Sunday, February 21, 2021

3. "John Wayne Will Save Your Ass" (book review)

Thus far I have read:

Now on to Chapter 2: "John Wayne Will Save Your Ass"

1. du Mez argues in this chapter that the most formative influences on evangelicalism in the 50s and 60s had to do with evangelical attitudes toward the civil rights movement, toward the war in Vietnam, and toward "family values." We should not be surprised to find that social forces played as strong a role in shaping evangelicalism in this period as actual teaching from the Bible or deep spirituality.

Billy Graham embodies the shift between Democrats and Republicans that took place in this period. "In the middle of the twentieth century it would have been hard to find a Southern Baptist from North Carolina who didn't identify as a Democrat" (33). Here is yet another example of the fact that, in the mid-twentieth century, the two parties switched sides on issues like race. Southern Democrats like Strom Thurman became the southern Republicans of today. 

A theme throughout this chapter is also that evangelicals like Graham tended to favor Republicans who were not particularly religious over Democrats who actually were. But they would "baptize" the Republicans, in effect, and it would become a mutually beneficial relationship. Eisenhauer wasn't particularly religious. But he was a strong, masculine figure, and under him "In God We Trust" was put on the dollar bill and "one nation under God" into the pledge of allegiance.

In 1972, George McGovern was a deeply religious man, the son of a Wesleyan Methodist minister who grew up in a Wesleyan parsonage. Yet evangelicals chose the non-religious strong man Nixon over him. Nixon nevertheless bowed his head on the platform of a Billy Graham crusade and, at the very least, looked the part to Christian voters. I have similarly marveled that evangelicals much more prefer the non-religious Trump to the devoutly Christian Mike Pence.

This is a period in which it became increasingly difficult for many to tell the difference between conservative and Christian. Conservative meant pro-war, anti-civil rights movement, pro-complementarian family. Those who favored peace, those who participated in civil disobedience as advocates of civil rights, and those who elevated women were portrayed as godless liberals.

2. Although it seems obvious to me, for the majority of its history the US has not been a place of liberty and justice for the slaves of the South or for women. How could anyone seriously even debate this fact? Yet somehow, it is considered unChristian in many evangelical circles to argue that America has never been purely good. How is it debatable that opposition to desegregation in the 50s and 60s was pretty much straightforward racism?

The Christian private schools of the South founded in this period were "segregation schools" plain and simple. The government bused blacks to white schools, and the whites left for private Christian schools. How is this not seen for what it was--Christians pretending that racist moves are done in the name of Christ? Before abortion became the pretext for state's rights under Jerry Falwell's influence, there was the real driving force behind state's rights--opposition to forced integration between whites and blacks.

3. The Cold War also provided the context where conservatism and evangelicalism fused around militarism. President Kennedy spoke of a peace race instead of an arms race and he was blasted by the conservative-evangelical coalition. Barry Goldwater in 1964, another not-particularly-religious Republican could say, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." 

Evangelicals poo-pooed any critique of the Vietnam War. If there were reports of American brutality, well, that's human nature. When a lieutenant killed some 500 Vietnamese men, women, and children, Billy Graham's op-ed in the NY Times simply noted that we all hurt others with a thoughtless word or a selfish deed. Graham strongly supported the war, as did many other evangelicals. Graham's vocal support of Nixon would blow up in his face when it became clear that Nixon was guilty in the Watergate scandal.

du Mez is suggesting that these sorts of events are not the exceptions. She is arguing that they are in the very nature of American evangelical identity as militant, masculine, and white-oriented. I think she is building to the conclusion that evangelical support of Trump is perfectly predictable, not a deviation in any way. 

4. Jack Hyles was one of the first mega-church pastors. He typifies the evangelical of this period. He wrote a book titled, How to Rear Children with one chapter titled, "How to Make a Man Out of a Boy." He warned that boys who do "feminine activities" may end up as homosexuals. When a neighbor boy insulted his daughter, he encouraged his son to go beat the boy, which he did. Spanking should last ten or fifteen minutes. Infants should be spanked too. He once counseled a couple how to avoid arrest after giving more than one hundred lashes to their daughter with a belt.

In this period, "if an evangelical could be defined as anyone who liked Billy Graham, by the 1970s a conservative might well be defined as anyone who loved John Wayne" (54). Wayne of course held appalling views on race but was not atypical of the conservatives of that era. In a Playboy interview, Wayne said, "I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility" (57). He also indicated that Native Americans were selfish to resist American expansion.

"Onscreen and off, Wayne epitomized an old-fashioned, retrograde masculinity, and one increasingly understood in politicized terms. A staunch proponent of 'law and order,' Wayne had no time for 'cowards who spit in the faces of the police..." (58). Baptist scholar Alan Bean has remarked that "the unspoken mantra of post-war evangelicalism was simple: Jesus can save your soul; but John Wayne will save your ass" (59). 

1 comment:

John Mark said...

Those who might benefit from reading this book never will-or even entertain the notion that it has any value.
I find myself wondering: if the segment of our Christian population does die off (many who believe in the sort of Christianity being critiqued here are Boomers,I think) where will the church be? My guess is, human nature being what it is, we will just have another set of problems.