Francis Schaeffer is a name that commands automatic respect in most evangelical circles. His book, How Shall We Then Live?, and its companion video series, have been credited as the primary catalysts that led to the formation of the religious right and the politicization of the evangelical church.
Now, however, Schaeffer’s son Frank (an evangelical celebrity in his own right) has come forward to set the record straight with his new book, Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. In an interview with John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, he discusses what his father (who died in 1984) really thought about the religious right leaders who capitalized on his call to action, and what he thought the church should look like.
On the leadership of the religious right:
The public image of the leaders of the religious right I met with so many times also contrasted with who they really were. In public, they maintained an image that was usually quite smooth. In private, they ranged from unreconstructed bigot reactionaries like Jerry Falwell, to Dr. Dobson, the most power-hungry and ambitious person I have ever met, to Billy Graham, a very weird man indeed who lived an oddly sheltered life in a celebrity/ministry cocoon, to Pat Robertson, who would have had a hard time finding work in any job where hearing voices is not a requirement.
On his father’s alignment with the religious right:
He has been used by people like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and others to give some respectability to points of view that really were not his. What made my dad’s heart beat fastest was talking about people’s philosophical presuppositions and how they lived. He wanted to put people’s lives back together again, people who had problems. The politicized view of him is illegitimate.
On the politics of the religious right:
I personally came to believe that a lot of the issues that were being latched onto by the Christian Right, whether it was the gay issue or abortion or other things, were actually being used for negative political purposes. They were used to structure a power base for people who then threw their weight around. The other thing I began to understand is that in dismissing the whole culture as decadent, in dismissing the public school movement as godless, in talking about anybody who opposed them as evil, the Religious Right was only a mirror image of the New Left. Thus, the Religious Right and the New Left are really two sides of the same coin. What gets left out is a basic discussion about the United States and the reality of living here, the freedoms we enjoy and the benefits of a pluralistic culture where people are not crushing each other over beliefs. This gets lost.
On the issue of homosexuality:
A lot of people in the evangelical and fundamentalist communities speak theoretically about homosexuality being no worse than adultery or divorce. However, in practice, they are not undertaking national campaigns to single out evangelical people who were married to somebody else at one time and got divorced. So actually there is a tremendous moral hypocrisy there because the whole gay issue has been singled out for special treatment.
My dad literally practiced what he preached. He said that homosexual sex was on the same level as adultery, premarital sex and spiritual pride. He didn’t differentiate between all this and write people off on the basis of it. He actually believed and acted on what a lot of people in the Religious Right say theoretically. But he literally was that way.
My dad didn’t see it as a special problem to be singled out from everything else. He didn’t see it as threatening. We had quite a few gay people come through L’Abri. As a child, I knew who they were and why. But my dad did not push them into programs where they were going to try to become straight based on special counseling. He didn’t see it that way. He just saw this as one amongst all kinds of challenges that face people humanly and was very compassionate about it.
We had a number of people who came to L’Abri who were not Christians or were Christians who were gay who never changed their orientation, and they didn’t become less friendly with my dad as a result. He didn’t make a big point of it one way or another. That is how his attitude manifested itself to other people.
So while Francis Schaeffer wasn’t fully gay-affirming, it seems unlikely that he would have had much use for ex-gay programs, much less for the political tool that the ex-gay movement has become. If nothing else, that fact (along with the rest of what Frank Schaeffer has to say) should give sufficient pause to inspire the leadership of Exodus International and Focus on the Family to reevaluate the political course that both organizations have committed themselves to.
Hat tip: Misty Irons