• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

Francis Schaeffer

The anti-America rhetoric of Barack Obama’s Chicago pastor is mild in comparison to pronouncements made by Francis Schaeffer in the 1970s and 1980s, charges the late evangelical thinker’s son.

Frank Schaeffer, who has written a book distancing himself from his evangelical roots, asserts in a newspaper column that Obama has been unfairly “smeared” by his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., the Illinois senator’s self-described spiritual mentor and moral compass.

Schaeffer, writing in the Baltimore Community Times, charges “the far-right Republicans and the stop-at-nothing Clintons are using the ‘scandal’ of Obama’s preacher to undermine the first black American candidate with a serious shot at the presidency.”

“Every Sunday thousands of right-wing white preachers (following in my father’s footsteps) rail against America’s sins from tens of thousands of pulpits,” Schaeffer writes. “They tell us that America is complicit in the ‘murder of the unborn,’ has become ‘Sodom’ by coddling gays, and that our public schools are sinful places full of evolutionists and sex educators hell-bent on corrupting children.”

Obama, after what he called a “firestorm” sparked by the airing of sermon videos that captured inflammatory pronouncements by Wright, gave a speech Tuesday in which he denounced his pastor’s remarks but refused to “disown” him.

In a January 2006 sermon, Wright called America the “No. 1 killer in the world” and blamed the country for launching the AIDS virus to maintain affluence at the expense of the Third World. The pastor reportedly said in a sermon just after 9/11, “The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” In a 2003 sermon, Wright encouraged blacks to “damn America” in God’s name and blamed the U.S. for provoking the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by dropping nuclear weapons on Japan in World War II and supporting Israel since 1947.

In his column, Frank Schaeffer, meanwhile, argued “right-wing preachers” say, “as my dad often did, that we are, ‘under the judgment of God.’ They call America evil and warn of imminent destruction. By comparison Obama’s minister’s shouted ‘controversial’ comments were mild.”


Frank Schaeffer

“All [Wright] said was that God should damn America for our racism and violence and that no one had ever used the N-word about Hillary Clinton,” says Schaeffer, a convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1990.

He argues that “while Dad and I crisscrossed America denouncing our nation’s sins, instead of getting in trouble we became darlings of the Republican Party.”

“We were rewarded for our ‘stand’ by people such as Congressman Jack Kemp, the Fords, Reagan and the Bush family,” Schaeffer writes. “The top Republican leadership depended on preachers and agitators like us to energize their rank and file. No one called us un-American.”

‘Christian Manifesto’

The highly influential Francis Schaeffer, who died in 1984, is known for his intellectual defense of Christianity and challenge to secular humanism, which he described as a worldview in which “man is the measure of all things.” He was featured in two film series produced by his son that were widely viewed in evangelical churches in the 1970s and 1980s, “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” and “How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture.’

An ordained Presbyterian minister, Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith, also an accomplished author, came to Switzerland from the U.S. in the 1950s and established L’Abri Fellowship, which became a crossroads for many spiritual seekers and now has branches around the world. Many evangelical leaders today regard him as an important influence on their thinking, and he is credited with helping inspire political activism by evangelicals, particularly the pro-life movement.


Edith and Francis Schaeffer

Schaeffer’s “A Christian Manifesto” in 1981 – a response to the communist and humanist manifestos – spoke of a decline of commitment to objective truth in society’s institutions that had come about “not because of a conspiracy, but because the church has forsaken its duty to be the salt of the culture.”

In his column, Frank Schaeffer referred to “A Christian Manifesto,” calling it an “immensely influential America-bashing” book that “sailed under the radar of the major media who, back when it was published in 1980, were not paying particular attention to best-selling religious books.”

He points to a passage in the book in which his father wrote: “If there is a legitimate reason for the use of force [against the U.S. government] … then at a certain point force is justifiable.”

Frank Schaeffer writes that when his father purportedly “denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush Sr.”

Francis Schaeffer did say Christians had an obligation at the time of Hitler to defy the state, just as they do now to stop abortion. But he made it clear he was not advocating theocracy.

“State officials must know that we are serious about stopping abortion,” he wrote. ” … First, we must make definite that we are in no way talking about any kind of theocracy. Let me say that with great emphasis. Witherspoon, Jefferson, the American founders had no idea of a theocracy. That is made plain by the First Amendment, and we must continually emphasize the fact that we are not talking about some kind, or any kind, of a theocracy.”

Frank Schaeffer points to another passage as purported evidence of his father’s “anti-American” rhetoric.

“In the United States the materialistic, humanistic world view is being taught exclusively in most state schools. … There is an obvious parallel between this and the situation in Russia (the USSR). And we really must not be blind to the fact that indeed in the public schools in the United States all religious influence is as forcibly forbidden as in the Soviet Union. … “

When “A Christian Manifesto” came out, Frank Schaeffer argues, “no conservative political leader associated with his father” was “running for cover.” Instead, he says, his father was a guest at the White House, “a hero to the evangelical community and a leading political instigator.”

If his father’s words were put in the mouth of Obama’s pastor or any black American preacher, “people would be accusing that preacher of treason,” he contends.

“Yet when we of the white religious right denounced America, white conservative Americans and top political leaders called our words ‘godly’ and ‘prophetic’ and a ‘call to repentance,’” says Frank Schaeffer.

He declares the “hypocrisy of the right denouncing Obama, because of his minister’s words, is staggering.”

“They are the same people who argue for the right to ‘bear arms’ as ‘insurance’ to limit government power,” he says. “They are the same people that in the early 1980s roared and cheered when I called down damnation on America as ‘fallen away from God’ at their national meetings where I was keynote speaker, including the annual meeting of the ultraconservative Southern Baptist convention, and the religious broadcasters that I addressed.”

Today, he says, “we have a marriage of convenience between the right-wing fundamentalists who hate Obama, and the ‘progressive’ Clintons who are playing the race card through their own smear machine.”

‘Crazy for God’

WND contacted some of L’Abri’s offices but no one was available for comment.

The evangelical writer and social critic Os Guinness – who lived with the Schaeffers and became a close friend of Frank Schaeffer – declined to respond to Schaeffer’s column. But in an article in the current issue of Christianity Today’s Books and Culture review journal, he responded to Schaeffer’s 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.”


Os Guinness

Guinness challenges, “with everything in me,” Frank Schaeffer’s central premise that his parents lacked intellectual integrity and that there was a “lie at the very heart of the work of L’Abri.”

“For six years I was as close to Frank as anyone outside his own family, and probably closer than many in his family,” writes Guinness, who noted he lived in the Schaeffer home for more than three years and was the best man in Frank Schaeffer’s wedding.”

“There is all the difference in the world between flaws and hypocrisy,” Guinness writes, “Francis and Edith Schaeffer were lions for truth. No one could be further from con artists, even unwitting con artists, than the Francis and Edith Schaeffer I knew, lived with, and loved.”

Guinness argues the Schaeffers have left an enduring legacy.

“No one who witnessed the stature and diversity of the thousands who came to L’Abri’s 50th-anniversary celebration in 2005 could doubt the depth of quiet, enduring gratitude that thousands owe to Francis and Edith Schaeffer,” he writes. “For many of us, they changed our lives forever and set us off on the strenuous and costly path we are still pursuing decades later with no reservations and no regret.”

Guinness says Frank Schaeffer’s “broad dismissals of faith different from his own are often absurd, and his portrayal of recent Christian history is woefully ignorant.”

“On the one hand, he routinely conflates evangelicalism with fundamentalism, or disdainfully dismisses evangelicalism as ‘fundamentalism-lite,’ the child of an older fundamentalism,” he writes. “The reverse, of course, is true. Fundamentalism is the recent movement, and evangelicalism pre-dates it by centuries. On the other hand, he inflates his own role in founding the Religious Right, even if out of self-flagellating disgust.”

Guinness says the “real truth is that Franky, as he then called himself, was spoiled. He was more like a poster child for Benjamin Spock than the son of ‘fundamentalist missionaries.’”

“Having been born well after his sisters, and having survived polio as a child, he was rarely challenged, disciplined, or denied,” he writes. “As a result, he grew up a ‘little Napoleon,’ as some of the L’Abri students called him. He would boast that he could twist his parents around his little finger, and time and again he proved it.”

Guinness says Frank Schaeffer’s idea that such a man as his father was “‘crazy for God,’ let alone a two-faced con man, is and will always be utterly anathema to me. I was there. I saw otherwise, and I and many of my friends have been marked for life.”

Guinness says that with Frank Schaeffer’s “prodigious but wayward talents, my old friend still has the air of the restless prodigal.”

“But we all have journeying still to be done – in Frank’s case, a long and winding journey home indeed,” he writes, “but with both a waiting Father and a waiting father and mother at its end.”

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.