The Faith and Patriotism of John Wayne

By Diane Howard, Ph.D.

John Wayne—“the Duke”— was an embodiment of masculinity and patriotism. He appeared in more than 175 movies and won an Academy Award for his role as Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit.” He was also a committed patriot. He played this role in public and on screen. From his portrayals of the rugged individual in his westerns to the anti-communism hero in his war films, Wayne’s film beliefs and behaviors lined up with those of his real life.

“Sure I wave the American flag,” he once said, “Do you know a better flag to wave? Sure I love my country with all her faults. I’m not ashamed of that, never have been, never will be.”

Wayne admired the rugged individualism of nineteenth century America, and his worldview did not include food stamps and social security.

“I don’t think a fella should be able to sit on his backside and receive welfare,” he said, “I’d like to know why the well-educated keep apologizing for lazy and complaining people who think the world owes them a living.”

He refused to be a part of movies that he thought were immoral during a time when immorality was rising in Hollywood. He was a founding member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, and he had a strong hatred for communism.

With his Scotch-Irish bloodline, he was raised a Presbyterian.  Wayne’s son, Michael thought his father was a man who quietly believed in God. “There must be a higher power,” Wayne said in the year he died, “Or how does all this stuff work?”

His grandson, Father Matthew Muñoz, further tells about his grandfather, “From an early age, he had a good sense of what was right and what was wrong. He was raised with a lot of Christian principles and kind of a ‘Bible faith’ that I think had a strong impact upon him. He wrote beautiful love letters to God, and they were prayers. And they were very childlike and they were very simple, but also very profound at the same time…there was a profound wisdom in his simplicity.”

Father Muñoz views his grandfather’s values as “God coming first, then family, then country,” and these beliefs are repeatedly reflected in his films. He believes those values are much needed in Hollywood today, and if “the Duke” were still here, he’d be leading the charge.

“My grandfather was a fighter,” Father Muñoz recently said in a recent article, “And I think there would be a lot of things he’d be disappointed and saddened over. But I don’t think he would lose hope. I think he would look at the current time as a moment of faith. People are in crisis and they’re looking for something more meaningful, more real…”