September 19, 2020

Frank Schaeffer Reconsiders His Style

Frank Schaeffer is saying he’s had a change of heart.

Over the years the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer of L’Abri famously abandoned his role as a leader in the religious right, embraced Orthodox Christianity, and became a spokesman for the political left. At every stage he has been known for being blunt and harsh in his style of speaking and writing.

In April, I wrote a post about his “dyslogy” for Charles Colson to which he gave the title, “Colson: An Evangelical, Homophobic, Anti-Woman Leader Passes On,” which many, including myself, described as spitting on Colson’s grave. I also wrote Frank personally at that time (an excerpt is in my post) and encouraged him to consider that he might be doing more harm than good by using such a sledgehammer approach.

And now, this week I saw that Frank published a piece in Huffington Post reconsidering the way of verbal condemnation. He wrote:

From supporters of President Obama to Tea Party activists Americans agree that we live in a time of deeply polarized politics. There are numerous explanations but I suspect it comes down to bad theology. I should know. I was my evangelist father’s (Francis Schaeffer) sidekick on the religious/political circuit in the 1970s and 80s. We did our bit to launch the religious right. Then I changed my mind and fled.

One thing didn’t change when I changed sides: My slash and burn fundamentalist style of attacking those with whom I disagree. This combative “style” lands me on cable news shows because these days even us “progressives” direct derisive exclusionary condemnation at our enemies. So I’ve been both a perpetrator and victim of retributive exclusion.

Now I’m questioning the wisdom of being a practitioner of dudgeon for hire, even for good causes.

I’m sure many will adopt a “wait and see” attitude to evaluate if this new attitude sticks, but I want to step forward and thank Frank for taking a step in the right direction. I dropped him a Facebook message telling him so, and now I want to commend him publicly for expressing a willingness to speak and write with more gentleness and kindness.

As for me I’m burnt out on rhetorically burning others. I’m going to try Hume’s agreeableness for a bit. Instead of damning each other, maybe we can learn to show mercy to those with whom we disagree, taking our cue from a teacher who said that love of enemy — not correct theology or politics — is all that can make us whole.

“What is desirable in a man is his kindness,” says the wise teacher in Proverbs 19:22. This does not mean we cannot engage in the occasional firm and direct rebuke, but it does frame that speaking in such a way that eliminates meanness and demonizing others from the equation.

We can all learn from that.

Comments

  1. An interesting thing to read from Frank. I’ve always found him fascinating as one of the “original” post-evangelicals in our country.

    Several years ago, I read through his book “Addicted to Mediocrity” with a friend, which is his denouncement of evangelical “art”. He makes some stellar points in the book, but I remember my friend saying “I just can’t get over how angry and bitter he sounds…”

    As my mom always said, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar… let’s indeed hope his change of heart is here to stay.

  2. David Cornwell says

    Reading this I can’t help but think of today’s lectionary passage from Ephesians 4, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Uncontrolled anger is an epidemic right now in our culture. People, in many cases, have reason to be terribly angry. But, when it festers and we go to bed with it, we are in reality going to bed with it! We make love to it, and it to us. And it can give birth to some terrible words and acts.

    Our pastor touched on this in his sermon this morning, speaking of factions and the FUD factor (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) that has taken control of our interactions with each other on the web in blogs, news sites, and television. As followers of Christ we are better than this (or should be at least).

    Frank Schaeffer somehow was terribly hurt in his immersion so deeply in the Evangelical Right. He does have a lot to say. Without the anger that dilutes his words, he will have a lot more to say.

  3. Joseph (the original) says

    i was having a conversation about the state of politics in our country just this morning at church with an older saint. i said politics has devolved into hate, not simply rhetoric or differences of opinion. there is no respect for others. just looking at my facebook page those of opposing viewpoints quick to jump into the cesspool of denounciations, accusations, character assassinations…

    {sigh}

    when such posturing & bad behavior happens within the larger (more orthodoxly generous) community, i am immediately repulsed by whatever viewpoint is being promoted. and it also sours me to anything else that individual, website, organization, faith tradition, etc. has to say. i have zero tolerance for Christians behaving badly in the public forum. it just tunes me out immediately without any guilt factor on my part…

    Lord, he who has ears to hear only can handle so much hooey in Your name… 🙁

  4. Welcome news, to be sure, but we should wait and see.

    It is slightly annoying to me that he announced this change of heart in such a way as to blame the fact that he has been a jerk on fundamentalism, as though he cannot let any opportunity pass without taking a swipe.

    If he thinks he used to be a jerk, he should come out and say, “I was a jerk. I am repenting of that now.” He doesn’t need to say, “I was a fundamentalist, and THEREFORE a jerk.” That certainly doesn’t get things off on the right foot. His father was a fundamentalist, but Francis never put the kind of vitriol into print that Frank has.

    • …blame the fact that he has been a jerk on fundamentalism, as though he cannot let any opportunity pass without taking a swipe.

      I picked up on that too. Although I’m critical of fundamentalism, I don’t believe they’re all slash-and-burn attackers, as Frank suggests.

      • David Cornwell says

        There are jerks in every persuasion, I’m sure of that. I know some liberal jerks. And some very nice fundamentalists.

    • “My slash and burn fundamentalist style of attacking”

      Like you gentlemen, this jumped out at me as I read the above. Slash and burn has more to do with the person himself than it does any particular position taken. Fact is I’ve always thought of Frank Schaeffer in terms of what Saruman called Theoden, “a lesser son of greater sires.” I’m being unkind, I know, especially in light of his latest conversion.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “Latest conversion” is right. How many conversions has Schaffer gone through since I first heard about him in Addicted to Mediocrity in the Eighties (and soon after heard him interviewed on the radio — whatever the subject was, he turned it into a denunciation of Romish Popery). And with each conversion he has gone attack dog on anything outside the perimiter of that conversion. I think the guy just likes to be in a fight for Righetousness and his definition of Righteousness changes every few years (and which church he’s gotten attached to).

    • Yeah, isn’t that cute? Frank Schaeffer’s formerly bad attitude is just another thing in his life that’s the fault of “fundamentalism.” Except I can’t recall any conservative evangelicals writers that piss on people’s graves like Frank has. He wasn’t taught that by his father or Os Guinness or Charles Colson, he brought that out of himself.

  5. I have always felt that Frank Schaeffer would have useful things to say if he got past the angry young man mentality. I sincerely pray his change of heart is real. I do not think this mentality is exclusive to liberal, conservative or fundamentalist, non-fundamentalist, but is the result or someone from any point of view refusing to try to understand their opponents and where they are coming from even it they do not agree with them.

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  8. I am glad to see to see Frank changing his approach. I generally like his writing. I am not a fundamentalist, but am a Christian. Slash and burn is not a good approach for any position.

  9. Excellent post, Chaplain Mike. At this point in my life, I am so tired of listening to loud, angry people. Give me gentleness every time. That is not to say that no one should point out when things are wrong, but there are different ways of doing it and the kind and loving way is greatly preferred.

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  11. I’ve got to say that I generally didn’t find Scheaffer’s style too problematic to begin with. Did he come off as angry and petty sometimes? Certainly. Could he have been a bit more polite. I imagine. I guess the thing is the one thing I appreciated most about his writing was his honesty. I certainly don’t agree with all the positions he takes, but I guess as one who grew up in the Evangelical bubble, I get tired of the atmosphere that seems to put propriety above honesty.

    I’m sure it is possible for one to become something like a fundamentalist but on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, so that should be guarded against. I agree with the fact that we need to be careful to be respectful towards those we disagree with, so I applaud the effort there. I just think there are many people who wouldn’t care about how nice Schaeffer becomes. They would still trash him simply because he says things they don’t want to hear.

  12. I do believe that Frank has been honest about his feelings for the most part. His father tried to speak the truth in love, which made him so influential. His father was also a fundamentalist and a separatist in his early pastoral ministry, but not the slash and burn type, for the most part…

  13. Frank’s “style” has always bothered me, even when what he was saying resonated. Like some others I’m also skeptical about the genuineness of this change of heart, and will wait and see. I also have to agree with those who’ve pointed out that not all fundamentalists are mean — although there are plenty who are. You don’t have to go much further than the chapters covering Catholicism in The Fundamentals to find examples. I always find these words to be a good guide: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is ant excellence and if there is any worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4.8 (NRSV).