I read a lot but I don’t write book reviews. My opinions are generally saved for date night with my husband or for the ears of close friends over a cheese plate (obviously.)
However, once in awhile a book gains enough traction for being so popular with all the loudest dissenters or thought-makers in a movement that it’s hard to ignore. Trust me, I have no problem ignoring the latest NYT Bestseller when I can feel in my bones that the content is antithetical to my beliefs or, in the simplest words, nonsense. I say those words having never written my own book and am sure that I don’t precisely understand what it must require for someone to formulate pages and pages full of their own deeply-felt inspirations, only to have people like myself get wound up and pontificate why it isn’t worth buying. That’s why I don’t write book reviews.
Well, until the one I might start writing this afternoon.
I’m simultaneously reading all of the short stories of Flannery O-Connor (she is incredible) and also making my way (although very slowly because I am writing comments after just about every sentence) through, “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. Honestly, I don’t even know where to start with Du Mez’s book, so I won’t. Yet.
I will say this:
I grew up Evangelical. My entire life I’ve been in evangelical churches. My mom was on staff at three separate churches in my childhood. My father served as an elder. I went on missions trips and to bonfires with the youth group in the summer. I killed it in “Sword Drill” contests and played “Sardines” long into the night with fellow junior high friends. We had lock-ins and I grew up on a steady diet of Psalty, McGhee and Me, Brio, Amy Grant, Considering Lily, DC Talk, and SuperTones. I was in devotion groups with pastors wives and toilet-papered the assistant pastor’s house. I went to Hume Lake, Camp Fox, and Forrest Home and jumped on “the blob.” My uncle was the pastor of the church I attended when newly married and I worked on his staff for seven years. On that staff I was the only female that wasn’t in an administrative position. I’ve been at church parties, at youth group retreats, at potlucks, prayer meetings, interventions, reconciliation prayer nights. I’ve been at the deathbed of church goers and I’ve been at births. I’ve watched church bodies split and go their separate ways after decades together. I’ve organized and ran multiple VBS events, Sunday school teacher trainings, pool parties, summer camps, and Harvest gatherings. I’ve been the first person at the church in the morning and the last to lock up.
Aside from preaching in the pulpit, I think I’ve done just about everything you can do at an Evangelical church.
Why am I telling you this? It’s certainly not assure you that my opinion about evangelicalism is the only one, or to assert that those with a dissenting opinion are not valid.
That quick glimpse over 40 years of my life is shared to couch my forthcoming review of Du Mez’s book with, as the youth say, “receipts.” I feel like I can confidently assert myself into a conversation about evangelicalism, and have a leg to stand on – as much as any other person my age. My relationship with the evangelical church wasn’t casual, it was life.
And while our family recently changed denominations to the Anglican church, it was not out of an animosity or anger towards the larger Evangelical church. I don’t have an ax to grind and I certainly don’t look at the national church (as does Du Mez) with a glaringly reductive and obviously never-to-be-redeemed negative view.
Is the Evangelical church without her faults? Obviously not.
Is she fumbling now? Yep.
Might she need to fumble further and even harder in order to come back to the important “first things?” Possibly.
Do I see major problems in the Evangelical movement and an unhealthy marriage with politics? Certainly, and I hope you do as well.
Have I been hurt while attending an Evangelical church? Of course.
All these things are true. But all these things can be true while also existing alongside the fact that there are many, many evangelical churches that don’t deserve to be unfairly lumped into an oversimplified soup of progressive “woes” railed against the American church.
I haven’t finished the book and want to give it a completely fair shake before I attempt to comprehensively review it. I will say though…..I pride myself on not being the person who can’t listen to the “other side” and so I want to hear stories and experiences. This is important to me. But I will also say that when someone shares opinions as “factual evidence”, while also providing a very suspect and slim paper trail, all the while couching it under the cloak of “academic research”…..I have to slow you down.
Give me facts and I will listen.
BUT. If you’re just going to write a 300 page hit piece that loosely ties John Wayne to the Capitol attack on Jan 6th and then go on to blame every man who ever attended a “Promise Keepers” event for the election of Donald Trump, I’m going to have a tough time taking you seriously.
We will see how the the remaining chapters strike me, but the outlook isn’t good. I hope to offer you a review that is based in something that Du Mez seems unfamiliar with…..snarkless factually-based evidence that isn’t propped up by hyper-emotion.
For now, I need some O’Connor as a palette-cleanser. And, if you’ve read anything by Flannery, you know that “palette-cleanser” isn’t how she is usually described. That’s telling.