Yesterday, on March 14, Kristin Kobes Du Mez spoke at Miami University, and I sat on a three-person panel to give a short response to her talk.
Here is a video of the event.
Du Mez wrote the book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.
(Interestingly, the Gaither Vocal Band had a song with the same name; in retrospect, not their best work, but on the other hand, not nearly as bad as some of the stuff in the book!)
Here is an edited and paraphrased version of my response to her lecture.
Thank you Dr. Du Mez for sharing with us this evening. Historical insight is invaluable to Christians as they seek to be faithful to Christ. As someone in the Anabaptist tradition, who believes that Christians should step out of the political process altogether, I am heartened that at least some evangelicals are reckoning with their connection to political power.
During the Protestant Reformation, the Anabaptists were the radicals who refused to use violence, and refused to meld political power with the church. This is a major critique of evangelicals that I would have, and where I largely agree with Dr. Du Mez. A worldview that conceives of using the worldly, coercive power structures of politics to enact a “Christian” way of life – I see this as incompatible with the way of Jesus, the suffering servant who instructed his followers to love their enemies rather than exert power over them. But, the other side of the “conservative politics” coin is “progressive politics,” which in my view is just as much of a dead end. I would be saddened if evangelicals realized that their conservative politics were misguided, and thus turned to progressive politics. Such an approach misses the point – which is that Jesus came establishing a kingdom, a new sort of society, one that is built upon invitation instead of forcing. Such a society is incompatible with worldly politics.
Another prominent theme of your lecture is masculinity, and gender more broadly. Here again I draw on an Anabaptist perspective which, on its best days, views all issues of power Christocentrically. Without ignoring the apostolic passages regarding the structure and dynamics within the home and church, we frame them within the context of Jesus’ teaching on authority. Greatness in the kingdom comes not through exerting power but through service; leadership is not lording it over but coming under to serve. Following Christ will transform the power dynamics within both the home and church. It appears that the evangelical conception of power in the home and church has often been informed more by worldly politics than by Jesus. (To be fair, my own conservative Anabaptist tradition, though mostly political non-participants, has sometimes also struggled to implement these Jesus-shaped ideals.)
Again, thank you, Dr. Du Mez, for putting together this historical analysis.