“John Wayne, Jesus Christ, and the Question of Evangelicalism: An Interview with Kristin Kobes Du Mez.” Issue 33: Reimagine Issue. The Other Journal: An Intersection of Theology & Culture. May 27, 2021. https://theotherjournal.com/2021/05/27/john-wayne-jesus-interview-kristin-kobes-du-mez
TOJ: Following the Trump presidency and Capitol siege, where we saw pastors pray over the Proud Boys and the full flowering of so-called Patriot churches, some Christian leaders have advocated that the counter to Christian nationalism is just better church discipleship. In Jesus and John Wayne, you show that many of the problems endemic to white evangelicalism have been due to cultural forces rather than theological commitments. For example, you note that churchgoing Republican voters are just as likely to support Trump as Republican voters who do not attend church.4 Is better theology or discipleship the way out of this moment? Or is something else needed? How can we possibly rehabilitate a church culturally?
KDM: It really comes down to the interplay of theology, cultural identity, and political allegiances. We do need better theology and better discipleship. But we also need to understand the various ways in which evangelicals are being discipled. Discipleship is not just what we hear from the pulpit of our local church or even in our small-group Bible study. For evangelicals, discipleship also occurs through Christian media, talk radio, Fox News and Newsmax, and Facebook and Parler. That means we need religious leadership that isn’t in denial about the power of these other sources in shaping religious beliefs and political loyalties. This is a problem that must be dealt with head-on. But it has been ignored for so long that many pastors and other evangelical leaders are only now realizing the limits of their own authority.
When Clinton lost the election, I decided the story of Jesus and John Wayne was more urgent. I had intended to return to that next, but when my publisher asked about my next book, I was torn between two projects—the Clinton biography and Live, Laugh, Love. In many ways Live, Laugh, Love is a more logical follow-up to Jesus and John Wayne, and we also decided that it would be good to give a little more time to let the dust settle on Clinton before grappling with her legacy. I can say that what I’ve already uncovered about Clinton is fascinating, and it’s a really important story that needs to be told when the time is right.