In the first sentence of Frank Schaeffer’s most recent memoir Sex, Mom and God, he promises to explain how his family helped push the Republican Party into the embrace of the Religious Right and also chronicle his family’s “complicity in several murders.”
Schaeffer grew up home-schooled in a fundamentalist evangelical enclave in Switzerland known as L’Abri, which was run by his mother Edith and father Francis, a noted evangelical author and church leader. In the ‘60s, “L’Abri was sort of an evangelical hippie commune, but it was more long-haired backpackers,” he says. Later in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Schaeffer and his father would pioneer the fundamentalist Religious Right.
Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling on abortion in 1973, was the catalyst for this extreme change. “He got in on the issue and all of a sudden things were so polarized,” says Schaeffer. “A lot of his ministry in the early years, when he was producing books like Escape From Reason, was philosophical and theological and not in any way political.”
Schaeffer wrote, directed and produced a series of documentaries on abortion, Whatever Happened to the Human Race, with his father and Dr. C. Everett Koop, who would later be appointed Surgeon General under the Reagan administration. “These films put the pro-life movement on the map.”
In 1983, Schaeffer and his parents even left their mark on the University of Nebraska. On a day when Justice Harry Blackmum was awarded an honorary degree, Schaeffer’s family led a pro-life protest that prompted Blackmum to beat a hasty retreat from campus.
In those years, Schaeffer described himself as a nepotistic sidekick to his father, but laments in his memoir that he pushed his father towards the pro-life movement.
“The overall tragedy, really, of my dad’s life is that the politics in the States really formed his former reputation and both he and I, found ourselves in bed with forces from the Religious Right that were so far away from those philosophical, kind of guru-type beginnings that he had,” says Schaeffer.
This is where the aforementioned “complicity in murder” begins.
“We weren’t supplying guns or ammunition to anybody,” but Schaeffer says that his father’s book A Christian Manifesto did state that if abortion remained legal in America, then the people must do to the government what would have been legitimate to do to the government of Hitler’s Germany. “The book doesn’t say go kill abortion providers, but it dances around the edge of the idea of armed revolution or what people more recently have called Second Amendment remedies,” Schaeffer says.
The work of Schaeffer and his father also spawned organizations like Operation Rescue, founded by Randall Terry, which Schaeffer says ran a “Web service” posting the names and addresses of abortion providers in a “wanted” type format. These were the same type of posters later found around towns where abortion providers were killed.
Regretting his indirect involvement Schaeffer says, “There’s culpability there for the work that we did that there’s no way to particularly live down, and it just has to be faced honestly, and in my case, apologized for.”
While Schaeffer was in his 20s, and his father was fighting cancer, he found himself thrust to the forefront. Soon he was the keynote speaker at venues like The Southern Baptist Convention and the Religious Broadcasters, as well as speaking at Christian colleges and pro-life fundraisers
After Schaeffer’s father died and he’d become disillusioned with the movement, he stayed on the evangelical circuit for two more years. Schaeffer says that despite his misgivings about what he was doing the money was too good to give up. When he did leave the Religious Right he took a pay cut of two-thirds what he made in conservative evangelical religion.
“To go from that to just being an ‘ordinary writer’ in the secular market is a huge step down.” Schaeffer says. he renounced the Religious Right and is now an accomplished writer of novels and nonfiction.
Today Schaeffer describes himself as a member of “The Church of Hopeful Uncertainty.”
“It’s what I believe is the reflection of God’s love in personal experience.”
Schaeffer says that uncertainty is not such a bad thing, allowing for “mystery and paradox” in religion rather than strict adherence to interpretation of The Bible.
“When we look at all of the violence that religion is inspiring in the world, no one ever blew up an abortion clinic, or a mosque or a temple after screaming, ‘I could be wrong.’” Schaeffer said. “Certainty in the hands of fundamentalists is dangerous.”
The Case For Spirituality In The Age of Doubt: How Both Atheism and Christian Fundamentalism Miss The Mark on Faith, lecture Q and A and booksigning with Frank Schaeffer, Countryside Community Church Center for Faith Studies, 8787 Pacific St., Thursday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m., $10 suggested donation. More info at counrysideucc.org and frankschaeffer.com