I’ve just finished reading a book, entitled Jesus and John Wayne. It was written by Dr. Kristin Kobes Du Mez, who is a Professor of History at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Behind the catchy title is an immense amount of in-depth historical research on the emergence of the macho Christianity that dominates in the modern Evangelical world, including most mega-churches, television preachers and popular authors.

Dr. Du Mez’s historical analysis begins with post World War I attempts to present the Gospel in a way that was meaningful in the early Twentieth Century. But she focuses on the era after World War II, starting in the 1950s, with Billy Graham emerging as a new breed of evangelist and various movements and leadership figures combining, during the same period, to become identified as Evangelical Christianity. She shows how the theme of rugged masculinity became a major emphasis over the next seven decades —which is pretty much my lifetime. Virtually every movement she mentioned was familiar to me; they have been part of the conversation during my student years and through the sixty years I’ve been a pastor. So, I found myself reading the book as a history of the influences on my spiritual journey.

Dr. Du Mez shows how the emphasis on authoritarian male leadership has often borne bad fruit. She catalogues incidents of bullying leaders causing personal casualties, of disclosures of infidelity, of sexual harassment and abuse, of cover-up and hypocrisy. In many cases male leaders’ moral failures have been blamed on women, who have been shamed by the male leaders and their loyalists. It’s amazing to read about case after case and see how consistent the pattern has been.

In modern Evangelical teaching, dominant male leadership is being presented as Complementarianism. Advocates define it this way: “Complementarianism is the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles and responsibilities as manifested in marriage, family life, religious leadership and elsewhere.” *

They seem to want this to be seen as a middle ground between traditional teachings asserting male authority and the trend toward egalitarianism that has come with the modern feminist movement. However, in practice, this turns out to be just a sugar-coated way of reaffirming the old-fashioned idea of patriarchy, essentially saying, “Women need to stay in their place!” The Biblical passages that are cited to support Complementarianism are all lifted out of the context of the time, place and culture in which they were written. The same kind of traditionalist thinking is behind the oppression that is today being forced by male clergy on women in Afghanistan and Iran.

I’m glad that ABC fully affirms women in leadership. I’m gratified that Connie DeVaughn is our Pastor, that Debra Blake, Alice Blackwood, Cat O’Neal-Petterson, Deborah Cook, Karen Garrison and Ren Barinaga make up two-thirds of our Deacon Board** and that our two elected financial officers are women: Peggy Golden (Financial Secretary) and Martina Westmoreland (Treasurer). Our Quarterly Business Meeting on Sunday was led by Moderator Felita Kealing, and more than 50% of those attending and voting were women. By contrast, major decisions in most modern Evangelical churches (even Baptists who come from a strong heritage of congregational leadership) are made by a group of male Elders.

Maybe we’re a JANE Wayne church. That’s OK with me, because many John Wayne churches are failing spectacularly.

— Pastor George Van Alstine

* https://www.theopedia.com/complementarianism. See entire online article.

** Thankful for my guys, Raul Chevez, Michael Kealing and Don Winbush, as well.

(You may want to listen to some fascinating insights on gender in the early church by New Testament scholar N.T. Wright at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=os8M9ln2cM0)