Jesus and Captain Ri

By Dr. Michael Chung

Years of abuse against women in the name of conservative theological beliefs are shaking complementarianism. Prominent citizens like President Jimmy Carter and author/speaker Beth Moore have vocally announced their exodus from the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination that highly espouses patriarchal/complementarian values and beliefs. Houston Chronicle journalist Robert Downen, in a 6-part series, chronicled the lives of more than 700 people who have suffered abuse at the hands of leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. The #MeToo movement sparked the #ChurchToo movement where many women came forward to reveal they had been sexually abused by a Christian leader, the majority falling into the conservative category.

Two monumental works that have recently hit the shelves of bookstores are challenging the veracity of conservative evangelical beliefs. Baylor historian Beth Allison Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truthargues that complementarian/patriarchal thinking “arose from a series of clearly definable historical moments.”[1] It was not what God intended but was a result of human sin.[2] “Patriarchy walks with structural racism and systemic oppression, and it has done so consistently throughout history.”[3] The patriarchal/complementarian view is not biblical, Barr writes, 

“Evidence shows me how Christian patriarchy was built, stone by stone, throughout the centuries. Evidence shows me how, century after century, arguments for women’s subordination reflect historical circumstances more than the face of God. Evidence shows me that just because complementarianism uses biblical texts doesn’t mean it reflects biblical truth. Evidence shows me the trail of sin and destruction left in the wake of teachings that place women under the power of men”.[4]

This patriarchal view of the Bible in some way has been influenced by the fictitious characters played by John Wayne.

Enter Kristen Kobes Du Mez’s work titled, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (her work was released before Barr’s), which argues that the current white evangelical thought is dominated by patriarchy and militant masculine militarism that has led to things like the 81% evangelical support of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidency. Du Mez writes, “evangelical support for Trump [was] the culmination of the evangelicals’ embrace of militant masculinity, an ideology that enshrines patriarchal authority and condones the callous display of power, at home and abroad.”[5]

Culture influences white evangelicalism as much as theology which is reflected by the heroes they celebrate: Mel Gibson, military generals, and John Wayne.[6] Wayne in particular seems to have a pronounced authority, “As the onscreen embodiment of the heroic cowboy and idealized American soldier, and also as an outspoken conservative activist in real life, John Wayne became an icon of rugged American manhood for generations of conservatives.”[7] Du Mez goes on to write, “Wayne would come to symbolize a different set of virtues—a nostalgic yearning for a mythical “Christian America,” a return to “traditional” gender roles, and the reassertion of (white) patriarchal authority.”[8]

She was not surprised that Trump garnered strong evangelical support and warns that:

“Trump, in other words, is hardly the first flashy celebrity to capture evangelicals’ hearts and minds, nor is he the first strongman to promise evangelicals protection and power. Indeed, the values and viewpoints at the heart of white evangelicalism today―patriarchy, authoritarian rule, aggressive foreign policy, fear of Islam, ambivalence toward #MeToo, and opposition to Black Lives Matter . . . are likely to persist long after Trump . . . .”[9]

The personhood of John Wayne’s fictitious movie characters has led to a white evangelical Christianity of power, oppressing and abusing women, and militant masculine militarism; hence, actions like January 6 storming the Capitol building. A new hero is needed (spoiler alerts ahead if you have not watched Crash Landing on You).

Enter the fictional character Captain Ri Jeong Hyeok (played by actor Hyun Bin) of Netflix’s hit Korean drama, Crash Landing on YouWhile Wayne’s characters breeds authoritarianism, militant militarism, power, conservative thought, and patriarchy, Captain Ri’s heroic character breeds something much different: self-sacrifice, humility, staunch loyalty, care of loved ones, and servant leadership, with the primary motivation of life being the happiness and well-being of those he cares for. Captain Ri is every bit as heroic and macho as any of John Wayne’s movie characters. He commands and cares for a battalion of soldiers who have an unwavering allegiance to him, loyal to his parents, keeps his word, he fights and defeats groups of evil henchmen, he rides motorcycles, shoots guns, he takes a bullet to protect the woman he loves, and he will even leave the hospital before being fully recovered to ensure her safety. 

The woman Captain Ri loves, Yoon Se-ri (played by actress Son Ye-jin), is the owner and boss of her own fashion and beauty company called Se-ri’s Choice. She was also selected by her father to head the family corporation, Queen’s Group. But before the announcement can be made, Se-ri goes paragliding and gets caught in a freak tornado that plunges her into North Korea where she is discovered by Captain Ri Jeong Hyeok. Instead of pursuing the normal channels of interrogation and investigation, Captain Ri ends up devoting his life to protecting and getting Yoon Se-ri safely back to South Korea. In the process, they fall in love. 

His heroism begins early. On a trip alone to the capital city of Pyongyang, Ri is informed that his military village will undergo a routine search. Yoon Se-ri is at the village and unaccompanied in his home. Knowing Yoon Se-ri’s life could be in danger, Ri borrows the car of a general and races home just in the nick of time. A commanding officer who is the antagonist of the drama, Cho Cheol-gang, raises and points his gun pointed toward Yoon Se-ri. As Ri arrives on the scene, he lies to officer Cho, claiming Cho is pointing a gun at his fiancé and asks him to stop.

Through the rest of the drama, Captain Ri is risking his life on several occasions. He takes Yoon Se-ri on a boat ride, hoping to reach South Korea. He arranges for her to become a member of a sports team in hopes she can reach Europe and then South Korea. He modifies a motorcycle to attain top speed and agility when fighting bad guys in makeshift vans. He fires machine guns and pistols at those who try to harm Yoon Se-ri. 

When Officer Cho, the bad guy, escapes to South Korea and tells Captain Ri he will kill Yoon Se-ri, Captain Ri bravely crawls 12-20 hours through a tunnel linking the north and south and eventually locates Yoon Se-ri in Seoul to protect her. When Yoon Se-ri is hospitalized, Captain Ri does not leave her side and is noticed by her family (with whom Yoon Se-ri has a terribly dysfunctional relationship), especially Yoon Se-ri’s stepmother, who eventually reconciles with her stepdaughter and is instrumental in helping Yoon Se-ri see Captain Ri one last time. 

The final South Korean meeting between Yoon Se-ri and Captain Ri occurs when the North and South are exchanging prisoners. Captain Ri has been captured by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, and the NIS and North Korea have agreed to a prisoner exchange. Yoon Se-ri learns of the coming exchange from her stepmother and they drive to the border for a final farewell. Yoon Se-ri rushes towards Captain Ri, and Ri, fully aware of the possibility that Yoon Se-Ri could be shot, yells for her to stop running. When she does not respond, Ri breaks away from his North Korean captors and rushes to embrace the woman he loves and would die for. You can watch the scene here.

Captain Ri is a true hero that espouses being a selfless servant and protector.

While John Wayne’s movie characters have led evangelical Christianity to value patriarchy and militant masculine militarism, Captain Ri, who is every bit as macho and heroic, leads to an example of care, humility, altruistic self-sacrifice, valuing women, and devotion to those he loves. A hero like Captain Ri is a much better fit for evangelical Christianity than John Wayne.

Dr. Michael Chung earned is BS in Pre-Med Psychology from Ohio State University and went on to earn a MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago and a PhD in New Testament at the University of Nottingham, where his thesis was on Paul’s Understanding of Spiritual Formation. His research interests and current is focused on the Gospels and Leadership. His book, entitled The Last King of Israel: Lessons from Jesus’s Final Ten Days (Wipf & Stock, 2016), argues that the Gospels can indeed be harmonized, fitting together like a puzzle. Prior to that, he wrote Praying with Mom: The Journey of Tears, Love and Spiritual Growth (2012). He has also authored of a variety of academic articles in New Testament, spirituality, and missiological journals published in North America, Europe, and Asia. He has taught at Fuller Theological Seminary-Texas, Houston Baptist University Calvary Theological Seminary-Indonesia and Houston Christian. He serves in a variety of pastoral and missionary roles while enjoying his travel to distant parts of the world sharing the gospel and training leaders. He is a Fuller Theological Seminary, New Testament, Adjunct. His desire is to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) using theological education as a means. He writes about New Testament, Missiology, Spiritual Formation, Ministry Philosophy, and Leadership. As an avid fan of Ohio State football, he has been a professional a sports writer for The O-Zone, the first accredited media outlet to cover Ohio State Football online, and has interviewed current NFL players like Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys.

[1] Beth Allison Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2021) back cover.

[2] Barr, Biblical Womanhood, 29.

[3] Barr, Biblical Womanhood, 33.

[4] Barr, Biblical Womanhood, 205.

[5] Kristen Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne:How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2020) p.3.

[6] Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne, 10.

[7] Ibid.


[9] Taken from April 21, 2021.


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