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Crazy for God is Frank (Franky) Schaeffer’s tell-all book about his life with his parents Francis and Edith Schaeffer and how he “helped found the religious right and ruin America.” It’s an angry book, and an immature memoir. By the time someone is a grandfather, memories of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and idiosyncratic parents should be a distant memory. I sure hope my sons are more kind if they ever decide to write a book about me. Frank seems to remember all the bad things about growing up with his famous parents as a major worldview shift was taking place in the evangelical-fundamentalist world.
There’s one paragraph in Crazy for God that caught my attention. It describes what was wrong with the Schaeffer’s worldview and what may have contributed to Frank’s disillusionment and angry denouncement of his work among evangelicals:
The debate [over abortion] became vicious. And Dad and I went from merely talking about providing compassionate alternatives to abortion, to actively working to drag evangelicals, often kicking and screaming, into politics. By the end of the Whatever Happened to the Human Race? tour, we were calling for civil disobedience, the takeover of the Republican Party, and even hinting at overthrowing our “unjust pro-abortion government.”
Francis Schaeffer never worked out the implications of his worldview, although he did lay the groundwork for further discussion. A Christian Manifesto was Schaeffer’s most popular book. In the 1981 preface, Schaeffer began with “the Lordship of Christ over all of life—philosophy, theology and the church, art, music, literature, films, and culture in general. The books that followed dealt with and extended areas of Christ’s total Lordship in all of life.” This led Schaeffer to ask about the “next logical step”: “What is the Christian=s relationship to government, law, and civil disobedience?” He followed the arguments of Scottish Presbyterian Theologian Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661) set forth in his book Lex, Rex: Or the Law and the Prince. Schaeffer claimed that Rutherford’s arguments were used by John Locke in a secularized form and also by John Witherspoon (1723–1794), one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, for the justification of the War for Independence. Rutherford wrote in a time when the king was the law—Rex Lex, as Schaeffer put it—and there was no way to bring about social or political change from the people.
But civil disobedience was not the next biblical step in America. There was and is so much that could have and was done without the call for civil disobedience. What made the Schaeffer’s believe that civil disobedience would bring about change when they couldn’t get enough Christians to vote for change? To advocate civil disobedience was an admission that no constructive alternative to the humanistic system existed, and he didn’t have one to offer. Being a critic is the first step, but it must be followed with reconstruction. Because of Schaeffer’s pessimistic eschatology—he was a classic premillennialist—he could not envision a long-term strategy for change. Civil disobedience seemed to be the logical alternative.
What’s become of Francis Schaeffer’s Legacy? C. Everett Koop was the co-author of Whatever Happened to the Human Race? He became Surgeon General under Ronald Reagan. Liberals attacked him because of his anti-abortion stance and his relationship with Schaeffer. “The nomination was held up for more than eight months. Only after Dr. Koop promised to abandon the antiabortion circuit and to refrain from using the Surgeon General’s office as a pulpit for his right-to-life beliefs did the Senate finally vote its approval.” Under questioning, Koop admitted that as Surgeon General, he would recommend abortion as one way of dealing with the unborn children of mothers with AIDS. By the spring of 1987, Koop was self-consciously in retreat from his earlier Christian position. With respect to abortion, he commented, “I’ve written all that I have to write on that issue. There are other, bigger things that I should turn my attention to as surgeon general: Where this country is and where it’s going in health care.” In 1986 and 1987, Koop officially called for sex education on AIDS in the public schools as early as kindergarten and for public school instruction on how to use condoms. Homosexuality had become a politically protected lifestyle. “I am the surgeon general of the heterosexuals and the homosexuals,” Koop argued, “of the young and the old, of the moral and the immoral, the married and the unmarried. I don’t have the luxury of deciding which side I want to be on.” He had retreated to what Schaeffer called “the line of despair.”
This so-called neutral moral position cost people their lives. Koop should have come out denouncing the behaviors that were causing AIDS. He did it with smoking. Why was “safe sodomy” an option but not safe smoking? Cigarette smoking kills, the government was telling everyone. Laws had been passed to make it increasingly more difficult for people to smoke in public buildings. Tobacco products are heavily taxed. Do we find the following on tobacco products? “Caution: Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health. . . . So be sure to use a filter if you decide to smoke.” Koop was calling for condoms (filters) to help curtail the transmission of AIDS instead of denouncing the behavior that was spreading AIDS.
After his father’s death, Frank continued to speak and write, but he seemed to be going in another direction. He could not sustain his father’s worldview because there was no place to take it beyond cultural criticism. A number of his books hit the best-seller list. The most memorable was A Time for Anger (1982). He produced four low-budget movies that were flops. The worst was Wired to Kill (1987). “So, in the end,” film critic Ted Baehr wrote, “this is a humanistic film about humanistic despair, showing no way out, no alternative. . . . Stay away from Wired to Kill unless you want to weep at how an opportunity for Christian filmmakers was thrown away.” Stay away from Crazy for God unless you want to see how a great legacy has been squandered.
Frank expresses his frustration with evangelicals and fundamentalists (especially) in Crazy for God. I share his frustrations. But instead of walking away in denouncement, he should have used the capital that he and his father had built up to work for change. The religious right was in its infancy when Frank walked away. In many ways it was a lot like the picture he paints of himself in Crazy for God—angry, immature, and impulsive. Like him, it needed guidance and direction, not rejection.