Today’s Evangelicalism Was Forged in the Fight Against Communism and Feminism

Outside observers and critics confronted white evangelical support for Donald Trump — not exactly a Christian-family-values figure — as a puzzle to be solved. But while many saw hypocrisy, historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez identified a number of continuities. In her book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, Du Mez argues that evangelicalism has evolved into a right-wing movement, and Trump was exactly the man many had been waiting for.

On the surface, it absolutely seems like hypocrisy. But historically speaking, what evangelicals mean by “family values” always comes down to white patriarchal power. If you go back to the 1960s and 1970s, during the emergence of the religious right, you see that the issues they originally mobilized around were the authority of white parents to make choices about their children in light of racial desegregation efforts, and the assertion of traditional masculinity against both feminism and antiwar sentiment in the Vietnam era. What links these things together is the assertion of white patriarchal authority. To the extent that Trump symbolized the same kind of ethos, we really aren’t talking about hypocrisy or a betrayal of evangelical values.