Along with C.S. Lewis and Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer was one of the pre-eminent Christian apologists of the 20th century. His books, the L'Abri community in Switzerland, and his strong connections to major figures in the religious right made him "evangelical royalty" (to borrow Frank Schaeffer's phrase).
On May 9th, 2012, I (Kile Jones) had the pleasure of interviewing Francis Schaeffer's son, Frank Schaeffer. Frank Schaeffer has become known for his "apostasy" from evangelicalism and the religious right. He now writes and lectures on the issues that arise when one takes biblical literalism seriously.
Now, as someone who participates in the Greek Orthodox Church, Frank has much to say to those who are "recovering" from the trauma of Christian fundamentalism. So without further ado, I introduce Mr. Frank Schaeffer:
KJ: Could you briefly describe your childhood upbringing and how religion played a role in it?
FS: My late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key founder and leader of the Religious Right. My mother Edith was also a spiritual leader, not just the mere power behind her man, which she was. Mom was a formidable and adored religious figure whose books and public speaking, not to mention biblical conditioning of me, directly and indirectly shaped millions of lives. For a time I joined my Dad in pioneering the Evangelical anti-abortion Religious Right movement. In the 1970s and early 80s, when I was in my twenties, I evolved into an ambitious, “successful” religious leader/instigator in my own right. And I wasn’t just Dad’s sidekick; I was also Mom’s collaborator in her well meant, if unintentionally hilarious, plot to “reach the world for Jesus.”
One morning in the early 1980s, I looked out over several acres of pale blue polyester and some twelve thousand Southern Baptist ministers. My evangelist father was being treated for lymphoma at the Mayo Clinic, and in his place I’d been asked to deliver several keynote addresses on the evangelical/fundamentalist circuit. I was following in the proudly nepotistic American Protestant tradition, wherein the Holy Spirit always seems to lead the offspring and spouses of evangelical superstars (or dictators) to “follow the call.”
A few weeks before, after being introduced by Pat Robertson, I had delivered a rousing take-back-America speech to thousands of cheering religious broadcasters. And not long after, I would appear at a huge pro-life rally in Denver. Cal Thomas—once the vice president of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, who later became a Fox News Commentator—would introduce me as “the best speaker in America.” The “anointing,” he said, was “clearly on this young man!” They were saying that I was a better speaker than my famous father.
At that moment the Schaeffers were evangelical royalty. When I was growing up in L’Abri, my parents’ religious community in Switzerland, it was not unusual to find myself seated across the dining room table from Billy Graham’s daughter or President Ford’s son, or even Timothy Leary. The English actress Glynis Johns used to come for Sunday high tea. I figured it was normal. They were just a few of the thousands who made it through our doors. Only later did I realize that L’Abri attracted a weirdly eclectic group of people who otherwise would not be caught dead in the same room. My childhood was, to say the least, unusual.
When Gerald Ford died in January of 2007, I recalled that the day he had assumed the presidency, his daughter-in-law Gayle was babysitting my daughter Jessica as her job in the work-study program at L’Abri, where Mike Ford, the President’s son, was a student. Mom and Dad met with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush Sr. and stayed in the White House several times. In the 1990s when my mother Edith—then in her eighties—heard that George W. Bush might run for the presidency, she exclaimed, “What? But Barbara asked me to pray especially for young George. She didn’t think he had what it took to do anything.”
KJ: How have your religious views changed throughout your life?
FS: I was raised to be a fundamentalist Calvinist. Today I view “salvation” as a journey. Here’s where I’m “at” today. To find the spiritual truth within any religion’s scripture, the holy books must be mentally edited. People of goodwill, informed by the love-your-neighbor spiritual truth they carry within their evolving ethical selves, have to find “good bits” of various scriptures and reject the rest. In terms of my own religion, the loyalty of those who wish to live as Christians, as opposed to those who wish to force others to be like us by using Christianity as a weapon, must shift from fidelity to the Bible to seeking the life-affirming message of transcendence buried within the madness, ignorance, and fear that we discover, not just in the darker portions of our “sacred” texts, but in every human heart. To see ourselves as fellow travelers sharing a humble uncertainty is an antidote to both religious fundamentalism and secular fundamentalism. No one ever killed anyone after shouting, “Maybe God is great!”
I used to think that the Bible was okay and that our (and other Christians’ and Jews’) problems—say, our ugly behavior to gay people or lying and stealing as a “normal” way of conducting our ministries, let alone the nepotism, personality cults and power struggles—stemmed from us not “living consistently as real Christians according to the Bible’s teaching.” Now I think that living consistently according to the Bible is one of the worst mistakes possible. To choose a rotten, exclusionary, hate filled, backwards Bronze Age-to-Roman-era ethical foundation for one’s life—i.e. most of the Bible—is not just a mistake, but a tragedy.
Continue reading the interview at the Claremont Journal of Religion, here.
Claremont Journal of Religion (CJR) is a student led, peer-reviewed, online journal that focuses on the ways "religion" can be understood in the contemporary world. CJR is in relationship with the recently established Claremont Lincoln University, Claremont School of Theology, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont University Consortium, and The Society for Philosophy and Religion at Claremont (SPARC). The goal of this journal is to provide a forum for emerging scholars, academics, graduate students, and lay-leaders to publish their latest work in the broad field of "religious studies." Issues will be published bi-annually and contain 4-6 articles and 2-4 book reviews. ISSN# 2162-3732. Each issue will be available to order in print through Amazon. Eventually the Journal will be looking to be indexed in The Philosopher's Index. Claremont Journal of Religion ©, Kile Jones 2011. CJR is committed to promoting diversity (racial, sexual, ethnic, etc.) and fostering an environment of respect and compassion. We encourage submissions from minorities and marginalized groups.