your book gets into, you know, breaking down evangelical visions of masculinity that are, in many ways, racialized, were there dimensions that came up as you were doing research concerning race? And can you explain specifically like, the racial aspects of the John Wayne Christianity? Cause I think you did an amazing job in the book of breaking that down.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Yeah. So one of the first things I noticed when I started paying attention to the literature on evangelical masculinity- and this was back in the early 2000s, so it was the John Eldredge era. I mean, one of the things I noticed was how little these authors actually quoted the scriptures. And instead, they preferred Hollywood heroes, mythical warriors, random cowboys and soldiers. And, you know, they love Teddy Roosevelt and John Wayne. And I didn't set out to write a book about race, right. I was focused on gender. But, if you know much about gender and race, sooner or later, you're going to end up doing both. And that's what I, it dawned on me early on in this research that, you know, evangelicals love their heroes, evangelical men, especially, right. And again- Teddy Roosevelt, William Wallace from the movie Braveheart, General MacArthur, General Patton, and, you know, John Wayne.
And when I looked at this cast of characters, and this was repeated over and over and over again in these books. It was like an industry, and it really did border on plagiarism. It's just the same cast of like a dozen characters that just get recycled in every single book and all of them go on to be bestsellers. It's really remarkable. I mean, I was sorely tempted back in the day to try my hand at one of these things. I knew I could sell more books under a pseudonym than I ever could as an academic. You know, it was just so cookie cutter.
But I noticed that all of these heroes were white men. And then they weren't just white men, but, in many cases, they were white men who asserted their power by subduing non-white populations. So, you know, Teddy Roosevelt is a great example in terms of white masculinity and American power, American empire- Spanish-American War, or even before that, you know, kind of recreating himself in the Wild West. And then I noticed that John Wayne just kept popping up. And here we can see that so clearly. So John Wayne becomes an icon of conservative American masculinity because of his onscreen persona. And what is that? You know, first he's this cowboy hero who will use violence when necessary, again, to achieve order. Violence in the Wild West was against Native Americans. And then we have him in the Sands of Iwo Jima, Second World War, against the Japanese. And then in the Alamo against the Mexicans. And then in The Green Berets against the Vietnamese. Just over and over again, this model of heroic white masculinity.
And that is so attractive to conservative Americans and conservative white evangelicals in the 1960s and 1970s. It resonates with this deeply racialized law and order politics. It resonated with evangelicals’, especially Southern white evangelicals’, resistance to civil rights legislation and defense of segregation. And, you know, historically it's just so clear. And what happens though, is that evangelicals work hard to make race invisible. And so they advance this colorblindness, right, I think that Falwell was tapping into there, you know, at least later in his career.
And so it's really hard to talk with many white evangelicals about race because they legitimately don't see themselves at all as racist, and yet the value system that they've embraced- this family values evangelicalism, law and order politics, is just so deeply racialized. And their visions of heroic masculinity and what it means to protect Christianity; it's very much a white racial ideal. Christian nationalism itself, which is intertwined with this idea of heroic Christian manhood, it only makes sense if you're a white Christian.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. So one follow-up is, in your research, because I was sitting in that small group with Wild at Heart as a Black male at Columbia University, right. And I got the T-shirt when I was 17 years-old from my youth pastor with Jesus…
Sy Hoekstra: You had a Wild at Heart T-shirt, Jonathan?
Jonathan Walton: No, it's a worse T-shirt. It’s “The Lord's Gym” T-shirt- Jesus under the cross doing the pushup, right.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Oh yeah! Classic.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. And so… Terrible. [laughing] I’m wondering, what do you think, or have you discovered, what is attractive to non-white men?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Yeah, so, you know, I think that these tropes of masculinity certainly can be attractive to non-white men. And, particularly, you know, those who are inhabiting predominantly white evangelical spaces, you know, as I assume you are at that time.
Jonathan Walton: Yes.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: And so, you know, it's not that this ideology, or this ideal of masculinity is, that it only appeals to white men. But those who are producing this vision of masculinity do intend for it to predominantly apply to white men. And so when you look at how people of color and men of color are depicted within these conversations, they are very rarely held up as warriors, and as, you know, as men who need to use violence to achieve order. Not at all. It's quite the opposite. Men of color are depicted as threats, as threats to order. And so, you know, we can talk about immigrants and border security. We can talk about Islam; the Islamophobia. We can talk about discussions of race and law enforcement, of Black Lives Matter.
And in all of these conversations, that's where you can really see a distinction. Which isn't to say, again, in communities of color, that they don't have their own, maybe conflicting understandings of masculinity and Christianity. And I've heard from a number of people, especially, I would say, in Hispanic evangelical communities, there's quite a bit of overlap here. A little less so in African-American communities, although there are certainly issues of patriarchy there. But I think a real distinction within African-American communities who might promote this kind of patriarchal masculinity is it tends not to be linked to Christian nationalism. And so it looks quite different. It might look similar, kind of on an individual level, but it finds a very different expression when it comes to politics or broader cultural identity.
Jonathan Walton: Cool. Thank you for drawing those lines. I really appreciate it.
Sy Hoekstra: So, professor, I wanted to ask you about, another kind of angle of intersectionality here is I wrote an article recently, which you very kindly retweeted, about, you know, my experience reading this book as a blind man and just having kind of inferred whenever I heard, you know, these sorts of teachings as a kid, that none of this was for me and that I didn't fit in this mold.
And you talked in your conclusion about another physically disabled person who you spoke to who had kind of a similar view of John Wayne Christianity. Did you run into anything else about kind of the intersection of disability and this vision of masculinity that you were writing about when you were doing your research?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: I did not, which I think is interesting, right. I should have come across more of that, and I didn't. It was just through one of the interviews that I did that, you know, it was so clear. Once he explained his experience I thought, “Of course.” But I will say that, so it was a man with a disability who could make that very clear to me. You know, he said he couldn't go out, you know, rock climbing with the guys from church on the weekend, that just he physically couldn't do that. And so what place was there for him? And he felt like he was not sufficiently masculine and he felt like he was a second-class Christian. And it was just so striking to me.
And this was somebody who had reached out to me and asked that I not share his name because he's still in that community where he's still struggling to kind of make peace in that world and to find acceptance. And, but then I realized, you know, as I continued to listen to men's voices, whether they were men with disabilities or not, so very, very many men did not feel like they could achieve this vision of masculinity that was held out for them. So maybe you kind of parallel in terms of universal design, right, an understanding of what, you know, for men with disability, absolutely not, but actually for so many men this, you know, there were men who were like, you know, “Actually, I would rather have gone to an art museum on a Saturday with guys from my church, but that was never an option.” You know, that was almost a joke to even say that it could be. But so many men kind of felt like either, you know, the problem was all theirs, they internalized it. And so if they did, some of them left, not just evangelicalism, some of them left Christianity because this was the only Christianity they had known.
Others- just so many poignant stories- others, you know, years of struggle to come to terms with this in their marriages. Others struggling with sexual orientation. But there's also another group who could never achieve this level of kind of warrior masculinity, but they didn't abandon the system. And these are the guys who kind of accepted that they were not the alpha males. But also accepted that they should then give their loyalty to the men in the room, the men in the church, the men in the country, who were the alpha males. And so I think that's interesting to hold in tension as well. Some men walked away. Other men ended up just kind of giving their loyalty and supporting the men who looked, you know, who modeled this aggressive, even crass, leadership. Who seemed, according to everything they had been taught, who seemed to have the God-given authority and call to lead.
Sy Hoekstra: It strikes me, I think we've been talking about this a little bit amongst the three of us, that a lot of what people like you- and obviously we're not doing anywhere near the academic heavy-lifting that you're doing- but in the kind of work that we're doing is trying to clear the path of all this sort of American political nonsense back to Jesus. And it is- I mean, you’re talking about people who are leaving the faith- it is in a roundabout way evangelistic, right. Like even this history work you're doing outlining where these ideas came from and sort of, I don't know, I thought that's a, it's just an interesting aspect of the work that may not be immediately apparent, but like you said, you're doing this because, out of your conviction that you don't think that this is faithful to Jesus, right. So I just appreciate that.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Yeah. And it is interesting. Yeah. I wrote a piece in the [New York] Times just a couple of weeks back where I talk about giving an interview with a Christian radio station. And I could tell that, you know, one of the hosts was really enthusiastic, the other one much more reserved. And then after we went off the air- unfortunately, it was after, I would have loved to have this conversation on air. He asked me, and he was trying really hard to be respectful and, but he essentially, you know, very kindly asked, you know, “Why would you think that anybody would want to become a Christian after reading your book?” And so he was deeply concerned about this evangelism aspect.
And I realized that that's just the impulse that so many evangelicals have had. And I had it myself, you know. I said I started this research more than 15 years earlier. And I set it aside, in part because I thought, you know, “Is this what I should do as a Christian scholar- kind of air our dirty laundry?” You know, because what I was uncovering was deeply disturbing. And yeah, I wasn't sure, is this mainstream and if it's not, should I be shining this bright light on the darkest underbelly of American Christianity? I wasn't sure. I had other stuff going on. I set it aside and kind of meant to come back to it at some point.
But what I realized is that that's exactly what evangelicals have been doing for generations. They have been controlling their own narrative. They have been putting the best face forward. They have been covering up scandal, covering up abuse in the interest of protecting the witness of the church, of the organization, of the leader. And cumulatively that has brought us to a terrible place. And so, I think that, yeah, one of the things that Jesus and John Wayne does is it just makes that all visible. And it has been incredible to me to see how many evangelicals have responded with such humility to this very harsh narrative. And, as you can see from the cover of the book, the chapter titles, and the tone throughout, I did not pull any punches. I did not. I did not try to woo evangelicals.
I, you know, there’s so much evangelicals writing to evangelicals who do that. I thought, “No. I just, I need to tell this truth as powerfully as possible, and this is what it's gonna look like.” And yet, that is exactly, I think, why the book is so effective within evangelical communities, because they have shielded themselves from this truth for decades. And when they can see it, it does, a lot of people talk about how it gives them hope because they can finally articulate what is wrong. And so there's something you can do. You can call it out. You can identify it. And then you can work to undo it. And so it's, you know, beyond what I had hoped in terms of what the book could do. I frankly didn't think the book would change anything. It was all so deeply embedded. I just wanted to testify. I wanted to just hold this out and say, “This is true.” And that's all I thought I could accomplish. And so to see some people really taking it to heart has been incredibly encouraging.
Suzie Lahoud: And if I could just ask, and this is a fairly personal question, so feel free to answer this however you feel comfortable, but in light of what you just shared, I had a professor in college who shared at one point about how our testimony should actually be why we're choosing to still follow Christ today. Like why, today, do I still choose to worship him? And so for you, again, as a person doing this research and digging into all of this darkness, why do you still choose to follow Christ despite all of this ugliness that you unmask? And I agree that it's liberation work that you're doing. I agree that there's so much good that comes of this, but for you personally, why do you still choose to follow Christ?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Yeah, so the Christ that I choose to follow, the Christ that I'm drawn to, I should say, is absolutely not the Jesus of Jesus and John Wayne, right. Absolutely not. And so, you know, and I think that that really helped me to see the stark contrast. And to really start, you know, I should say the second part of the, or the first part of the subtitle, the “corrupted a faith” part, you know, that is not a historical claim. I want to be honest about that, because it's a work of history. This is actually written for secular audiences, this book. I went with a secular publisher and I was actually surprised that my publisher went with that part of the subtitle because it's not a historical claim. It makes no sense historically: how can you corrupt a faith? A faith is however it finds expression in any given historical moment. That is my intervention as a Christian, and as somebody who is speaking to evangelicals on their own terms, you know, evangelicals who claim to be Bible-believing Christians. That's where I wanted to say, “Okay, let's talk about that. Let's look at the scriptures. Let's look at the teachings of Christ. Let's look at the, you know, what it means to follow Christ. And then let's look at this history.” And so that really is my, kind of direct intervention.
But no, my faith has always kind of been, it's never looked like this, even as I've bumped up against this a lot- certainly patriarchal teachings in my own upbringing. Certainly, you know, kind of racial barriers as a white Christian as I could see how I had been also constrained by my own understanding of whiteness and white Christianity. But I just, I find the gospel, ultimately, to be liberating and to be under-cutting these, you know, I guess, the colonized power structures that I've come to identify and, you know, that's the Jesus that I place my hope in.
You know, less talking about belief, you know, “I believe this. I know this to be true. This is a doctrine I'm going to defend to the death.” It's, “This is the Christ that I place my hope in.” And that, you know, it's a matter of, ultimately, it's just what I believe to be true and what I hope to be true. And fortunately, I’ve found an incredible church here, a local church. I think that's really important. It can be very difficult to find a church that isn't, particularly in white Christian spaces, I should qualify that- that isn't captive to these ideologies. And I happen to have one that is a remarkable space, which is diverse, and liturgical, and beautiful. And so I think that sustains my faith as well.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. Wow. So professor you're- to pivot a little bit, and thank you so much again for what you just shared- you’re working on a new book that you describe on Twitter as “Jesus and John Wayne, but for the girls” and the title- great title- is Live, Laugh, Love.
Sy Hoekstra: I laugh every time.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: [laughs] So do I!
Suzie Lahoud: Love the title. And you wrote a lot in Jesus and John Wayne about the kind of femininity needed to uphold the patriarchal vision of evangelical manhood. So is this book expanding on those ideas or is this research taking you in some other different directions?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: It's, you know, it's both expanding and veering off into new directions. Yes, I'm so excited about this next project. I'm working on it this summer with a research team and it is so much fun. But, I mean, essentially, Jesus and John Wayne, we have a chapter on evangelical femininity, right- “God's Gift to Man.” And it goes back to the 1970s and we look at Marabel Morgan and Elisabeth Elliot, and then also Phyllis Schlafly, and sets up this, you know, kind of sweet, submissive, sexualized femininity that does prop up this militant Christian masculinity, because if you don't have women buying into this, it won't be sustained. So, this isn't just a book about men at all. It's about women who also prop up this ideal of masculinity. But then through, over the course of the book, you might notice that the attention to femininity kind of trails off. And that was a necessity because there was just so much packed into this book. And the kind of basics hold steady- emphasis on femininity, sexual objectification, submission, and, you know, kind of, beauty and so on, and domesticity, right. Those, but they morph what they, how they find expression kind of changes with each decade. And so I knew I just couldn't give that justice and also trace the main strand of the book- evangelical masculinity- and then also intertwined with American politics.
And so I had to kind of let that go at a certain point and just, you know, a nod here or there. And so I'm excited to have the opportunity now to give that justice and to describe exactly how evangelical femininity morphs through the last half century or more, and how it, I guess- I won't give too much away- but I'll say that it definitely engages economics more seriously with much greater depth than I was able to do in Jesus and John Wayne. That was also one of my regrets- I wish I could have done more. I was limited by space and time. So I'm making up for that in Live, Laugh, Love.
And also we'll be kind of showing, this won’t just be on evangelical femininity. It will be more on a kind of generic white Christian womanhood, which I think is an interesting and important shift to make and which is something I'll be exploring. So the connections between religious and secular, still a lot of material culture in there, and a lot of really fun findings from the archives and from interviews and such.
Suzie Lahoud: Wow.
Sy Hoekstra: That’s awesome.
Suzie Lahoud: I can't wait to get my hands on this book.
Jonathan Walton: So excited. So excited.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: We're working, we're working on it. I say we, as in my three researchers are working on it right now while I'm doing this interview.
Sy Hoekstra: [laughs] Well, thank them for us!
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Yes, I will.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. Well, Professor Du Mez- thank you so much again for joining us. This has been such an incredible conversation. We really appreciate it. And before we let you go, is there anything that you would like to plug? Where can folks find you on social media?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Sure. I have a website, Kristindumez.com. Du Mez is spelled D-U-M-E-Z. And I'm on Twitter all the time @kkdumez. So that's @K-K-D-U-M-E-Z. And I also have a Facebook author page @kkdumez. So you can find me any of those spaces. And also, yeah, the book is just out in paperback, so it's a lot cheaper, which is nice. And it should be widely available.
Suzie Lahoud: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much again for your time and for just this phenomenal work that you've put out into the world. We're just so grateful.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Thank you so much. And thank you for the work that you all are doing too.
[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in briefly, then fades out.]
Suzie Lahoud: Thanks so much for listening. As a reminder, you can subscribe to our blog at ktfpress.com; follow us on social media @KTFPress on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter; and subscribe to this podcast wherever you're listening.
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Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra and our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam, and we will see you next week!
[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades back in. Lyrics: “Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” Song fades out.]
Suzie Lahoud: I'm Suzie Lahoud here with S… Eh… Sorry…
Jonathan Walton: With who?
Sy Hoekstra: Did you forget my name again?
Suzie Lahoud: [laughing] Ah, no, I was just about to blend your names in a weird way. I don't know what’s… I'm not…
Sy Hoekstra: [in a faux German accent] Sonathan Walkstra!
Suzie Lahoud: [laughing] Pretty much!