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Militant Evangelical masculinity and American politics

Militant Evangelical masculinity and American politics

81% of white self-professed Evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump, which has confounded many who see in Trump’s self-professed sexual assault, multiple divorces and hateful rhetoric values that are anything but Christian.  On the website Religion and Politics, historian Kristin Du Mez has a post, Donald Trump and Militant Evangelical Masculinity, that seeks to explain how so many Christians came to see in Trump their potential deliverer.  She offers an interesting historical review of the process where over several generations, evangelicals began to frame Jesus and Christianity as hyper-masculine, thus contributing to the rise of Trump.

“The truth is, many evangelicals long ago replaced the suffering servant of Christ with an image that more closely resembles Donald Trump than many would care to admit. They’ve traded a faith that privileges humility and elevates the least of these for one that derides gentleness as the province of wusses. Having replaced the Jesus of the gospels with an idol of machismo, it’s no wonder many have come to think of Trump himself as the nation’s savior.

Indeed, white evangelical support for Trump can be seen as the culmination of a decades-long embrace of militant masculinity, a masculinity that has enshrined patriarchal authority, condoned a callous display of power at home and abroad, and functioned as a linchpin in the political and social worldviews of conservative white evangelicals. In the end, many evangelicals did not vote for Trump despite their beliefs, but because of them.”

She notes that many Christians began to conflate their faith and American patriotism in facing the existential fear of Soviet communism, and feeling that a robust response was needed to protect both the nation and the faith.

“Evangelicals staunchly opposed communism, and their reasons for doing so were many: communists were anti-American, anti-God, and they threatened God-given rights and the integrity of the family. A strong military was necessary to ward off the communist peril, and strong men were essential to a strong military.”

But the war in Vietnam created a conflict, because as it degenerated into a confused quagmire and domestic opposition increased, evangelicals felt that their faith was threatened by the various social justice movements of the 1960’s and they began to see upholding traditional gender roles as a Christian imperative;

“But the rising generation caused reason for concern. Young men sporting long hair and flowered shirts dodged the draft, shunned authority, and shirked their duty to protect America from the threat of global communism. The Vietnam era would emerge as a pivotal moment in the relationship between American evangelicals and the U.S. military. In the 1940s and 1950s, evangelicals had often looked askance at the military, which they saw as a source of moral corruption for young men. But as Anne Loveland has argued, evangelicals who supported U.S. military action in Vietnam came to hold the military itself in high (and often uncritical) esteem.”

The end of the Cold War might have seemed to undermine the basis of this movement, but the changing economy that lessened the ability of families to get by on a single (male) wage earners salary created anxieties that were then bolstered by the emergence of a widespread fear of terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

“The moral certitudes of the “War on Terror”—framed by evangelical president George W. Bush—abruptly replaced the post-Cold War malaise. Once again America needed strong, heroic men to defend the country, at home and abroad.

Evangelicals, many of whom had never strayed from Cold War gender constructions, stood at the ready to address these new conditions. “When those two planes hit the Twin Towers on September 11, what we suddenly needed were masculine men,” Farrar wrote in his 2005 book King Me. “Feminized men don’t walk into burning buildings. But masculine men do. That’s why God created men to be masculine.” In no uncertain terms he repudiated the earlier “Tender Warrior” motif: “The trend today is to major on the ‘tender’ and minor on the ‘warrior,’” but “in the trenches you don’t want tenderness.”

It is not difficult to imagine how evangelicals, steeped in literature claiming that men were created in the image of a warrior God, might be receptive to sentiments like those expressed by the late Jerry Falwell, in his 2004 sermon “God is Pro-War.” In fact, surveys demonstrate that traditionalist evangelicals are more likely than other Americans to approve of U.S. engagement in a preemptive war, support military action against terrorism, and condone the use of torture.”

It is into this stew of hyper-masculinity and sense of existential dread into which walked Donald Trump, with many evangelicals seeing in him, the embodiment of the tough, no-nonsense aggressive leader who could lead the people out of their perceived chaos.

“This brand of militant masculinity also helps explain the lack of outrage on the part of many evangelicals when it comes to Trump’s character issues. Dobson himself, one of Trump’s most influential evangelical supporters, urged fellow Christians “to cut him some slack.”* More tellingly, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and stalwart Trump supporter, explained his endorsement of the unconventional candidate in this way: “I want the meanest, toughest, son-of-a-you-know-what I can find in that role, and I think that’s where many evangelicals are.””

It’s important to remember that the hatefulness and bigotry that has followed in the wake of Trumps campaign and election, regardless of Trump’s personal beliefs or intentions, are rooted in our history and that it is this underlying fear and paranoia that the Gospel is meant to confront.

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Prof Christopher Seitz

Thank you Wm. Paul. I grew up in the south and have never seen these depictions anywhere.

My wife is from Texas and there you will see very often the kneeling cowboy, his horse quiet behind him, hat off, both heads lowered before the Cross.

William (Bill) Paul

To the extent knowing something about a para-church evangelical organization like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) might be a test-case for some of the things here, I can say my acquaintance with the FCA in colleges around Chicagoland (Wheaton and others) bear almost nothing in resemblance to things alleged here. Granted b/c most of them come from non-liturgical churches, they don’t get exposure to a certain way of stressing the passion, but the gentleness and receptivity they embody is in my experience humble and humbling. The same with FCA chapters in Pennsylvania and New England that I know. Athletes in Action is militant in the sense that “they go” to preach the gospel–in the same energetic way, despite differences, that the Irish monks walked toward the corners of the earth to share the gospel. But muscular in the extreme ways of some mentioned or caricatured here? No. And the muscular Christianity that came from the Nash (or “Bash”) camps in the UK generations ago was chivalrous, really.

None of this takes away from the awful instances of a lopsided (if that) faith that makes Jesus too much like Joshua. But *evangelical* ought to be a word worth rehabilitating. It was owned by and descriptive of Bonhoeffer, Barth and so many exemplary others. It used to have a higher profile in ECUSA, and it was IMHO not in the evangelical diocese that *did* own the word objectionable.

Prof Christopher Seitz

“…such a horrendous painting is not an uncommon trope in American Evangelical Biblian imagery these days.”

Where?

I fear we are again in the realm of soi-disant “fake news.”

Can you show one single evangelical context in which one will see this nonsense depiction? It is a cartoon. Rightly so.

Evangelicals worship a Jesus whose power was exhausted on the Cross because he bore the sins of the world. His victory was on Easter, and after Holy Saturday.

Let’s try not to indulge straw-persons so as to reinforce our stereotypes…

Gregory Orloff

No feed to fear, Professor Christopher Seitz — nothing soi-disant or “fake-newsy” here.

Episcopal Café isn’t the first place I’ve seen this image — I’ve seen it before down here in the Southland of the United States, on Bible tracts left in public restrooms and Bible stores chockful of such religious kitsch.

Of course, as a Christian, I was shocked and alarmed by so glaring a theological and artistic disaster.

But apparently it’s part and parcel of the “Macho Jesus” phenomenon, conservative American Evangelicalism’s marketing attempt to attract into the pews “real men” who would rather spend Sundays watching football, racing dirt bikes or plinking with firearms, because — speaking of stereotypes — apparently that’s the only thing “real men” do, and Christianity is just too darn “sissy” for them, so we better do some marketing to cater to their instincts and interests.

Google around the Internet in a few moments of leisure time, and you’ll find it all over the place.

You’ll find it in the paintings of Kentucky-based artist Stephen Sawyer, where Jesus is a tattooed biker dude (even sporting a inked heart emblazoned with “Father” on his burly bicep) or an oiled, muscled boxer who dominates in the ring. You’ll find it in such tomes as “The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity” and “No More Christian Nice Guy.” You’ll find it in the vulgar and vitriolic “preaching” of Mark Driscoll and his megachurch ilk. You’ll find it in such bizarre phenomena of “Fight Church,” were “Christians” engage in bloodying another’s cheek for sport, rather than turning the other cheek, as Christ Jesus instructed. You’ll find it in “Christians” who see nothing incongruous about engraving Bible citations into rifle cartridges destined to pass through the bodies of enemies whom Jesus said to love, rather than kill.

Yikes! Just where is the Jesus who said “I am humble and gentle at heart” and “Blessed are the peacemakers” in all that? So much for the notion of repentance as “metanoia” — literally a “change of mind,” a change in how we think and view things.

What strange things folks pull out of the Bible when it is divorced from the living, historic continuity of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church in which it was hatched!

As for charges of “fake news,” let’s not misuse that trope for views we disagree with, but for instances of fact where it’s actually warranted. You know, like eight years of stating that a sitting President of the United States was neither a citizen nor a Christian, all documented evidence to the contrary… Or reporting without substantiation that a presidential candidate was running a child trafficking ring out of the back of a pizza parlor, with the horrific collateral effect of a “patriot” shooting up a restaurant…

Prof Christopher Seitz

BTW, where did this horrendous painting come from? It’s individuality is heretical. Jesus descended to the dead to reign over death and rescue the saints of the Old Covenant. There he could be depicted as the powerful warrior of death and sin, breaking chains. But at the Cross as such? There his power is displayed by offering a man who asked for forgiveness and a place in the kingdom just that, with his last dying breath.

Fitting all this into a culture war of stereotypes is fraught with problems precisely because in Him we are all being new creatures. Your life is hid with God in Christ.

Gregory Orloff

Unfortunately, such a horrendous painting is not an uncommon trope in American Evangelical Biblian imagery these days.

It goes along the mentality that conjures up karate demonstrations and other publicity stunts of strength passed off as “evangelism” in a rather crass misappropriation of Philippians 4:13.

When one looks at the traditional, classical Christian iconography of the Church, however, one finds the much more beautiful and moving metaphorical image of Christ Jesus trampling down the gates of Sheol underfoot, with its bars and locks torn asunder, pulling up Adam and Eve out of the dark pit of death, while the saints of the Old Covenant cheer on.

As for the cross of Christ Jesus, there he displayed his power not only by offering a place in Paradise to a criminal who repented at the last minute — on that very cross, Christ Jesus asked God to forgive those who nailed him to it!

Wow! Now that’s power!

leslie marshall

Believers embrace the whole bible. Jesus’ 3 year Ministry is not all he had to offer. Jesus is coming back to judge as a Mighty Warrior and he’s bringing millions of warriors with him to defeat the Enemy, in a totally destructive, murderous manner.

The Old Testament is replete with God’s violent Warriors, mighty Men of God, that stayed in the bloody battlefields until God said his purposes were filled. [You can call that hyper-masculinity if you like, some call it obedience to God. ]

Were all those men moral in all aspects of their lives? Of course not. Quite the opposite.

None of my Christian friends are under any illusion
about Trumps immoral behavior. We don’t tolerate it. We don’t approve it. We don’t ignore it. We don’t think Trump is God’s warrior.

WE voted for Conservatism. Less wasteful spending, strengthened Military,
sovereignty, better schools, conservative courts, improved social services, free speech, religious freedom, human rights, smaller Federal Govt, restored Allies, enemies that fear us, easing superfluous regulations on business, commerce and environmental management (& much more).

Mr Trump is a masculine man. What makes a man masculine is not good looks, physical strength or intellectual prowess. A masculine man does not sit on the couch.

A masculine Man, acts. We think Trump [despite deep character flaws] & his cabinet, and Capitol Hill, will steer our country in a positive direction.

Gregory Orloff

Thank you for your Biblian perspective, Ms. Marshall.

But from the Christian perspective, Christians follow not the Bible but Christ Jesus, and they read the Bible not as disconnected pages from which one can pull any notion or justify any behavior, but through the prism of Christ Jesus, his example, his values and his commands.

Christians do so because Christ Jesus told the Biblians of his day that they will find life not in the Bible, but in him:

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.”

(John 5:39-40)

As those words state, the worth of the Bible is found in how it points to Christ Jesus, not to anything independent of and not measured against him.

In Christian thought, obedience to God is perfectly personified and embodied in Christ Jesus, who was far from a violent warrior who shed blood, but rather willingly let his blood be shed in line with his nonviolent ethic of self-sacrificial love, setting an example for those who follow him:

“Christ suffered for us,
leaving us an example,
that we might walk
in his footsteps.

“He did nothing wrong;
no false word
ever passed his lips.

“When they cursed him,
he returned no curse.
Tortured, he made no threats
but trusted in the perfect Judge.”

(1 Peter 2:21-23)

That’s what Christians see when they eye Christ Jesus on the cross.

Plus, we can’t really follow Christ Jesus’ gospel commands to love neighbor, love enemy and treat others the same way we want to be treated by attacking, smiting or killing them.

As for your definition of “a masculine man” — “a masculine man acts” — such a definition is debatable, but even if accepted as true, it does not make masculinity thus defined a moral virtue. Neither Lenin, nor Hitler, nor Stalin, nor Mao Zedong “sat on the couch.” They most definitively “acted.” But the world would have been a much better, healthier and more peaceful place without such “masculinity in action,” as millions upon millions of dead innocent victims would agree.

Why fetishize “strength”? After all, God told Paul, “My power is strongest when you are weak.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). And thus Paul concluded: “When I am weak, then I am strong!” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

That Christian way of thinking is quite a “yuge” difference from the line of thought driving so much of politics, economics and even religion in contemporary America.

“Never depend on rulers:
born of earth, they cannot save.
They die, they turn to dust.
That day, their plans crumble.”

(Psalm 146:3-4)

Philip B. Spivey

From your mouth to God’s ears.

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