I recently picked up Crazy for God, the memoir by Frank Schaeffer. One of the reasons I had (hinted at by my title) is that more than once, I have read Christians talk in such sympathetic terms about Frank. “His book”, they say, “is so bitter and he just sounds so disillusioned. I hope and pray he finds peace.” I suspected that the concern expressed was not quite as sincere as it was presented, particularly because it is most often evoked to not interact with Schaeffer’s current role as pundit criticizing the movement in which he formerly was involved. “Schaeffer has this criticism of the religious right. What do you think?” “Well, I read poor Frank’s book and it was so sad to see his bitterness.” “Yeah, that is sad. Next question.”
Reading the book, I was not struck by his bitterness. It was a frank (heh, heh) portrayal of what it was like being raised by (all rise) Francis and Edith Schaeffer. I was amused to read his inside jokes about “christianese” and how it took the place of biblical Christianity in the minds of the christianese speakers. This book is not untypical of memoirs, particularly ones which concern a personal pilgrimage. He has some genuinely touching things to say about his dad (virtually none for his mom until the last chapter). Even when presenting details which you maybe wish you did not know, he calls his father heroic. In the end, Frank has not rejected Christianity, but confesses that he is not so “certain” as he once was.
He was scathing about the heads of the Religious Right. “Pat Robertson would have trouble finding employment which did not include hearing voices” for example. He presents his father’s involvement in the movement was a real departure for him and a betrayal of the ideals that made L’Abri what it was. I think that Franks correctly says that had any of the heads of the Moral Majority been aware of Francis’ work in Switzerland, they would have hated it. In the end, Francis and Frank are stuck in the boardroom with anti-intellectuals and fundamentalists who hated everything Schaeffer stood for in his work, but were happy to use his reputation as an intellectual to further their political ends. They look at each other as one man droned on about his theonomist dream for America. “These people”, says Francis, “are fools” .
Frank’s own involvement also gets raked as he writes of his early on sincere and idealistic involvement (he was the one who convinced his father that he ought to be involved in the movement) devolving into slick huckstering for a group of people who would not like what he really was. “Once we win, I will be the first one they execute against the wall” Frank told his wife. Metaphorically, at least so far, he was right.
This book confirmed to me that the issue with “poor Frank” is not that he has bitterness about Christianity, or that he is disillusioned about Christianity, but rather it is his rejection of the Religious Right. Today, when he pundits about the Religious Right, he is usually quite accurate and knows of what he is speaking, whether you agree with his stand or not. The reaction of “poor Frank” is a damning of Frank’s position by faux-sympathy. The “disillusionment” read into his account is a function of the ongoing confusion of the Religious Right political movement with Christianity. Frank Schaeffer is being dismissed for saying what the Church of Jesus Christ truly needs to hear.