On and off over the next several days, I’ll be blogging about my favorite passages in Frank Schaeffer’s 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 (Cambridge: Carroll and Graf, 2007).
This is a book that I’m sad to have finished, since I enjoyed it so much. It took me a while to read it, since I was reserving my pleasure reading for my Saturday mornings at the pool. But, eventually, I decided to do pleasure reading during the week too, and the downside of that was that I finished the book faster.
So who is Frank Schaeffer? Frank Schaeffer is the son of the late Francis Schaeffer, a renowned evangelical theologian. I’m not sure where I first heard of Francis, but I learned more about him after I first heard of Franky. It was the late 80’s or early 90’s, and I was at a Church of God (7th Day) group in Indiana, which was meeting at somebody’s home. One of the ladies there was active in the Crisis Pregnancy Center, a pro-life group that counsels and helps pregnant teens. For our church service, she brought a video of a speech given at a Crisis Pregnancy Center dinner. The speaker was Franky Schaeffer.
He was intense yet enjoyable to listen to. But, to be honest, I don’t remember much of his speech, though much of it was about the evils of abortion and secular humanism. I do remember one line, though: he said that maybe we should abolish public schools and replace them with a committee of parents. The audience thunderously applauded, and the lady who brought the video said that several people there were involved in the home school movement. Since I was anti-public school at the time (primarily because of my own alienation and hostility to authority), the line resonated with me.
A few years later, I heard that Franky had converted to Greek Orthodoxy. I don’t recall my reaction to that. I know I wasn’t happy or upset: it just struck me as unusual, since I didn’t know much about that branch of Christianity. At one point in high school, I helped out with a Crisis Pregnancy Center baby shower, and there was a table with pro-life literature. One of the pamphlets advertised Franky’s group, and I told one of the prominent ladies there that I’d heard him speak and thought he was great. She replied in a not-too-enthusiastic tone, “Yeah, I’ve heard of him.” Maybe that was when he was still in the religious right, but was beginning to fall out of favor with many evangelicals.
Over the years, I heard that he had become more liberal, and, in 2008, I learned that he was endorsing Barack Obama for President. At first, my understanding was that he was adopting a consistent pro-life stance, one that was against abortion and war. Then, I heard that he had become pro-choice. In the book, he’s in the middle of these two extremes: he doesn’t believe all abortion should be banned, but he doesn’t agree with abortion on demand, either.
In 2009, after the shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller, Frank Schaeffer apologized for his contribution to the violence. He was the one who encouraged his father to champion the right-to-life cause, and his father practically made abortion an evangelical issue. Before, it was deemed a “Catholic” issue. Although Francis Schaeffer wasn’t a die-hard right-winger and actually liked the 1960’s, his access to Jerry Falwell, Ronald Reagan, and other influential leaders helped make abortion a key concern for Christian conservatives.
But Franky and Francis also contributed something else: Francis’ “Christian Manifesto” said that Christians may have to challenge their government over the abortion issue. For Franky, that helped create the fanaticism that motivated a violent anti-abortion activist to shoot George Tiller.
I think I first heard of Frank’s book, Crazy for God, from Michael Westmoreland-White, who was discussing such issues as the murder of George Tiller, Francis Schaeffer’s “Christian Manifesto,” and Franky’s apology. But the book was also mentioned on Gavin Rumney’s site, and Felix is also a fan of Frank Schaeffer.
One reason I couldn’t resist getting the book was that I wanted to read a perspective about what Francis and his wife, Edith, were like up close. As I said, I learned more about Francis after I’d first heard of Franky. I read about him at DePauw in Christianity Today. The article was glowing, even though Franky says that the publication didn’t think much of Francis when he was still alive.
At Harvard, a friend of mine had a bunch of Francis Schaeffer books. He told me about L’Abri, Francis’ Christian commune in Switzerland for seekers, which was visited by Timothy Leary and other big-time celebrities. According to my friend, Francis encouraged people who visited there to see the logical conclusion of atheism (immorality), and to embrace a Christian worldview with moral absolutes. I borrowed Francis’ book about Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History, and it was quite fundamentalist: it treated the Bible as historical, said that evolution shouldn’t thwart our faith because science changes, and tried to tie the Hebrew Bible to the substitutionary atonement of Christ.
At an Intervarsity meeting at Harvard, a speaker mentioned Edith Schaeffer, the wife of Francis, who practically ran L’Abri. I saw a book by her about L’Abri while I was shelving books in the Harvard Divinity School library. I didn’t read all of it, but it reminded me of Intervarsity conferences in the woods of New Hampshire. Edith struck me as a friendly, hospitable woman, a sort of “mother” at L’Abri.
Also at Harvard, during one of my breaks, I read William Martin’s history of the religious right, With God on My Side. He credited Francis Schaeffer with starting the religious right of the 80’s and the pro-life movement. When Jerry Falwell was reluctant to start Moral Majority because he feared there weren’t enough evangelicals to change the nation, Francis told him that God in the Bible used pagans, so Falwell shouldn’t be afraid to work with people who didn’t share his theological beliefs. Martin also said that Schaeffer was an evangelical who urged Christians to engage culture rather than reject it (as fundamentalists tended to do), so he was open to art, music, movies, etc.
When I was at Jewish Theological Seminary, I read a book by James Barr that called Francis Schaeffer a “pseudo-intellectual.” I was upset by Barr’s intellectual snobbery.
As a student of Hebrew Union College, I met someone who was watching or reading Francis Schaeffer’s How Then Shall We Live? The student was average in terms of his grades, yet he was talking like a scholar about art history, history, and philosophy. And he got all this from Francis Schaeffer’s documentary!
So I wanted to learn more about Francis and Edith, as well as the big-time celebrities whom they rubbed shoulders with: Dr. Dobson, Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, etc. But I also wanted to learn about Franky’s spiritual development: how he became disenchanted with evangelicalism, and where he is now–politically, spiritually, and personally.
The passages I’ll comment on will not be the “juicy gossip” aspects of the book. If you’re interested in that, then you should probably read it yourself. My focus will be on the parts that inspired me or made me think. And there was a lot that did that!