According to the book of Matthew, “a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” So judging by the last chapter of JESUS AND JOHN WAYNE: How White Evangelicals Corrupted A Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, the fruit of right-wing Christian complementarianism shows the doctrine is ultimately vile.
Du Mez shows that gender was a major problem for 20th century evangelical Christians. All this church talk about being nice, being good, being compassionate, not solving problems with violence — it’s so damn unmanly! This was not a unique problem — mainstream America worried about a decline in masculinity too — but it’s one American evangelical churches have been grappling with for a long time.
The solution was to hold up John Wayne as a role model for the kind of manly men American Christians should be, and to emphasize female submission — God made men to be the boss, women should submit, stay home and pop out Christian babies. In a kind of bizarro-intersectionality this became wrapped up with other things conservative evangelicals cared about, such as fighting communism and keeping black American down. Strong families would help us hold the line against Communism. Keeping women in gilded cages was held up in glowing contrast to Communism which gave lip service to women’s equality. Because evangelicals had developed their own media ecosystem and sales channels, books and radio programs spread these ideas through their community. Some, such as Marabel Morgan’s The Total Woman, broke through into the mainstream.
As Beth Allison Barr has written, this led to evangelicals disregarding or ignoring all the parts of the Bible that made this inconvenient, like the references to Junia (female apostle) and Phoebe (deacon) as they don’t fit the right-wing view that women having authority over men, or teaching to them is against the Bible. As feminism became a mainstream stance, the right-wing response was to cling more fiercely to their views, insisting absolute female subordination was a Biblical stance. They also began insisting that Jesus was not in any way, shape or form a nice, gentle man — he was a total badass! He didn’t want his followers turning the the cheek, he wanted them to bust heads and take names!
I will pause here and note that in my own Christian view Jesus does say (“I come not to bring peace but the sword”) and do things (cleaning the money-changers from the temple) that are not meek and mild. But he says and does a great many things that are antithetical to the macho badass interpretation, from compassion for outcasts, sinners and the sick to emphasizing the importance of love, forgiveness and charity. Trying to fit them into a cohesive worldview is difficult — ignoring the parts you don’t like isn’t even trying (admittedly that’s a long Christian tradition too).
So in the 21st century we end up with right-wing evangelicals loudly and gloriously enthused by waging endless war in the Middle East without any of the moral qualms past Christian generations have had about war and ethics. In most cases (some were combat veterans) they were classic chickenhawks, rooting for other men to do the fighting (women, of course had no business in the military in their eyes). And rooting for Trump as precisely the kind of macho thug they wanted to be, as well as the practical advantages of rooting for someone who’d deliver on policies they liked.
In the last chapter, Du Mez looks at the level of sexual harassment, rape and assault in complementarian churches, and this is the really poisonous fruit. Astonishingly, a number of people who preach absolute male domination and absolute female submission (including in sex — some of them are very big on wives’ obligation to have lots of sex with their husbands, even if the women don’t feel like it)) turn out to be men who exploit male domination and female submission. And many who don’t abuse or assault women themselves back other clergy or members of their own church who do. They talk a good game about how men must protect women, but when a man fails in his duty the first response is not to stop him but to make sure women stay obedient.
Which as Fred Clark says, raises the question of Matthew: if the fruit is toxic, can we trust the tree? I’m not a complementarian, but if I was, would it be possible for me to separate the teachings of Douglas Wilson or John Piper from their misogyny? Or would absorbing their writing mingle them both? And what does it say to survivors if we hold up sexual predators as wise men of god who should be listened to?
The fruit is bad. I think the tree is too.
#SFWApro. Cover by Jared Oriel, all rights to image remain with current holder.