Frank Schaeffer’s Sex, Mom & God

After reading Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy for God a few years ago (which prompted me to write this open letter to him, to which he responded), I felt like I needed a shower.  I felt this way less because of Frank’s relentless skewering of his very flawed parents than because I found the dark pit of Schaeffer’s own undiluted bitterness and rage to be somehow…well…tarnishing.  Frank Schaeffer, despite his protestations to the contrary, is a very, very angry man.  I told him that in an email after I read the last book.  He responded by saying that he was getting tired of the accusation.  No doubt he is, but Sex, Mom, & God is not going to help him break free of the charge (nor are his frankly bizarre, weird, fear-mongering news show rants that can be viewed easily on YouTube).

Now, does Schaeffer have a right to be angry?  You bet he does.  If his own hyperbolic excesses would stop throwing roadblocks up, I personally would feel even more sympathy for him than I already do.  Frank did get a raw deal and he grew up in an unbelievably strange situation.

Frank is the only son of the late Francis and the still-living-but-very-elderly Edith Schaeffer.  Francis Schaeffer was an Evangelical superstar in the 70’s and 80’s in particular and, to some extent, still is today.  As I mention in the open letter linked above, his writings had and still have a profound impact on my own life, though for various reasons (Frank’s work included) I have cooled in my affection for Francis’ writings (and some of his later writings I’ve rejected almost in toto).

Frank indeed grew up in a strange world.  Growing up the son of hardline Presbyterian missionaries in a missionary chalet and spiritual-seeker-haven in Switzerland would have to have been a very unique experience (though it must be added that many, many people count their visits and time at L’Abri as seminal moments in their own Christian journeys…and I do wish I had been old enough to visit as well).  As Francis and Edith grew more popular, Frank was left alone for long periods of time as his parents went on their speaking tours.  He witnessed a double-life in his parents as well that scarred him deeply.  Francis had a terrible temper and would hit and throw objects at Edith.  Edith, on her part, would defend Francis, oddly tell her young son about his father’s demand for sexual relations every night and would speak patronizingly of Francis’ shortcomings and weaknesses to her children.

Frank himself became part of the family business, the heir-apparent as it were, producing the well-known film series, How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? The latter film and book helped establish the Schaeffer’s at the forefront of the pro-life movement and played a pivotal role in calling Evangelicals into the pro-life and, more generally, into the political fray.  (I wrote a thesis paper in seminary on Francis Schaeffer’s role in the pro-life movement and the role of Whatever Happened to the Human Race?  I was surprised and mildly amused to see my paper cited in a footnote in Colin Duriez’s biography of Francis Schaeffer some years back.)  In this way, Frank (then called Franky) Schaeffer can indeed be credited with playing a part in the rise of the so-called Religious Right.  His own star rose in the 80’s as he became a kind of angry prophet for conservative Protestants in North America.  Frank wrote bestselling books (he is a prolific writer by any account), hit the speaking circuit and saw his own fame and financial situation grow impressively.

By Frank’s account, though, he was a living a lie.  He knew that he was profiting from a platform in which he was quickly losing trust.  He detested some of the creepier fringes of fundamentalist Protestantism and would soon break all ties to the movement he helped create.  He would eventually convert to Greek Orthodoxy (and write his fascinating but shrill defense of this act, Dancing Alone) and, even later, to political liberalism and to the anger-and-disillusionment-driven pseudo-Christian agnosticism which he seems to espouse today.

Along the way, Frank has created a niche market of literary parent lambasting.  He has vented his spleen against his parents, his upbringing and fundamentalism in general in the fictional Calvin Becker trilogy Portofino (an hysterical novel, by the way!), Zermatt, and Saving Grandma, and now in a non-fiction trilogy consisting of Crazy for GodPatience with God, and Sex, Mom, & God.  I suspect I am not the only Evangelical who has been impacted by Francis Schaeffer’s life and writing who yet feels a strange mixture of fascination, disgust, sympathy, understanding, anger, and eye-rolling at these works.

There is a long venerable tradition of sons writing against their fathers, but Frank’s work seems to go beyond even this.  He has what appears to be an almost unfettered pathological needto…tell…everybody…everything.  I can only imagine that getting paid to…tell…everybody…everythingdoesn’t hurt his penchant for self-disclosure.  And, of course, people like myself are to blame for buying and reading the stuff.  That being said – dare I say it? – I really do think I’ve now heard enough.

In Sex, Mom, & God, Frank Schaeffer has given us a full-scale polemic against his past and an often laughable defense of his current positions.  My goodness, I don’t know that I have ever read such a staggering collection of ad hominemsnon sequitors, category errors, irrationality, truly bad hermeneutics, even worse exegesis, stupefyingly bad theology, guilt-by-association, character assasination and flat-bad thinking in my life.

Yes, yes, Frank does score many points here and there and they are not unimportant.  Yes, large swathes of fundamentalist Christians have foisted a kind of weird, guilt-ridden approach to sex on their children marked by a constant harping on the dangers of sexual sin, the creation of the impression that sex itself isinherently sinful, a disproportionate fixation on sexual sin as opposed to more accepted sins, and the lack of a healthy, biblically-informed and balanced understanding of sex.  And, yes, as Frank acknowledges, the lack of a healthy and honest approach to sexuality has scarred many young conservative Christians who were unable to be open about that through which they were going or that with which they are dealing.  Only a person with his or her head in the sand would deny that there is a strange subterranean reality of sexual dysfunction in many Christians of certain ilks because of the heaping portions of shame they had shoveled  upon them in this area of their lives growing up.  It is no wonder that young boys who can’t speak openly of their struggles internalize that whole area of their lives and end up, in many cases, going into some weird corners of the modern, sexual, anarchic landscape.

I know few Christians who would deny the problem here, but this is not the problem as Frank sees it.  Frank sees the Bible itself as the problem and the sexual ethic of scripture as the problem.  Of course, when you see the sexual ethic of scripture as Frank defines it, it is indeed terrible.  But he defines it thus only by some amazing hermeneutical gymnastics that frankly left me aghast.

I resoundly reject the notion that the Bible and the God of the Bible (as Schaeffer puts it) has a weird notion of sex.  Indeed, the sexual problems of some fundamentalist Christians are not the result of the application of the biblical principles but rather of the perversion of them.  The Bible’s sexual ethic of monogamy, marriage between a man and a woman and its strictures against fornication and adultery are healthy, God-given, and good common sense.  When I survey the modern tragedy of sexual ethics today, it seems to me that only a hack with an agenda and a penchant for the open fields of sexual anarchy would hate the good, healthy and protecting biblical boundaries that keep us from degenerating into mere animals.

Is there some sexual weirdness in the fundamentalist sub-culture?  To be sure.  But the greatest things are always open to the greatest perversions, and the perversion of a good thing does not make the good thing less good, it only makes the perversion of it that much more wicked.  If Frank Schaeffer wants to see sexual weirdness, sexual wounding and sexual confusion, let him spend another few years in the anything-goes fields of body-anarchy and sheer license that he now calls home (not that he himself practices these things, I hasten to add, but these are the hallmarks of the modernity he has now embraced and is now seeking to resuscitate).

Frank’s handling of the Bible in this book is breathtakingly and almost unbelievably bad.  He seems to posses virtually no understanding of the relationships of the Old and New Testaments, of the reality of Jesus as the hermeneutical key to scripture, of the difference between descriptive passages and prescriptive passages (good grief he does not get this at all!) and of the idea of progressive revelation.  He repeatedly, ad nauseum, refers to the Bible as a collection of “Bronze Age myths.”  He depicts the God of the Bible as a misogynistic, perverse, woman-hating, sex-obsessed, murderous tyrant.  In this regard, Schaeffer makes Richard Dawkins (a man whose writings he professes not to respect) sound like Mister Rogers.

I don’t know what it is, but Frank Schaeffer never a met a shrill denunciation he couldn’t amp up, a hyperbole he couldn’t stretch even further, or a non sequitor (a particular flaw of his that he traffics in on almost every page) he couldn’t embrace and trumpet.  He is a master craftsman of barely comprehensible blasts of unhinged vitriole and palsied jeremiads.

Again, among the drivel there are moments that almost (but not quite) make the whole painful ordeal of reading him worthwhile.  His autobiographical notes are, as you might imagine, very interesting.  His account of his meetings with Rousas Rushdoony (a truly strange, fringe-dwelling idealogue) and the Dominionists (Reconstructionists) is fascinating (though his guilt-by-association conclusions for lots of us who wouldn’t want to be within 100 miles of those guys are not).  His brief comments on Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and the founding of First Things, on Robert George and on Crossway Press were interesting as far as they went (though he scored no real points on any of these).  His comments on Billy Graham and some of his own conversations with the Graham children painfully illustrate that there is indeed a particular burden placed on the shoulders of the children of Evangelical superstars.

But over all this grist for the mill for Evangelical-dirty-laundry-voyeurs is Frank’s own, strange, idiosyncratic current position on life and God and sex.  In many ways, Frank simply sounds like a commercial for the more stridently-liberal wing of the Democratic party (albeit a commercial featuring some wild-eyed, crazy cousin of even that wing – again, YouTube “Frank Schaeffer” and you’ll get what I’m saying).  All the standard soundbites are there:  abortion on demand (though he thankfully wishes to see some limits on this – notably in late-term abortions), the propping up of the gay agenda, anti-Republicanism, the charge of racism against those who don’t like Obama, the alarmist rhetoric about a coming theocracy, etc.  There is a kind of trite and tired wearisomness to these aspects of the book and of Frank’s schtick in general.  In this regard, Frank Schaeffer kind of sounds like a radical-leftist-on-speed who is seeking to cram as many left-leaning platitudes into his remaining career as he possible can.  It’s almost as if he wants to match the Scylla of his former fundamentalist extremism with the Carybdis of his new-found fundamentalist leftist extremism.  As I say, all of this is yawn-inducing and worthy of skipping.  Moreso, it illustrates a point that seems glaringly obvious when one considers the totality of Frank’s work:  Frank is simply an extreme person who goes all in on his tangent of the moment (fundamentalism – abortion politics – Greek Orthodoxy – daddy bashing – liberal theology and politics) only to ricochet after it all plays out (for, after all, that kind of extremism is inherently very hard to maintain) onto his next soap box.  One does wait with baited breath for Frank’s next cause and spate of angst-driven monographs.

His theology, however, is a little more nuanced if nontheless still mired in an epistemological and theological trainwreck.  In short, Frank seems to still think there is a God.  He still even calls himself a Christian.  He seems to like Jesus, even though he doubts that a lot of what was attributed to Jesus was actually said by Jesus…especially, one notes, when the words of Jesus conflict with the programme of modern, leftist, “progressive” (an ironic monikor) politics.  He still attends the Greek Orthodox Church.

That being said, he is more of a watered-down theist lapsing here and there into agnosticism and, on his really, really angry days, dipping his toe into atheism.  The God Frank Schaeffer believes in is not the ugly God he claims to find in the Bible.  No, the God Frank believes in is infused with the best virtues of modernity:  He (or She or It, according to Frank) is a God who likes love and puts no boundaries anywhere accept, one assumes, on really bad things like when a pedophile claims to love children, or when a Republican claims to be against gay marriage, or when an Evangelical professes to believe in inerrancy, etc.  But other than that, the God-of-Frank wants people to love each other in whatever combinations they feel inclined to muster without fear and without guilt.  Sex is a REALLY big deal to Frank and he now knows that God has no hangups with sex.  Frank’s God loves everybody and doesn’t dislike much except for religious people and all of their phoney, hooey books that claim to speak for God.  Frank’s God is kind, gentle, nice, sweet, politically-liberal, socially progressive, thinks Obama is doing a great job, hates Republicans and wants people to feel an unquestioned mastery over their own bodies and what they choose to do with them.  Franks God, in other words, thinks just like Frank.

How Frank knows these things about God presumably ought not be asked by skeptics.  For Heaven’s sake (if there is a Heaven, right?), don’t point out to Frank that he is living parasitically off of the Christian worldview he professes to hate so much and that his idiosyncratic renderings of that worldview could only come about because he was immersed in it in the first place.  Don’t point out to Frank that the very stuff with which he has crafted his new ideology was taken on the sly from the book and the church and the faith he is now scoffing at and redefining.

Furthermore, don’t ask Frank how it is that he could be so very uncertain of so many things…but simultaneously so very certain that God is the God who just happens to think as Frank now thinks.  It is an almost tired truism nowadays that the tolerant are profoundly intolerant of those who don’t buy their version of tolerance and that the agnostics can sound eerily fundamentalistic about what they profess actually to know about the God they profess is unknowable.  You might also want to avoid reminding Frank of Voltaire’s idea that God created man in his own image and man has returned the favor, and that the liberal elites of a society or as prone to this malady as religious fundamentalists.  What is more, don’t ask Frank if it’s not just possible that his view of progress might actually be a staggering regress or if the age of abortion-on-demand, sexual anarchy without boundaries, political leftist ideology and fashionable agnosticism might not in time come to be judged as even more vapid and silly and degenerate than the “Bronze Age myths” he professes to detest.

There are other things you likely should not ask Frank.  You probably shouldn’t ask him about the fact that he has now published six volumes in which he profits off of the weaknesses of his parents.  At what point does one feel a bit, well, hypocritical about dragging out ole mom and dad for another good thrashing and another good book advance?  Or you probably shouldn’t ask Frank – because he likely would not answer – why it is that throughout the book he quotes surveys and statistics showing the support of the American people for this or that position with which he agrees, but strangely never discusses the fact that gay marriage referendums are resoundly struck down by the majority of Americans in given locales whenever they come up.  After all, is it honest and good thinking to cherry-pick the stats that bolster your own assumptions while ignoring those that don’t?  And due to the personal nature of it, you likely shouldn’t ask Frank if he really thinks his appeal to his mother’s thumb’s up to him writing this book holds a lot of weight and really gives him a pass from the charge of tackiness and creepiness when he goes on to say that his mother is so elderly that she is frequently confused and forgets the names of her grandchildren?

In truth, it’s probably best not to ask Frank too much of anything.  The shock-haired, crazy-eyed Jeremiah on the corner wearing the sandwich sign and spitting into the bull-horn isn’t really one for questions, is he?  His whole point is to be heard and to rage against the blindness of the passers-by.  The street-corner prophet doesn’t do nuance, doesn’t do careful hermeneutics, doesn’t represent his opponent with care and accuracy.  No, he screams…loudly…and then he moves on.

Frank Schaeffer is a tragedy, not the least because of what the fundamentalist Christian ghetto did to a mind that is clearly sharp and perceptive, if painfully misled and marred.  Most of all, his tragedy is found in his equation of the whole with the part, of his (once again) tossing of the baby out with the bathwater.

Frank, it’s possible to think Rushdoony was really dangerous but that the gospel is true and has been preserved in the churches for two-millennia.  It’s possible to agree that some Christians have indeed botched the whole subject of sex while still affirming that fornication and adultery are sins and that the sexual strictures of scripture were put there to protect us and not to hurt us.  It’s possible, Frank, to hate the idea of an imposed theocracy but to see the blatant stripping of the public square (to use the terminology of Neuhaus) as a tragic and unnecessary crime.  Regardless of what you say, Frank, yes it is possible to see homosexuality as a sin and to call gay people to repentance but not hate gay people and not wish to see gay people hung on the gallows.  Frank, intelligent people can see God’s Word as trustworthy and true, the church as flawed but beautiful and the gospel as essential and life-giving, and many do.

Pray for Frank Schaeffer.


Frank Schaeffer’s Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion

Dancing Alone is the literary equivalent of finger nails on a chalkboard. It is shrill, intense, head splitting, and irrefutably attention grabbing. Having some familiarity with Frank Schaeffer because of my appreciation for his dad, the late Christian writer/pastor/apologist and pseudo-philosopher Francis Schaeffer, I was not completely caught off guard by this. Anyone who has viewed the film series for the book Whatever Happened to the Human Race? knows that Frank, who directed the film for his Dad, is not necessarily…um…subtle.

My wife and I read Frank’s thinly veiled autobiographical book Portofino and found it to be an extremely well written and hilarious book. We look forward to reading the sequel, Saving Grandma, as soon as we can. Dancing Alone is Portofino on speed. It makes and elaborates all of Portofino‘s basic contentions (i.e., the bankruptcy of the modern Protestant movement) but does so with none of Portofino’s charm. In this sense, it is louder than Portofino but not necessarily more persuasive.

But don’t get me wrong: it is persuasive. Frank Schaeffer is one of many Protestants who have joined the Greek Orthodox Church in search of a true depth of worship and a historical validation of theology and church practice. He rightly lambastes the cultural (for that is mainly what it is) “born again” movement and argues instead for a call to conversion that is substantive, grounded in the authentic church, and real.

Schaeffer’s answer to the shallowness of much Protestant life is the utter and complete rejection of Protestantism itself. He feels that Protestantism is inherently unsalvageable due to the fact that the shallowness and emptiness of Protestantism is a necessary outcome of its flawed foundation. I disagree. I disagree very much.

For one thing, Schaeffer’s brush is too wide. I know of no one who would not bemoan the current state of Protestant Evangelicalism. But I dare say that the assertion that there is not vitality in Protestantism borders on hubris and absurdity. God is certainly moving in mighty ways among Protestant believers and much good work is being done. There is also much substantive worship happening as well.

Protestantism is not a monolithic entity, and it appears that there is no longer a real consensus of theology under girding it anymore. I for one argue that certain branches of Protestantism are more legitimate than others. It is impossible to dismiss the whole.

Schaeffer disagrees. He argues that the Orthodox Church is the one, true, apostolic church. But in doing this he has bitten off more than he can possibly hope to chew. He cannot, I am sure, have hoped to dismantle the Protestant theology of the church, salvation, worship, and ecclesiology in this exhausting book, but this is certainly what he wants.

I am glad that Frank Schaeffer is Orthodox. He seems to have found his home. His experiences in fundamentalism were obviously troublesome, and I sympathize with him. In short, his diagnosis of the symptoms are irrefutable. But his diagnosis of the supposed disease behind the symptoms, much less his proposed cure, leaves much to be desired.

Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live?, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, A Christian Manifesto

[The following essay explores the role that Francis Schaeffer played in the rise of the pro-life movement.  It examines the place of How Should We Then Live?Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, and A Christian Manifesto in that process.]

One of the most enigmatic, controversial, and influential figures in the growth of the “pro-life” movement was Francis August Schaeffer.  It was the issue of abortion in particular that drove Schaeffer to shift his later work in the direction of political involvement and mobilization.(1)  Yet, despite the enormous impact of his books and films on the public, it was in his influencing of key individuals that Schaeffer made his greatest contribution.
The most effective way to understand Schaeffer’s impact on the Pro-Life movement is to consider the appearance and influence of his 1976 book and film How Should We Then Live?, his 1979 book and filmWhatever Happened to the Human Race?, and his 1981 book A Christian Manifesto.  These three works represent an important evolution in both Schaeffer’s and a large part of American Evangelicalism’s understanding of and willingness to participate in the abortion debate.

Schaeffer’s Shift to Political Activism

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, it was becoming apparent to many of Francis Schaeffer’s followers that he had made a rather substantial shift in his work.  Whereas he had previously focused on merely critiquing and explaining philosophy, culture, and the church, he was now seen to be flirting too much with political activism.  Ronald Wells bemoaned in 1983 that Schaeffer’s “present fixation is with political action and social protest” and that what was damaging to Schaeffer and his followers was for them to “embrace and baptize the Christian Right.”(2)  Regardless of Schaeffer’s efforts to downplay any idea of his having abandoned his earlier focus, it was apparent to all that a shift had indeed taken place.(3)

Yet the presence of Schaeffer’s voice in the growing political activity of fundamentalist Christians, and particularly in the fight against abortion, was seen as a truly powerful catalyst for and in the growth of the movement.  So great was Schaeffer’s influence and so early was it recognized that Newsweekmagazine wrote a full page article on him in 1982 and declared him “the newest celebrity in the fundamentalist firmament.”(4)  Richard Pierard would later declare that the “coopting” of Schaeffer’s voice with the growing movement of political activism among fundamentalists was “the Right’s biggest coup by far.”(5)

While the recognition of Schaeffer’s influence among certain circles of Christians was correct and justifiable, the failure of the above-mentioned sources to understand Schaeffer as a cause of the rise of the Christian Right is mistaken.  He was not merely “coopted” into the movement, he was a major cause of it.  The beginning of his influence in the rising political activism of fundamentalists, and in particular in their efforts against abortion, is found in 1976 and the introduction of the film and bookHow Should We Then Live? to the public.

How Should We Then Live?

It is difficult to imagine How Should We Then Live? as a book which took a prominent place in the growth of a “grass-roots” movement such as fundamentalist political activism.  The book seeks to trace the historical, philosophical, and cultural events in which an “existential methodology” entered into society and into the hearts of modern men and women, detached the culture from its previous anchoring in an objective source of truth (the Bible), allowed for the growth of humanism, and susequently allowed morality and ethics to be defined in a purely arbitrary and relative way.(6)  While the book does not really differ from his earlier work in regards to its discussion of humanism and its effects, it did vary greatly in its discussion of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision concerning abortion as a product of humanistic ideology.(7)  Even more substantial is the fact that Schaeffer’s first plea for Christian activism against abortion is found in this book.(8)

While the discussion on abortion does not take up a major part of the book, How Should We Then Live?must be seen as the work in which the public was first introduced to Schaeffer’s view on the subject.  Had the book received little attention, then it would have to be considered largely irrelevent in the formation of the Pro-Live movement.  Yet the presence of an accompanying film and lecture tour, however, helped to make it a major factor indeed.

In 1976, the year of the book’s release, Schaeffer went on an eighteen city tour in which he showed the ten-part film version of the book.(9)  The response was overwhelming.  Forty-five hundred people viewed the film in Oakland, thirty-one hundred in Chicago, sixty-six hundred in Los Angeles, and forty-four hundred in Toronto.(10)  It was also shown in England and much of Europe.(11)  The film broke the all-time “booking” record for Gospel Films.(12)

The book, undoubtedly helped by the film, sold forty thousand copies in its first three months.(13)  Three years later, in 1979, it was still selling fifteen-hundred copies a month.(14)  These numbers alone seem to lend credence to L.G. Parkhurst’s suggestion that the book and film “had a remarkable effect upon Western culture and Christian leaders in various governments around the world.”(15)

Through this medium, then, Schaeffer’s assessment of abortion and the need for Christian opposition gained a wide audience.  One important figure in this audience was John W. Whithead, the founder and president of The Rutherford Institute.  The Rutherford Institute has become a major vehicle of Christian political activism as well as a strong voice against the practice of abortion.  It seeks to battle in the courts over free speech and religious issues.(16)

Whitehead notes that How Should We Then Live? was “an important catalyst for me and other Christian lawyers interested in seeing society positively influenced by Christianity.”(17)  He was similiarly moved by the book’s claim that abortion was a violation of the sanctity of life.  After making the important point that Schaeffer was the first main Protestant leader to launch a strong attack against abortion, he notes that “Schaeffer’s critique of the abortion issue was the initial impetus for my own defense of the sanctity of human life.”(18)

How Should We Then Live? takes its place as the starting point of Schaeffer’s impact on the Pro-Life Movement.  First, it introduced a unique critique of abortion as well as the suggestion that the church should raise its voice against the practice.  Second, by the use of film, Schaeffer reached an extremely large audience, widened his influence, and drew national attention to the issues he raised.  And lastly, the book and film inspired John Whitehead to steer The Rutherford Institute  (an institution which is still very important to many in the Christian Right and Pro-Life movement) in the direction of free speech issues, religious issues, political activism and opposition to abortion.

Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

While How Should We Then Live? introduced Schaeffer’s views on abortion and Christian activism, his 1979 book and film series entitled Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, co-authored with soon-to-be Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, catapulted the subject of abortion as an evil to be opposed into the middle of the evangelical mind set.  The book suggests that abortion has become possible because America has released itself from its “Judeo-Christian moorings.”(19)  It then suggests that abortion naturally leads to infanticide and euthanasia.(20)  Lastly, Schaeffer appeals for Christian involvement in the fight against abortion.(21)

The film version of the book would prove to have a tremendous impact on the Pro-Life movement.  In September, 1979, Schaeffer and Koop began a film/lecture tour in Philadelphia and travelled west showing it in other major cities of the country.(22)  In February, 1980, Schaeffer showed the film to a group of Congressmen in Washington, D.C.(23)  Schaeffer, Dr. Koop, and an English doctor then sparked a great deal of attention as they showed the film throughout England.(24)  While this tour drew smaller crowds than the How Should We Then Live? tour, it is widely agreed that its impact on the Pro-Life movement was even greater than that of the first tour.(25)

The film was also shown on various television stations throughout the United States and other countries.  The Humanist magazine, in an extremely critical article, would later call Schaeffer a “prominent figure in the Pro-Life movement” and suggest that the film was “seen by millions” on television. (26)

It also gained national attention, as well as criticism from Planned Parenthood, the National Organization of Women, and the National Abortion Rights Action League, when a group of Pentecostal Christians bought air time at a Washington, D.C., television station and showed Whatever Happened to the Human Race? during the confirmation process of C. Everett Koop as the Reagan Surgeon General.(27)

The impact of Whatever Happened to the Human Race? on the Pro-Life movement was enormous.  Harold O.J. Brown suggests that “nothing has had an impact across the board that compares to the Schaeffer-Koop series.”(28)  Historian William Martin notes that the book, film, and tour are “often credited with having been the single most important factor in bringing evangelicals into the fight against abortion.”(29)  Denis Haack suggests that, while Schaeffer and Koop were not the first evangelicals to attack the issue, the book and film were instrumental in bringing more evangelicals into the fight against abortion.(30)  Feminist author Rosaling Petchesky also revealed the importance of the film when she condemned it as “a major ‘right-to-life’ propaganda piece.”(31)

The most important contribution that the book and film made to the Pro-Life movement, however, was in its influencing of a young man at Elim Bible Institute.  It was there that Randall Terry would seeWhatever Happened to the Human Race?.(32)  Terry points to his viewing of the film as the defining moment in his life and as the point of awakening in which he realized that he must do something about abortion.(33)  He would later use this conviction to found Operation Rescue, undoubtedly the most well known and controversial wing of the Pro-Life movement.(34)  In the case of Randall Terry, as in the case of John Whitehead, the assertion that Schaeffer’s greatest impact on the Pro-Life movement was in the people he influenced is proven true again.

A Christian Manifesto

How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? were powerful in convicting the Evangelical community about the need to combat abortion.  It was in A Christian Manifesto, however, that Schaeffer gave his clearest, and most controversial, call to political activism.  Schaeffer considered A Christian Manifesto to be “the next logical step” in his call for Christian involvement against abortion.(35)

In this important book, Schaeffer begins by condemning the Evangelical church for its apathy about issues such as abortion.(36) He then makes his most blatant call for political action by showing that there is “a window of opportunity” open to the Christians in the conservative Reagan administration.(37)  He concludes with his extremely controversial suggestion that, if “the window” closes, Christians must consider civil disobedience and possibly even the use of force to oppose “authoritarianism” and the promotion of humanistic practices such as abortion.(38)

While the book proved to be extremely influential in bringing Evangelicals into the political arena, it also served to polarize Schaeffer from many in the Christian community.  Ronald Wells suggested that the book should have been entitled “A Fundamentalist Manifesto,” “because it bears all the marks of that unfortunate movement.”(39)  W. Merwin Forbes wrote of his uneasiness with it and suggested that, after having read it, he was sure that a true “Christian manifesto” had not yet been written.(40)

Regardless of these and other criticisms, the book exploded onto the scene.  It sold two hundred and ninety thousand copies in its first year.(41)  Newsweek reported that Schaeffer spoke to an audience consisting of Sen. Paul Laxalt, Rep. Jack Kemp, and various other government officials in the winter of 1981 about the book and its contents.  Conservative columnist Cal Thomas praised the book as a “a battle plan for the rest of the century” and Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ praised Schaeffer as “one of the greatest men of our times.”(42)  Pat Robertson was also greatly influenced by it.(43)  Furthermore, Randall Terry suggested that, while Whatever Happened to the Human Race? convicted him about abortion, A Christian Manifesto gave him instructions on how to act out his convictions.

The greatest impact of the book, however, was found in the figure of Jerry Falwell.  Falwell notes that he was early on convicted by the writings of Schaeffer and Dr. Jack Wilke concerning abortion.(44)  Despite being moved by their arguments, his convictions concerning Christian exclusivism left him with “terrific problem”  concerning how one could go about mobilizing a large enough group of people to make a difference.(45)  It was Schaeffer’s call for Christians to cooperate with non-Christians in social causes that gave Falwell a peace about founding such cooperative efforts as The Moral Majority.(46)

Falwell took a particular interest in A Christian Manifesto.  He purchased sixty-two thousand copies of the book and distributed it over his television show, “The Old Time Gospel Hour.”(47)  Furthermore, Falwell began following Schaeffer’s advice to him that he use “The Old Time Gospel Hour” as a political action vehicle.(48)  Through Falwell, then, Schaeffer was able to have a tremendous impact on the rise of the Pro Life movement and on Christian political action in general.

The cumulative effect of How Should We Then Live?Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, and A Christian Manifesto on the Pro-Life movement is certainly significant.  The three works constitute a progression from the initial introduction of the practice of abortion as it fits within humanistic ideology (HSWTL?), to a passionate description of the practices and results of abortion (WHTTHR?), to an appeal for Christian political involvement in the fight to stop abortion (Manifesto).  Most important of all is the fact that these three works directly influenced the growth, development, and direction of Whitehead’s Rutherford Institute, Terry’s Operation Rescue, and Falwell’s Moral Majority.

How Schaeffer is Remembered

Another way of understanding Schaeffer’s impact on the Pro-Life movement is to view how he is remembered by both his followers and his critics.  Denis Haack views Schaeffer as a “champion” of the sanctity of human life.(49)  Earl Lee, an opponent of Schaeffer, referred to him as a “prominent figure in the Pro-Life movement.”(50)  Schaeffer’s obituary in The New York Times referred him as an author and as an architect of “a much publicized crusade against abortion.”(51)  Marian Faux called Schaeffer the “philosopher-king” of Pro-Life leaders such as Randall Terry.(52)  Ronald Nash remembered Schaeffer as one who “captured the spirit of millions of evangelicals” concerning the abortion issue.(53)  Lastly, while suggesting that Schaeffer’s followers have possibly overstated his importance in other areas, Richard Neuhaus does praise him for bringing the issue of abortion into the discussions, minds, and hearts of Protestants.(54)

But Schaeffer’s influence on the Pro-Life movement must undoubtedly return to a consideration of those he influenced.  Nash rightly considers Schaeffer’s influence over others who would carry on the work as his “greatest accomplishment.”(55)  The list includes: Harold O.J. Brown, Os Guinness, Jack Kemp, C. Everett Koop, Randall Terry, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson.(56)

1. Michael S Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” Christianity Today, 3 March 1997, 30.
2. Ronald Wells, “Whatever Happened to Francis Schaeffer?,”  The Reformed Journal 33 (May 1983): 11,13.
3. Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1984), 185n16.
4. Kenneth Woodward, “Guru of Fudamentalism,” Newsweek, 1 November 1982, 88.
5. Richard V. Pierard, Religion and State: Essays in Honor of Leo Pfeffer, ed. James E. Wood, Jr. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 1985), 400-401.
6. Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, Co., 1976), 255-256.
7. Hamilton, 28.
8. Schaeffer, HSWTL?, 256.
9. Hamilton, 28.
10. Stephen Board, “The Rise of Francis Schaeffer,” Eternity, June 1977, 40.
11. D. Keith Mano, review of How Should We Then Live?, by Francis Schaeffer, National Review, 18 March 1977, 345.
12. Philip Yancey, “Francis Schaeffer: A Prophet for Our Times?,” Christianity Today, 23 March 1979, 17.
13. Mano, 345.
14. Yancey, 17.
15. L.G. Parkhurst, Jr., Francis and Edith Schaeffer (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), 115.
16. John W. Whitehead, Francis A. Schaeffer: Portraits of the Man and His Work., ed. Lane T. Dennis (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1986), 177.
17. Ibid., 181.
18. Ibid., 182.
19. The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, ed. Francis A. Schaeffer, vol.5, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, with C. Everett Koop (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1982), 284.
20. Ibid., 308,329.
21. Ibid., 405-410.
22. Parkhurst, 124.
23. Ibid., 125.
24. Parkhurst, 126.
25. Hamilton, 28.
26. Earl Lee, “Francis Schaeffer: Prophet of the Religious Right,” The Humanist, September/October 1988, 27.
27. C. Everett Koop, M.D., Koop: The Memoirs of America’s Family Doctor (New York: Random House, 1991), 130.
28. Martin, 194.
29. Ibid., 239.
30. Denis Haack, “Francis August Schaeffer, RIP,” National Review, 15 June 1984, 20.
31. Rosaling Pollack Petchesky, Abortion and Woman’s Choice (New York: Longman Inc., 1984), 339-340.
32. Marian Faux, Crusaders: Voices From the Abortion Front (New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1990, 133.
33. Martin, 321.
34. Faux, 138.
35. The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, ed. Francis A. Schaeffer, vol.5, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1982), 417.
36. Ibid., 454-455.
37. Ibid., 457.
38. Ibid., 475-482, 483-491.
39. Ronald A. Wells, “Francis Schaeffer’s Jeremiad,” The Reformed Journal 32 (May 1982): 19.
40. W. Merwin Forbes, review of A Christian Manifesto, by Francis Schaeffer, Grace Theological Journal 4 (Fall 1983): 309.
41. Woodward, 88.
42. Ibid., 88.
43. Hamilton, 29.
44. Jerry Falwell, Strength for the Journey:  An Autobiography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 335.
45. Ibid., 361.
46. Ibid., 361-362.
47. Woodward, 88.
48. Martin, 197.
49. Haack, 20.
50. Lee, 27.
51. The New York Times (New York), 17 May 1984.
52. Faux, 134.
53. Ronald Nash, Evangelicals in America (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987, 105.
54. Richard John Neuhaus, “The Schaeffer Legacy,” First Things, June/July 1993, 64.
55. Nash, 92.
56. Michael G. Maudlin, “Midwives of Francis Schaeffer,” Christianity Today, 3 March 1997, 6.