Conversations with Charlie (11/24/2021)

Conversation 16:

Charlie’s Wednesday’s podcast had him talking with Kristin Du Mez, author of the book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (Nov. 24, 2021).

There is SO much going on here that speaks to things I myself have wondered about that this will be something to try and unpack from the conversation as best I can. That being said, I am SUPER eager to read this book.

My interest comes from THREE major but interconnected angles:

1. Element of masculinity, as it relates to Trump, was almost an element in my forthcoming book in contrasting Superman and Trump that fell by the wayside during the editing process to date. It was something that caught my attention due to reporting during the pandemic where people tried to, and Trump did it himself apparently, compare Trump to Superman.

2. This concept of masculinity, as a man, has always fascinated me when it comes to perceptions of it as being static or ONE THING rather than changeable and a plurality as I have seen it. This is something that comes up in the discussion.

3. I was raised well and as part of a mainline Christian community as part of the First Presbyterian Church of Natchitoches, LA. Organized religion is not my thing now, but I hold a lot of debt and respect for the church I grew up in and the values I learned. When I look at Evangelical Christians who embrace Donald Trump, I completely have FAILED to comprehend how that happened. This is something Kristin has sought to answer and it is discussed but it is really an element that draws me to read her book.

The book was originally released last summer during the height of the BLM movement in the wake of the George Floyd murders, interestingly, despite the time since its release, the subject matter of it has continued to be relevant as the trajectory of Evangelical, but particularly white Evangelical Christianity has become consumed with a new conception of masculinity.

Charlie interjects that he is aware of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but was not aware that there was a gospel of Testosterone too.

There is something going on, and has been for years now, inside White dominant Evangelical Christian Churches. Elements that were once fringe have leaked into and taken a dominant place in the mainstream of Evangelical Christianity. The line that used to separate the fringe of prosperity gospel and other elements with the mainstream has blurred.

This blurring has made mainstream leaders like Russell Moore and David French, and Wheaton College, who see themselves as the leaders of evangelical Christianity, miss the fact that they are not in charge of mainline evangelical Christianity anymore, or as much as they thought they were. 

Instead, it is the whole wide world of televangelists and those who are hangers on who preach a form of Christianity that has little to no basis in the gospels outside of cherry-picked quotations, are preaching extreme and crazy ideas that run a veritable grift on the parishioners who follow them. Worst of all, they are becoming more and more in charge of the direction of mainline evangelical Christianity.

The tools of their trade are to lean into charismatic leadership, prophesies, and end times discussions.

The problem has grown and spread out into many churches to one degree or another that is no longer easy to pinpoint where the center point of the Evangelical Christian Church is anymore.

Another disturbing trend is that many of the fringe evangelicals who often don’t show up on the mainstream radar unless they get caught or taped doing something or saying something kind of crazy, actually have in conservative circles a large following in power.

This is where they circle back to a specific discussion about the books examination of masculinity in evangelical Christianity. This is still pertinent since Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri is even now crusading for a needed rejuvenation of masculinity. He gave an interview to Axios where he claimed that the blame existed with the Left. He claimed that Left was specifically attacking America by attacking the masculinity of men. Hawley indicated that because the Left was attacking systemic systems, the attack on men was a systemic attack that held ALL men as the issues that oppress. This is a terrible generalization on the part of Hawley, though much of this is his own political maneuvering BS. It is just yet another long line tugging away to gin up fear in people.

Apparently, it is somehow the Left and Liberals who are behind the fact that too many men no longer work, or play to many video games, or watch too much porn. The consequence, as Hawley sees it, is that it is destroying the fabric of America by destroying the gender norms he associates as “correct.”

He is not alone in this, Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, uses similar appeals to hype up his conception of what masculinity was, is, and should be. Play clip of him claiming testosterone levels are at historical lows and that mothers need to “raise [their] child to be a monster.”

These people seem to believe in the concept of “de-maculating” and these are the same people who propping up Kyle Rittenhouse as a hero. 


White evangelical Christianity is pushing back against this idea, feeling that the language and culture of America is threatening to emasculate men. They lash out, specifically blaming feminists and liberals, who they have been battling against going back to the 1960s and 70s.

The real question is this: 

What is masculinity? How do they define it?

They harken back to a supposed long-standing conception of masculinity, a very specific kind of masculinity too. They usually generalize masculinity, without specifics because they assume their audience already pictures what they picture as masculinity in their mind. That somehow it is unchanging and only one specific version.

This specific version of masculinity is aggressive, testosterone driven, rugged, and willing to use violence in a protector role. 

The version of masculinity they imagine emerged in the culture wars with the enemy being those on the Left. When the United States started losing its external enemies in the 70s, 80s, and 90s this conception rounded on perceived enemies from within, i.e. the liberals and the feminist, who were viewed as attacking what white Evangelicals perceived made America great: that rugged individualistic Man’s Man.

This has led to attacks on not just outsiders but those perceived enemies perceived as within Christianity itself. There are those Christian denominations or Churches that hold more liberal or open-minded ideas. Basically, they would see the Presbyterian Church I grew up in then and today as their enemy. 

What exactly is this brand of Christianity then?

What are these people thinking when they’re wearing a bracelet that says What Would Jesus Do? 

The answer, apparently it would be to punch back at those who attack them, to smash them in the face.

Apparently, it is not about accepting what Jesus said, that the meek will inherit the Earth. Now it is about raising your children to be monsters, to be masculine hyper-men who will fight back, use violence. It is the rise of a militant white masculinity.

Traditional Christianity centered itself in a way that was meant to get away from that kind of semi-natural kind of cultural inclination in human beings. Now, Evangelicals are reconciling the cognitive dissonance of what Jesus says you should do and what your lizard brain/caveman instincts push you to do instead by redefining Christianity to match that more violent impulse instinct. 

This is LITERALLY the opposite of Christian values, of Biblical Christian values.

These people are rejecting or trying to refashion Jesus to fit their mold. There are White Evangelical authors who have been doing this for decades, trying to retcon the story of Jesus to better fit the new emerging militant Christian ideology. There is an entire industry of these authors who Kristin noted she became aware of in 2000-2001. They are particularly obsessed with conceptions of Christian manhood and masculinity.

This industry casts God as more in the mold of the Old Testament, a warrior and violent God and men are made in his image to be his soldiers. Every fight is a binary one, between good and evil, and there is always a battle to fight and a beauty to rescue – very wonderfully chauvinistic.

These people were enthusiastic supporters of the war in Iraq and the idea of preemptive warfare as a doctrine. They were supporters and defenders of the CIA torture program.

Jesus for them is not the Jesus of the Gospels but the one from the Book of Revelation, a Jesus who is more militant. They explicitly reject the teachings like “love thy neighbor” or “turn the other cheek.” Their Jesus is more in the mold of Mel Gibbon’s conception of William Wallace in Braveheart rather than the actual Jesus of the New Testament. In fact, they explicitly reject that Jesus. He is not the Jesus they need. Many of them live in a perceived “constant state of war” that aims to protect Christianity.

The traditional Jesus of the New Testament is great for the Christian women, but not for the men, doesn’t match up.

Revelation Jesus, warrior Jesus, matches not only the militant evangelical Christian outlook on masculinity but also the apocalyptic vision of the end times held closely by these Christians. Strange historical sidenote, Christianity was originally viewed in the Roman Empire as an apocalyptic cult offshoot of Judaism.

This is not new. Christianity throughout much of its history, through the Middle Ages, promoted and believed they lived in the “end times.” Today, those “end times” is the end of White Christian America. Makes me think about the book I read back in 2016 titled The End of White Christian America by Robert Jones. Good book, worth reading. Those “end times” is based in the fear of emerging demographic changes across the United State.

Another fear is the fact that America has been becoming less Christian since the 1960s. Why address the cause of the issue (which might be them), better to just rage against the symptom.

This has been a trend for over 20 years now, and if more people, Charlie puts himself inside that category, had been paying attention, they wouldn’t have been so shocked by the Christian evangelical embrace of Donald Trump in 2016. 

Why? 

Because he fits, at least on a perceptional level, what they have made out of Jesus as a golden idol.

Kristin points out that this something she saw coming because it has been there for decades in the language and rhetoric of those Christian authors who push new Christian manhood. For them, Donald Trump makes perfect sense, it is not a contradiction according to their new Jesus.

Trump is their protector. He is their ultimate fighting champion who will promise to make them great again. That is all they want and need. All the things that disqualified Trump within traditional Christianity and Christian values are what made him the perfect vessel for White Evangelical Christians.

Here is where it all starts to make more sense.

The traditional Christian values of joy, love, nurturing, etc. have been redefined as strictly feminine values for White Evangelical Christians. They’re fine for the women but not so much for the man.

Why?

Well, God gave men testosterone specifically for them to channel aggressive behavior into protecting their own. Those traditional Christian values won’t work.

This is where John Wayne come into this.

John Wayne’s on-screen persona made the perfect model.

In the 1960s and 70s he came to embody conservative white male notions of manhood. This was in opposition to the hippies and the counterculture. He was the “good white guy with a gun,” the mythical role model America really needed according to White Evangelical Christians. His characters brought order through violence, normally to people who were not white, which is very telling of the ideology.

There is a lot of secular icons who have become the models for this Christian ideology. Evangelicals did not support Trump despite their beliefs but because of them, and they didn’t need to set aside their beliefs to vote for him, they were prepped.

This preparation is how Donald Trump weathered The Access Hollywood tape that should have ended his campaign. 

When the evangelical leaders and community stood by Trump after the tape it made it crystal clear what was really going on and where their true allegiance was, it wasn’t the Jesus of the New Testament, it was his new securely model Jesus who was willing to use violence and to be an imperfect person.

For White Evangelical Christians, the internal enemies have progressed, starting with the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, Feminists in the 1970s, Gay Rights in the 1980s. In the early 2000s, it was against “Radical” Islam. Along the way, the perception grew that Liberals were embodying, allying with these groups, and bringing about a decline in America’s masculinity.

Trump, himself, really leaned into this perception.

The cognitive dissonance emerges in that support of Trump, who is supposed fight the unmanly, wimpy liberals, who are also somehow at the same time an existential threat to Christian America. Also, the champion here, Trump, is himself a make-up wearing, fake tan, spoiled rich boy from Queens and not a rugged “man’s man.”

The threat of the liberals is that they poison the minds of men, which is where we circle back to the Josh Hawley’s comments on the interview with Axios. It is a threat to the White Evangelical Christian Conservative patriarchal conception of men as the head of a household, which has a direct correlation to the man’s ability to lead the family, be a leader in his professional and Church life, and if this is threatened, it is an attempt to undermine the fabric of the entire nation. This is, to them, what liberals are truly subverting.

Outside of this Christian bubble, the conception of masculinity has been one under debate for some time, both its nature and definition. I end up thinking about the outrage that bubbled up over the Gillette ads that came out in 2019 that took a modern and broad approach at what it meant to “be a man.” I, personally, liked it because it represented values I was raised with. People questioned its take and the preachiness of a company, but I liked that they said something.

What is being challenged is the ideas that blowing off the actions of mainly men, excusing actions with cliches of “boy being boys” has become, especially since 2018, a cultural offense that is being attacked in the wake of movements like #MeToo.

The shift in change has created a counter-backlash from White Evangelical Christians, a group who has normally for decades, even centuries, enjoyed a privileged position in the hierarchy of American culture and politics. This goes hand-in-hand with their ideals of masculinity, which they perceive is also under threat. 

For me, this goes back to The End of white Christian America in my own personal feelings that if one feesl that something is under threat you tend to overreact in response. Take, for example, the introduction of “Under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” becoming the motto that appeared on United States money in place of the old motto “e pluribus unum” (from many come one). These moves occurred in the 1950s when America saw itself in both opposition to “godless” Communism and the beginning of a decline in religious observance. These overt actions aimed to reinforce the United State’s Christian Bonafede’s. Personally, it  strikes me as acting from a position of weakness not a strength. To make those moves is tantamount to an admission of decline that has precipitated a reaction to try and “stanch” the bleeding.

The White Evangelical Christian conception being put forth is that masculinity is somehow consistent and timeless, but that is not true. That’s their big lie.

There have always been different iterations of masculinity. In fact, it used to be considered a right of manhood that you taught your son the difference between being a man and being a bully but in the current Republican party and in the current state of evangelical manhood, it seems like there’s no difference anymore.

We are living in a difficult time to raise boys because look at who we are being given as role models.

What kind of values are being offered even now from the Evangelical Christian Church?

Instead of teaching you to be a good sport or be sensitive to others, let’s teach you to be a monster instead appears to be the appeal.

What we are facing right now is a crisis of people who have become insulated to bad models, who are acting like monsters online, but are now leaving that online world and into the real world.

The shift in changing demographics has led to these people who are in White Christian conservative circles being afraid of losing power and it’s actually causing many of them to turn away from democracy itself as a consequence.

60% of white evangelicals think the 2020 election stolen. 39% of them think violence may be necessary to save country according to recent polls. This all leads back to groups who are trying to turn Kyle Rittenhouse into a new model of conduct, a new symbol of Christian manhood. 

We should worry about this, we should also be trying to do something, to push back as well.

All for now.

J C Evans


LISTEN FOR YOURSELF:

The Bulwark Podcast: “Kristin Du Mez: Love Thy Neighbor Is for Wimps”

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