Between Jesus and John Wayne

Between Jesus and John Wayne December 15, 2023

Between Jesus and John Wayne

Not very long ago I reviewed a book by a professor at Calvin University titled Jesus and John Wayne. You can look up that review in the archives of this blog or just “Google” it.

Although I don’t remember if the author mentioned this song, I accidentally ran across it on Youtube: Jesus and John Wayne (or Between Jesus and John Wayne).

According to sources I have found, the song was written by Bill and Gloria Gaither. If you don’t know who they are, you’re obviously not an American evangelical of middle age or older. They are a gospel song writing and recording team whose songs have become extremely popular among evangelical Christians.

As an aside here, I have met and had conversations with Bill Gaither twice and once even sang a duet with him. My claim to fame.

The song sends the message that a young Christian man (probably white and American) finds himself caught between Jesus and John Wayne. It doesn’t put down John Wayne but the overall message is that the boy’s mother reminds him of Jesus and his father reminds him of John Wayne and he feels caught between them but determines to be more like Jesus (without rejecting John Wayne entirely).

I don’t know when the Gaithers wrote the song, but I suspect the song and book have no relation to each other. I could be wrong.

The book Jesus and John Wayne argued that John Wayne represents toxic masculinity and that his popularity even among white American Christians is pernicious. Of course, the book ranges over a larger spectrum than just John Wayne, but he represents to the female author a deleterious toxic masculinity that has captured the minds and hearts of many Americans including white evangelicals—to the detriment of both men and women.

The song seems to indicate a kind of lifestyle dialectic or cognitive dissonance of many white American evangelical boys and men. Without indicating that John Wayne (as a kind of prototype or even archetype) is bad, the song indicates that it is simply the case that many American boys and men have trouble being caught between the SEEMING femininity of Jesus and the SEEMING masculinity of John Wayne.

In a way, I think the song captures or expressing something missing in the book as I recall it. That is that Jesus has largely been portrayed in American white evangelicalism as soft, sweet (think of all the popular gospel songs that talk about “sweet Jesus”), ineffectual in things not obviously spiritual. And that many boys and men (white, American, evangelical) feel a “pull” away from Jesus toward John Wayne (as an image and archetype) because they want to be masculine (strong, aggressive against evil, adventurous, etc.).

But the song, written by this eminent white American evangelical couple of great renown, has the young man saying that he want to be like Jesus (without rejecting John Wayne entirely). It’s an expression of a psycho-spiritual conundrum that I honestly and humbling think many American Christian feminist women don’t understand.

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