A Response to Kristen Du Mez : Jesus and John Wayne
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I admit that I have not yet read Kristen Du Mez’s book “Jesus and John Wayne.” I plan to. However, I have watched the following Youtube interview with Du Mez: “Kristen Du Mez: How Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith | Amanpour and Company.”
Here I will respond to only one part of Du Mez’s responses to the interviewer’s questions.
Du Mez claims that the white American evangelicalism of the 1940s through the end of the 20th century thrived on a vision of male sexual dominance over women that excused distorted and abusive masculine sexuality and blamed women for their experiences of sexual and other abuse at the hands of evangelical men.
I grew up in the thick of mid-to-late 20th century white American evangelicalism—as a boy and young man. I and my white, American evangelical male peers were harangued by evangelists, pastors, Sunday School teachers and writers about our sexuality and how we could go to hell for having sexual desires and feelings. We were told that we could easily fall into Satan’s hands just by having dirty thoughts about girls’ and women’s bodies and about sex. What I now consider normal puberty and adolescent feelings and thoughts, desires, were considered almost mortal sins.
Masturbation which was never mentioned by name but strongly hinted was so sinful that a young person (or anyone) who engaged in it was already halfway to hell.
I do not discount or deny Du Mez’s “story” about the white, American, evangelical tendency to blame women for men’s immorality, but I never experienced that. In the evangelicalism I grew up in (long before she was born), there was at least ALSO a strong emphasis — aimed at young males— that we were totally responsible to rein in and control our sexual urges until marriage and that only within the bonds of marriage could we have sexual thoughts and desires.
I wonder if Du Mez is at all aware of this “other side of the story?” We adolescent evangelical males were told about the (probably non-existent) “bleeding Sadducees” of Jesus’s time who bled because they kept their eyes closed in public so as not to see women and they kept running into buildings and other obstacles. The point of the story was, I learned, not to keep your eyes closed but to keep your mind pure, clear of any sexual thoughts—no matter what you saw. (The “bleeding Sadducees” were held up to us as examples of men who were so rightly concerned about purity of mind that they went to an extreme.)
In the denomination and Bible college I attended it was absolutely clear that if pre-marital or extra-marital sex occurred it was the man’s fault. John Wayne was celebrated, if at all, as a paragon of male sexual restraint and purity. (I have seen most of Wayne’s movies over the years and do not remember any one in which he treated a woman as a sexual object or someone to be abused in any way. Maybe I missed seeing one.)
In my opinion, based on my long-ago experiences as a white male American evangelical, I am sure that our spiritual mentors were extremely unrealistic about boys and young men in terms of their sexual urges. I/we were given the clear impression that any sexual thoughts, feelings, urges, desires had to be repressed and repented of when they occurred until marriage and then absolutely limited to the marriage bedroom. I never heard that sex is a good gift of God until much later. And I do not remember any instance of a girl or woman being blamed for pre-marital sex or extra-marital sex, at least not as harshly as the male involved.
I would love to have a conversation about this with Du Mez. In the interview she gives the impression that white, American evangelicals have always blamed females and excused males when it came to sexual activity that one might call abusive in any way (even just sex outside of marriage).
When I read or hear about how white, American evangelicals have corrupted a faith or gone off the rails into political religion, I wonder if the writer or speaker might be looking at a particular, peculiar form of conservative Protestant Christianity that I did not experience growing up. I knew about it; it was dominant among those we called “the fundamentalists” (or at least the seeds of it were there), but we (my evangelical subculture) is not being talked about (I believe).
Now, there was a lot wrong with the white, American evangelicalism I grew up in and ONE thing I think was wrong with it was a completely unrealistic view of and treatment of boys and young men—as capable of having pure minds with no sexual thoughts or desires. Even (believe it or not) so-called “nocturnal emissions” were vaguely referred to as clear evidence of evil within the boy. He needed to repent each time it happened and get spiritual help to make sure it never happened.
I remember listening to these talks from older male spiritual leaders and thinking to myself (in adolescence) “You have completely forgotten what it was like to be young and male.”
So, my question is simply this: Does Du Mez and do women (and some men) with her (or their) contemporary vision of white American evangelicalism have any knowledge of “the other side of the story?” I experienced those “talks” (and books given to us to read) as abusive and I know at least some of my peers did as well. Abusive in the sense of making us feel that our natural urges were sinful, if not demonic, and that if we could not stop feeling them, having “those kinds of thoughts,” we were probably going to hell.