Saturday, May 22, 2010

Good Tulsa World Article on Frank Schaeffer

Hi All: I'm so sorry this blog page has been SO silent for the last little bit. I'm working on my new book and doing some speaking too. I was just in Tulsa -- "buckle of the Bible belt" as they say. Here's an article that the Tulsa World paper did that I think reflects what i was trying to say when I spoke in that community knowing for its Far Right Evangelical politics.

Here's the story.

Soon I'll be posting some new material from my new book. Till then, Best, Frank

By BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Published: 5/22/2010  2:21 AM
Last Modified: 5/22/2010  4:10 AM

The son of Francis Schaeffer, one of the most influential evangelical theologians of the last century, is now a sharp critic of the evangelical world in which he was raised.

Best-selling novelist Frank Schaeffer grew up in the shadow of his father in L'Abri, a Christian community in Switzerland that drew thousands of young seekers from around the world.

His father's fame brought him into contact with top Christian and political leaders, and he went on to become a poster child for the evangelical movement.

Then, in his 30s, he left the evangelical world, later joining the Eastern Orthodox church.

He tells the story in his 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."

Schaeffer spoke Thursday night at the annual meeting of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, held at All Souls Unitarian Church. Below is an edited version of an interview earlier that day:

Do you consider yourself a born-again Christian?

I grew up in a family where the quote-unquote, born-again experience was minimized. Dad did not preach the born-again experience in the way some evangelicals do. He would have said that is a very typically American frontier religion, something new to Protestant Christianity. Martin Luther and John Calvin would not have known what you were talking about.

That said, I was a very sincere believer as a child.

What is your position on the authority of scripture?

I believe that the holy mysteries are really holy mysteries and one of them is the balance between the revelation of God through Scripture and the fact that we can't actually make an intellectual construct of who God is.

Most theology, to be perfectly honest, is just people making excuses for a God they don't fully understand and trying to figure out how things work. Which is fine, but let's not mistake our words about God for actually knowing about God.

Do you still agree with your father's theology?

People think that I've shifted my opinion, and in some ways I have, but in other ways, I'm still very much my dad's son.

I find his cultural analysis very pertinent. For example, the bankruptcy of the extreme left he saw very clearly, with people like Pol Pot and Mao Zedong and others.

He was a better man than his theology. For example, on the issue of homosexuality, he had a right-wing position. In practice, gay people were completely welcomed in L'Abri. He treated them with tremendous compassion and openness.

He could never be identified with the Jerry Falwells and the Pat Robertsons and the Anita Bryants.

When Anita Bryant came to his house for lunch to enlist his help in her campaign to ban gays from teaching in schools, he actually threw her out of the house because he thought she was so uncompassionate and un-Christ-like.

Only on the issue of abortion did his views overlap with the religious right. On every other issue, he was a progressive.

Why did you begin to doubt the validity of the evangelical world view?

My own journey away from my background in some ways has a lot less to do with faith than it has to do with politics. In the latter part of my father's life, we got lumped into what came to be known as the religious right because of our involvement in the Protestant pro-life movement, which he and I were very instrumental in beginning through book projects like, "How Then Shall We Live."

I was the keynote speaker at the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Religious Broadcasters convention. Jerry Falwell lent me his jet to fly around the country.

In the mid-1980s, I realized I didn't really belong there. I'd seen the inside of the machine.

When I got out, it was not a theological statement, saying I no longer believe this. It was actually to save my soul, in that I was going to become one of these flakes who is chasing power and money. It wasn't where my heart was at.

I just left. I said, I'm a Christian. I'm trying to follow Christ. What I'm not going to be is an evangelical leader. This is not my deal. Whatever this is, it is wrecking my life. For me, the path to atheism was Christian leadership.

Are you still pro-life?

Yes and no. Yes, in that I believe that a human life is a sacred thing. No, in that I don't think the answer to having fewer abortions is necessarily a legal and political one. I think it's one where we create a climate that appreciates life and helps women and helps families in a practical sense.

I voted for Barack Obama believing that some of his social programs would actually do more to help people not have abortions than all the talk from pro-life Republicans, who in 35 years of dominating American politics, never actually did much for people other than say they were against abortion.

Why did you join the Eastern Orthodox Church?

For a while I did nothing, but eventually I realized I was a religious person, a believer, and I wanted to go to church somewhere on Sunday.

I felt more comfortable with a more liturgical, less personality-based form of worship. I like the noncommercial, nonentertainment culture. Quieter, less rationalistic. A lot of that is just personal taste. I don't say anybody else is wrong.

You've called today's religious right dangerous. More than half of Oklahomans self-identify as evangelicals. Are you calling them dangerous?

No, not at all. Where evangelicals are dangerous is not as individuals but as a bloc, voting for the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

They're dangerous because they simplify politics down to a couple issues.

I think the evangelical community, in terms of politics, has really painted itself into a corner. It's very dangerous to have a series of moralistic litmus tests that you apply to people on the basis of voting.

For instance, having had a son in the Marine Corps getting shot at in Afghanistan, I look at who the commander in chief is, and I have a lot more at stake than how he votes on gay rights and abortion. I'd like to know, is he competent? Is he intelligent? Is he decent? Is he honest? Will he govern well? Is he going to make a good commander in chief?

I fault the evangelical leaders like James Dobson, who so narrow their focus to a few moral issues that we have consistently voted for some very mediocre or worse leadership.

I'm not saying the left doesn't do the same thing. Both have their litmus tests. But evangelicals give it that religious fervor, which has really hurt our country. It's just crazy.

Are you still happy with Barack Obama?

Yes I am. I think health-care reform is necessary. I think he has conducted the war far better than George W. Bush. He's a much better commander in chief than Bush. I think the Republicans are in for a nasty surprise in November.

Are you concerned about the tea party movement?

No. I'm just concerned when people vote with religious fervor on nonreligious issues. Not everything is a moral crusade.

I'm concerned about nonfact-based discussions. Barack Obama is not the anti-Christ. He was not born on a different planet. If policy gets discussed in those kinds of crazy terms, we're in real trouble.

There's just been too much nonsense coming from the far right, which reminds me, by the way, of the tone and debate that came from the left during the '60s and '70s. We're living in an age of right-wing radicalism that is just as anti-American, if not more so, fundamentally hating this country, as what came from the left in the late '60s. It's that same shrill demonizing of the opposition.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at