The evangelicals’ militant masculinity
Kristin Kobes du Mez about Jesus and John Wayne
In the 2016 election voted 81% of the evangelical voters for Donald Trump. Many wondered why such a large percentage of the evangelicals voted for a candidate who’s lifestyle and personality isn’t in accordance with the Bible. According to Kristin Kobes du Mez, professor of History at Calvin University, that huge suppurt for Trump isn’t a surprise. On the contrary!
In the opinion of the evangelicals, Trump embodies who an American leader has to be. In the last century the evangelicals ‘evangelized’ the ideal of a militant masculinity. Donald Trump is the ideal example of that militant masculinity the evangelicals idealized. That evangelical ideal of militant masculinity tells the man he is the head of his family: his wife and children are submitted to him. He leads his wife and children powerful and is willing to fight for his family to protect them against dangers from outside.
According to Kobes du Mez this is not a recent phenomenon, but can this ideal of militant masculinity be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century. This ideal is a reaction to the ideal of a man during the Victorian era: the ideal man also has female qualities. The first man who presented himself intentionally as a vitale man who was willing to fight for his family and for his country was Theodore Roosevelt.
From the start the militant masculinity was connected with American nationalism. A man has to lead his wife and children forcefully and to protect them to save the christian identity of America. The family serves the country: when a man isn’t capable of leading and protecting his family, he isn’t capable of sacrificing himself for his country. The evangelicals hate feminism, because feminism creates weak men who don’t dare to be strong. A man who doesn’t dare to be a strong man doesn’t dare to fight for his country. The country will be a willing prey for the enemies from inside and outside. These enemies want to destroy America’s christian identity and America itself.
The evangelicals became sensitive to men who show their strength and their combativeness. The film star John Wayne became the prototype of this evangelical militant masculinity. John Wayne wasn’t an evangelical, divorced twice and married three times. But in his films he played as a cowboy and a soldier. In those films he fighted against America’s enemies. Succesfully combined Wayne the mythology of the cowboy with the soldier who fights for freedom.
That freedom fight was necessary, because the evangelicals believed that America was threatened and that christianity was threatened. During the cold war that threat was communism. After 09-11 that threat was the islam. The thread also came from inside: homosexuality and feminism abandoned the ideal of the combative man. The evangelicals longed for strong men who protected them against these abhorrible enemies from outside and inside. They supported politicians and generals who were willing to be a hero. They admired Robert E. Lee, George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North and they also admire Donald Trump.
In their opinion Carter, Clinton and Obama were traitors of christianity, because they weren’t willing to act according to that militant masculinity. They were seen as traitors because they came from inside the evangelical movement and from inside christianity. These presidents didn’t dare to lead the country and traited America’s identity. Trump and his message to make America great again is perfect compatible with this ideal of evangelical masculinity. That Trump, like Reagan, isn’t the ideal evangelical, causes no problem to them. A president rules the country, not a church.
That militant masculinity infected the church too. Jesus became a John Wayne: a fighter who overcame his enemies. In his family the man dominates his wife and his wife is submitted to him. The only place for a woman is her place in her family. She has no job. She can’t be a pastor. She can’t be ordinated.
Many pastors of evangelical churches were authoritarian men who bore no contradiction. That authoritarian ideal was distributed during the seventies by a huge evangelical network of publishers, christian book shops, christian media. They infected non-evangelical churches with their militant and authoritarian view and with their combination of nationalism and christian faith.
The evangelicals exported their militant ideal to other countries. In the Netherlands this militant ideal was imported by translations of books written by James Dobson, John Eldredge, John MacArthur etc. The evangelicals stated they have a biblical view on manhood and womanhood, but that ideal is a stereotype influenced by war films and westerns.
This view has many and huge drawbacks. This view created an environment that is unsafe: this view stimulated transgressive and inappropriate behaviour of leaders in church and country. There were many sexual scandals in evangelical churches caused by their leaders. These stories were denied or downplayed. Women were not only unsafe in churches, that insafety also came in their families. This evangelical ideal of a man told women to satisfy all her husband’s sexual desires. There were pastors who told publicly their congregation that the man has the right to force their wives to have oral sex with them. When a man is satisfied sexually he is capable to shine as a leader.
Another drawback was the racist undertones of this view. The christian identity of America is a white identity. There is no room for Afro-Americans, Latin-Americans, Catholics, Muslims etc. This white supremacy is a real part of the evangelical heritage. In that heritage that white supremacy is a real part of the evangelical militant masculinity and a real part of their opinion about America’s history as a christian nation. The combination of this militant masculinity, this opinion about America’s supposed christian identity and this white supremacy paved the way for supporting Donald Trump.
Due to this view Trump is very attractive to many evangelicals and their leaders. He embodies their view on masculinity. He is the strong leader they are longing for.
As a historian Kobes du Mez researches the history of American women. Due to her evangelical students she found out this evangelical militant masculinity. She raised up in a Christian Reformed Church. That church was very critical about the American culture, but that church also was influenced by the evangelical view.
When I told Kobes du Mez via Twitter that the evangelical authors that strongly supported this view were translated into Dutch, she told me that she was upset about the reactions all over the world. The evangelicals exported this view very succesfully. She wants to contribute with her book the dismantling of this evangelical militant masculinity. She hopes her book will contribute the equality of men and women in society and church.
Kristin Kobes du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne. How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2020).