17 January 2012

Sex, God, Politics, and the Christian Right according to Frank Schaeffer

There are times when I want to dismiss those who have held onto religion. Non-believers often look upon religious zealots as being blind, misguided, inflexible, dependent, unintelligent, lacking a sense of humor, or just plain crazy ---and well, frankly, some of them are some of these things, but I know atheists who are, too. Yet, most of my friends are religious, albeit not religious zealots. If they were zealots they would not be my friends for they would be afraid of being tainted by my apostasy. 

Occasionally, I find a religious person in the public eye for whom I can have great respect because they are not afraid to tell the truth. I recently found one in Frank Schaeffer. Frank was successful as a professional evangelical Christian and it would have been easy for him to remain in that role, but eventually he couldn't stand the political climate he had a part in creating. He still believes in God and is a Christian, but not of the fundamentalist variety.  Because he was on the inside of that movement for so long, he has personal knowledge of the people involved and other insider information and isn't afraid to tell all.

I picked up his best-selling book at the library: Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway.

I have not finished the book yet, so I can't give a review of the entire book, but so far, I have found Schaeffer's childhood experiences in his highly-religious family somewhat reminiscent of my own. At times, it is laugh-out-loud funny. Yet, when he discusses reconstructionist Christian politics (for it is politics more than it is religion) the author is deadly serious ---and I mean "deadly" literally because its proponents would love to make homosexuality, pre-marital sex, adultery, and abortion capital crimes. 

In his book Schaeffer tells the story of his boyhood in Switzerland with his evangelical parents Edith and Francis Schaeffer. Francis is considered by many to be the person responsible for the anti-abortion movement and, ultimately, evangelical fundamentalists' shifting away from spreading the word of Christianity toward its current emphasis on right-wing politics. When asked what books he would not want to be without on a desert island, Mike Huckabee chose the Bible and one of Francis Schaeffer's books. 

Yet, Frank's mother was amazingly open and forthright about sex. (My mother rarely said the word "sex" in anything above a whisper and never discussed it with her children in a way that would make us think it was a natural human act.) Frank's mother took in unwed pregnant girls instead of condemning them, did not reject gays and, instead of being subservient to her husband as all good evangelical wives should be, was in some ways the power behind Francis who, by the way, was an abusive husband and father. In addition she was enamored of "worldly" art and music. 

Frank followed in his father's footsteps, eventually persuading his father to make an anti-abortion movie and publish religious books with political overtones, or perhaps political books with religious overertones. Frank openly admits his huge role in creating the "crazy politics" in the title of his book. But Frank gradually came to the conclusion that evangelical leaders were all about politics and power and had forgotten the core teachings of their much-touted religion. According to Wikipedia:
Schaeffer has written: "In the mid 1980s I left the Religious Right, after I realized just how very anti-American they are, (the theme I explore in my book Crazy For God)." He added that he was a Republican until 2000, working for Senator John McCain in that year's primaries, but that after the 2000 election he re-registered as an independent.
On NPR he admitted he voted for Obama in 2008, the first time he supported a democrat for the presidency. 

In writing about the 2012 campaign a few weeks ago on his blog, when Romney and Gingrich seemed to be the only viable Republican candidates (Rick Santorum has since been endorsed by evangelical leaders) Frank wrote that evangelicals' two choices are both objectionable to most of them. Gingrich is a multiple adulterer and they believe Romney isn't a "real" Christian. Frank says:
...Here's the supreme irony: the man the evangelicals who have hijacked the Republican Party hate most -- President Obama -- is a faithful married man, good father and professing Christian who has described his born-again experience in detail.
But he's "liberal," black and perhaps "not born in America," or a "Muslim," or "communist," or "the Antichrist," or something else pretty terrible: actually Christ-like in his compassion for the poor!
This is considered a great sin by evangelicals now that most of them are actually followers of Ayn Rand, not Jesus.
So the evangelicals will be voting for either Romney or Gingrich holding their noses. This bodes badly for the Republicans. In fact some evangelicals may even be forced to sit out the election and/or just deny it's happening at all just as they already deny global warming.
Maybe they will take to a hilltop and await the Return Of Christ and/or the return of Sarah Palin, whichever comes first.
Among Amazon's descriptions of the book:
A penetrating analysis of political extremism, with a moving and at times hilarious account of growing up in one of the Christian right’s most influential families. Few writers command Frank Schaeffer’s intimate understanding of right-wing radicalism, and even fewer are able to share their insight as entertainingly and with as much moral weight as he has in Sex, Mom, and God.”—Max Blumenthal, author of Republican Gomorrah
“Mom was a much nicer person than her God. There are many biblical regulations about everything from beard-trimming to menstruating. Mom worked diligently to recast her personal-hygiene-obsessed God in the best light.”
Alternating between laugh-out-loud scenes from his childhood and acidic ruminations on the present state of an America he and his famous fundamentalist parents helped create, bestselling author Frank Schaeffer asks what the Glenn Becks and the Rush Limbaughs and the paranoid fantasies of the “right-wing echo chamber” are really all about.
Here’s a hint: sex.
The unforgettable central character in Sex, Mom, and God is the author’s far-from-prudish evangelical mother, Edith, who sweetly but bizarrely provides startling juxtapositions of the religious and the sensual thoughout Schaeffer’s childhood. She was, says Frank Schaeffer, “the greatest illustration of the Divine beauty of Paradox I’ve encountered … a fundamentalist living a double life as a lover of beauty who broke all her own judgmental rules in favor of creativity.”
Charlotte Gordon, the award-winning author of Mistress Bradstreet, calls Sex, Mom, and God “a tour de force . . . Sarah Palin, ‘The Family,’ Anne Hutchinson, adultery, abortion, homophobia, Uganda, Ronald Reagan, B. B. King, Billy Graham, Hugh Hefner—it’s all here. This is the kind of book I did not want to end.”
Frank Schaeffer is still a Christian, but not the kind of Christian his former supporters would like him to be.  He frequently distinguishes between the "God of the Bible" who he sees as vengeful, cruel, and misogynistic, and the God he wants to believe in.  He sees many right-wing Christians as hypocrites for their own hatred of America as it is (not the Christian nation they want it to be) while at the same time accusing liberals of being unAmerican.

According to Frank Schaeffer
Gingrich's "view" of the law was developed by the Reconstructionists. Nothing better illustrates the how and why of the Christian-conservative shift to the extreme Right - its sense of victimhood combined with its fearful hatred of the (Muslim, gay, or pro-choice) "Other" -- than the rise of the so-called Reconstructionist movement.

Reconstructionists seek to apply the full scope of the Biblical Law to modern America and to the world.

To put it bluntly, Reconstructionists want to replace the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights with their interpretation of the Bible. That includes executing people for being gay...

[Robert] George's brainchild: the "Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience" is the script Gingrich is following when he talks about overthrowing the rule of law in favor of religious "rights."

This was published in 2009 as an anti-Obama manifesto, and many Evangelical leaders signed on. [Robert] George may not have been following [Rousas John] Rushdoony or have ever read his work, but the Evangelicals who signed on to George's agenda would never have done so if not for the influence of Reconstructionism on American Evangelicals decades before. 

The Manhattan Declaration which many evangelical leaders have signed, ultimately states they don't have to obey any laws they don't like.  Let's see! Who is being unAmerican here?  And anyone who signs or who agrees with this declaration cannot possibly take the presidential oath of office ---for a president has to agree to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," the foundation for all of our laws.

Frank Schaeffer says in Crazy for God:
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....
What I slowly realized was that the religious-right leaders we were helping to gain power were not ‘conservatives’ at all, in the old sense of the world. They were anti-American religious revolutionaries...

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. 


Frank Schaeffer on Wikipedia

Who Should the Evangelicals Hate Most? by Frank Schaeffer

Newt Gingrich the Republicans and the Loony Religious Fringe by Frank Schaeffer

Suggested reading:

Fighting the Culture Wars With Hate, Violence and Even Bullets: Meet the Most Extreme of the Radical Christians

John Whitehead's interview with Frank Schaeffer


Frank Schaeffer said...

Thanks so much for the interest in my writing. Best, Frank

Snowbrush said...

I responded to this, but it's gone, Oh, well, I'll just mention that I wrote to Frank, and suggested that he visit your blog.

C Woods said...

Frank ---thanks for stopping by.

I'm now reading "Crazy for God" ---and enjoying it, too.

Sorry I didn't respond sooner. I am rarely ill but contracted a sinus infection that turned into a severe head cold, then a cough, conjunctivitis and finally an earache. I felt somewhat like I was the victim of a Biblical plague. I am finally feeling better and trying to catch up on everything I ignored.

C Woods said...


As usual, thanks for checking in. See the comment from Frank and my response.

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