taking the words of Jesus seriously

Dear Evangelical Establishment,

I know you don’t trust or like me and I don’t blame you! Lord knows what a pain in the ass I am! But instead of just writing me off as wicked, for once you’d better listen up. This is for your own good.

In the old days your predecessors didn’t like me because I was faulting you all for not being part of the Religious Right! No kidding. I changed sides. Now you are the right wingers I wanted you to become and then some, and I’m a nasty liberal writing books with unsettling titles like WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace. Weird, huh?

But here’s the point. And I tell you this for old times sake: You’ve been duped and it’s not by me.

So please read this “open letter” to you to understand what’s been done to you. I’m not your enemy. Your neoconservative “friends” are your enemy. I’m just an annoying writer still throwing mud from time to time but in a different direction these days. Sorry. Maybe I was dropped on my head as a child!

Your real enemies are not progressive Christian/Atheist/Backsliders like me. Your real enemies are some of the influential people who pretend to be your friends. They are your Nemesis.

I’ll bet the board members of Gordon College, Wheaton College and Christianity Today have no idea about the real reasons behind a bad set of choices they were duped into making in order to serve a purely political agenda masquerading as a “religious liberty” issue. They’ve been had.

A day is fast approaching where ordinary evangelicals will be cursing Wheaton College, Gordon College and the other evangelical establishment bastions that demanded the right to discriminate against women and gays as a matter of “religious liberty.”

So many evangelicals live in bubbles that they have no idea how the real world functions. They are going to find out that outside the comfortable inner circle of home-school, Christian school, Christian radio, TV and publishing, churches and Bible study groups, to the larger world people who want to discriminate against gays and women are weird outcasts to be shunned.

I mean what young man or woman wants their university degree to be from a pariah institution? Who wants to teach someplace that has the moral standing of the old apartheid regime of South Africa?

And what self-respecting secular, moderate or even ordinary tolerant religious organisation will associate with people who write letters to the president demanding the right to discriminate against gay men and women — just for being gay?!?!

What college will play a sports team from Gordon College if Gordon succeeds in gaining the “legal” right to discriminate against gay men and women? Who will hire a Gordon grad from “that place that discriminates against gays?”

What academic association will want to work with faculty from Wheaton College, now that Wheaton has “won” a Supreme Court case giving it the right to withhold contraceptive insurance coverage from women?

The argument will soon be made that if Christians can “legally” discriminate against gays and women then secular institutions should be able to exercise their consciences and discriminate against evangelicals. Just wait.

Major evangelical institutions have been talked into becoming part of the Tea Party attack on President Obama in particular and progressive America in general. They are “winning” some battles. But they will lose this war.

These stories are making headlines. They are also making enemies for the evangelical movement that will not fade away. They will be to the evangelical reputation what Franklin Graham has become to Billy.

As I predict in my new book WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace the evangelical institutions that are making the anti-women and anti-gay headlines are going to discover that their more moderate religious and secular peers are going to punish them. They will also be losing their young people in droves.

Re-accreditation? “Forget it, you have a policy of discrimination against gays and women.” Find sports teams to play your students? Want your professors to publish and deliver papers at national conferences? “Forget it, you have a policy of discrimination against gays and women…”

I used to be a religious-right author and activist who once would have rejoiced at Wheaton’s “victory” and would have applauded the editors of Christianity Today for their “stand.” My late father, Francis Schaeffer, along with Jerry Falwell and others, has been credited as one of the founders of the evangelical wing of the religious right. I fled the movement in the early 1990s. As noted by the New York Times, I also changed my politics.

Frank Schaeffer - The Wittenburg DoorBack in the 1970s and 80s, people like Falwell and my father and I publicly lamented the lack of support we were getting for our outspoken positions on the “culture war issues” from mainstream evangelical institutions. In those days we were attacked by tolerant and moderate Christians in places like the old The Wittenburg Door, sometimes known as simply The Door (a Christian satire and humor magazine) for demanding that other evangelicals follow us into the far right.

Here’s what The Door offered in April/May 1984:

EDITORIAL: “The Methods to His Mad-ness” by Ben Patterson
FEATURE: Fun QUOTES from “Modern Man” — Franky Schaeffer
ARTICLE: “The Schaeffers at Nyack” by Robert Longman Jr.
ARTICLE: “My Life with Franky Schaeffer” by Dale Suderman
INTERVIEW: Franky Schaeffer re name calling, ecumenism, Jerry Falwell, humility…
ARTICLE: “The Unmaking of Francis Schaeffer” by Richard Pierrard

The “Unmaking of Francis Schaeffer” was a critique in favor of moderate evangelicalism against what we had been doing back then. It was the defense of Christianity Today Magazine against our attacks on it for not joining our right wing crusade! I’d been vilifying CT editors in my far right rag The Christian Activist,  a free newspaper that had a circulation of over 500, 000 when I bailed the right and folded all my “Franky Schaeffer V Production” enterprises more or less overnight. (I was fortunate that my first secular book, my novel Portofino, was critically and commercially successful. Having bailed from the religious right my wife Genie and I had nothing to live on.)

Dad and I faulted Billy Graham for wanting to preach Jesus instead of taking a stand with us against abortion. We faulted Christianity Today for not being sufficiently political. To us the words “moderate” and “compromise” were dirty words.

Back then we were wrong and the more moderate editors at Christianity Today were right.

How things have changed! With the election of America’s first black president, the advent of the Tea Party and the shift of the GOP to the right, it seems that the major evangelical institutions are launching initiatives that Falwell would have loved. Why?

Short answer: Evangelicals were manipulated.

A long history of behind-the-scenes activities to move the evangelical base rightward are paying off. I’ll bet most evangelicals don’t even know they have been duped by neoconservative Roman Catholics and a few others, into a war where they’re just cannon fodder in a larger political battle.

Mainstream evangelical leaders like Wheaton, Gordon and Christianity Today used to set themselves apart from the likes of Falwell. No more. They have now become willing co belligerents of the far-right GOP leadership seeking to discredit Obama.

That is all this “religious liberty” shtick has really been about. And it is going to isolate and damage the evangelical cause. Do the words “Scopes Trial fallout and loss of credibility” ring a bell?

This is no accident. The anti-Obama shift by the evangelicals has been the aim of some dedicated activists. Their work is paying off. But they never did care about the likes of Wheaton and Gordon and would find the journalism of Christianity Today Magazine, let alone the religion of the big pastors that went along, laughable.

The late evangelical leader (and former Nixon hatchet man) Charles Colson was the evangelical Judas that sold his brethren for a mess of political pottage. He sold them to the religious right via  Roman Catholic activist Professor Robert George of Princeton, and George’s friends on the Court (Justice Antonin Scalia and the other Roman Catholic members). George  helped create The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the legal group at the heart of arguing the Supreme Court “religious liberty” cases.

Who is Robert George? Here’s how he’s described in the New York Times:

Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and a Roman Catholic… is this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker… George …alarmed at the liberal takeover of Washington and an apparent leadership vacuum among the Christian right, [brought a] group … together to warn the country’s secular powers that the culture wars had not ended. As a starting point, George had drafted a 4, 700-word manifesto that promised resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage…


[George] has parlayed a 13th-century Catholic philosophy into real political influence. Glenn Beck, the Fox News talker and a big George fan, likes to introduce him as “one of the biggest brains in America, ” or, on one broadcast, “Superman of the Earth.” Karl Rove told me he considers George a rising star on the right and a leading voice in persuading President George W. Bush to restrict embryonic stem-cell research. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told me he numbers George among the most-talked-about thinkers in conservative legal circles. And Newt Gingrich called him “an important and growing influence” on the conservative movement, especially on matters like abortion and marriage.


“If there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy, ” the conservative Catholic journal Crisis concluded a few years ago, “its leaders probably meet in George’s kitchen.”

George’s brainchild, The Beckett Fund describes itself as “a non-profit, public interest law firm defending the freedom of religion of people of all faiths.” They have achieved their goal of setting the stage for their best shot at rolling back Obama’s health care reform. They’ve done this by using vulnerable evangelical institutions that will pay the price. Unlike the evangelical schools and institutions George and the Beckett Fund have nothing to lose. George will still be at Princeton when your average Wheaton teacher is out looking for a job.

The neoconservatives have played the evangelicals like a violin. I say “played” because after the 1950s evangelicals never were anti-contraception– until recently that is when aroused on the “religious liberty” issue. And believe it or not many evangelicals, say most teachers at Gordon, never woke up in the morning asking themselves how they could find new ways to hurt the feelings of their gay students by inflicting them with Medieval Roman Catholic “Natural Law.”

The sucker punch was delivered to the evangelicals by the so-called Manhattan Declaration. In 2009, Colson was a principal writer with George of the Manhattan Declaration, which called on evangelicals, Mormons and Catholics to defeat President Obama in 2012, albeit without mentioning Obama by name. This call was made under the “nonpolitical” cover of “sanctity of human life” issues, “traditional marriage, ” and “religious freedom.”

The Manhattan Declaration was signed by a virtual Who’s Who of evangelical leaders. The Manhattan Declaration reads:

“We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”

Fast forward to now when 14 religious leaders just sent a letter to the White House echoing the declaration and requesting a religious exemption to a planned executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation “Without a robust religious exemption . . . this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom, ” says the letter. It was signed by recently installed Gordon College president D. Michael Lindsay as well as the chief executive of Catholic Charities USA, the executive editor of Christianity Today, prominent evangelical pastor Rick Warren and others.

Neoconservative activists like George and his Beckett Fund, and Colson helped set the stage for the Tea Party and what should be called the Biblical Patriarchy Restoration Movement. They gave a gloss of intellectual respectability to what was a theocratic wish list targeting gays and women as a means to target President Obama and the Democratic Party. That’s the real game. It is a game worthy of Karl Rove, in fact it is his game…

The aim was not freedom for religion but a chance to deliver a blow against a president that many evangelicals have never accepted as legitimate but that the racist Republican establishment hates. The result risks fulfilling Justice Ginsburg’s “minefield” prediction where the rule of law and equal protection fade into chaos.

The larger American community will not stand for this. Most evangelicals won’t either. They are good loving people. Wheaton, Gordon and Christianity Today Magazine at al are mere tools in a larger fight. Now they are marked as bastions of intolerance. They will pay a heavy price. They have been abused. That is a shame. Evangelicals deserved better. The cause of Christ did too.

Yours sincerely,
Frank Schaeffer

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