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Appealing Apostate: Prodigal Son Frank Schaeffer Roasts Religious Right

January 8th 2008

Writes Schaeffer in his book, "Pat Robertson.would have had a hard time finding work in any job where hearing voices is not a requirement."

It's always interesting when a high-profile Religious Right activist has a change of heart.

Consider Frank Schaeffer. The name may not be familiar to you, but Schaeffer's father, theologian and Presbyterian pastor Francis Schaeffer, was pivotal in the creation of the Religious Right. As John W. Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute wrote recently, "In fact, without the influence of Francis Schaeffer, who often was prodded into action by Frank, the so-called Christian Right of today would not exist."

Whitehead asserts that Francis Schaeffer's books How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? "set the tone and agenda for the emerging Christian Right" and that without them "it is highly unlikely that people such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Tim LaHaye and others would have had the political influence they wield." (Frank Schaeffer later made both books into films that were hugely influential in the evangelical community.)

Frank Schaeffer shared his father's opinions and, as an adult, worked alongside him. He had an insider's view of the rise of the Religious Right. Father and son were there at the movement's birth and worked with some of its biggest names.

What does Frank Schaeffer think about the Religious Right these days? Let's just say he's not a fan. He refers to Robertson as "a lunatic" and says Dobson is "a power-crazed political manipulator cynically abusing his followers." He calls the late Jerry Falwell an "unreconstructed bigot."

Consider these choice quotes from Schaeffer's recently published 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:

* "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."

* "Pat Robertson.would have had a hard time finding work in any job where hearing voices is not a requirement."

* "Dad could hardly have imagined how they would help facilitate the instantly corrupted power-crazy new generation of evangelical public figures like Ralph Reed, who took money from the casino industry while allegedly playing both sides against the middle in events related to the Abramoff Washington lobbyist scandal."

* "Long before Ralph Reed and his ilk came on the scene, Dad got sick of 'these idiots' as he often called people like Dobson in private. They were 'plastic,' Dad said, and 'power-hungry.'"

* "There were three kinds of evangelical leaders: The dumb or idealistic ones who really believed. The out-and-out charlatans. And the smart ones who still believed - sort of - but knew that the evangelical world was sh*t, but who couldn't figure out any way to earn as good a living anywhere else."

* "Dad seemed lost in a depressed daze. He had recently been saying privately that the evangelical world was more or less being led by lunatics, psychopaths, and extremists, and agreeing with me that if 'our side' ever won, America would be in deep trouble."

Ouch. Opponents sometimes accuse Americans United of being too critical of the Religious Right, but these days it seems some of the most pointed barbs are coming from people like Schaeffer, Whitehead and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas. (Thomas, a former Moral Majority employee, coauthored Blinded by the Might: Why the Religious Right Can't Save America in 2000.)

In a recent interview with Whitehead, Schaeffer discussed his break with the Religious Right, remarking, "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."

He continues, "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..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."

Elsewhere in the interview, Schaeffer says that banning all abortions is unrealistic, criticizes the Religious Right for gay bashing and calls George W. Bush "arguably the worst president in the history of the United States."

Advocates of church-state separation won't agree with everything Schaeffer has to say, but the interview is well worth a look. It's a helpful reminder that people from all walks of life oppose the goals of the Religious Right - including some folks who know it best because they once saw its ugly inner workings up close and personal.

By Rob Boston


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