As a Salon Premium subscriber, I recently signed on for a free 12-month subscription to Reason. I had seen the magazine on occasion in public libraries, and the subscription has been rewarding enough that I’m likely to become a paying subscriber once the free year has expired.
Contributing editor Cathy Young is one of Reason‘s brighter lights, so when I saw a line in the September issue (not yet online) promoting her reflection on Jerry Falwell’s mixed legacy, I brightened in anticipation of a good contrarian reading on the man from Lynchburg. Then I hit one of those tidy factoids so fatuous that it derails an otherwise entertaining argument:
Francis Schaeffer, a fundamentalist champion of “dominion theology,” reportedly helped allay Falwell’s stated fears of tainting religion with politics. Schaeffer believed that Christians are called to rule America under the guidance of biblical law. His followers include the radical “Christian Reconstructionists” who would impose Old Testament law — requiring the stoning of homosexuals, for example — in America. In a 2005 report for the Southern Poverty Law Center, Bob Moser quotes former Falwell ghostwriter Mel White as saying that Schaeffer “convinced Jerry there was no biblical mandate against joining with ‘nonbelievers in a political cause.”
This came as news to me. As a younger man in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, I was drawn enough to Schaeffer’s writing to attend a regional premiere of his pro-life film series Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (which was picketed by pro-choice Unitarians); to use vacation time for several week-long summer conferences; and to spend two months at the Boston-area branch of L’Abri Fellowship, the study center he founded in Switzerland.
If any of these Schaefferite endeavors had sessions devoted to praising dominionism or stoning gay people, I must have been taking a nap. The only L’Abri conference reference to dominionism I could recall was a question from the audience, and it prompted criticism of dominionism’s proponents. I checked the index for the Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer. Nope: Not a single reference to dominionism or to its best-known proponent (and Schaeffer contemporary), R.J. Rushdoony.
On a similar note: Richard Land pointed out in a recent interview with the radio show Interfaith Voices that, despite Kevin Phillips’ belief that dominionists have hijacked the Southern Baptist Convention, he knows of only about six dominionist pastors in the SBC, and they are all seen as fringe-element kooks.
I found the report by Bob Moser that Young referred to, and it offered a bit more detail:
But Falwell, like other fundamentalists, worried about “tainting” his religious message by mixing it with politics.
The Rev. Mel White, an evangelical writer and filmmaker who ghostwrote Falwell’s autobiography, says Falwell was led to politics in part by Dr. Francis Schaeffer, a rebellious fundamentalist who had begun spreading the word about “dominion theology” and who many see as the father of the anti-abortion movement.
Dubbed the “Guru of Fundamentalists” by Newsweek in 1982, Schaeffer believed that Christians are called to rule the U.S. — and the world — using biblical law. That meant winning elections.
“Dr. Schaeffer,” says White, “convinced Jerry there was no biblical mandate against joining with ‘nonbelievers’ in a political cause.”
Schaeffer was admired by a radical group of fundamentalist thinkers called Christian Reconstructionists. Led by Orthodox Presbyterian minister R.J. Rushdoony, the Reconstructionists argued that the Second Coming couldn’t occur until the faithful established a “Biblical kingdom.”
Democracy, which Rushdoony called “the great love of the failures and cowards of life,” would be replaced by strict Old Testament law — meaning the death penalty for homosexuality, along with a host of other “abominations,” including heresy, astrology, and (for women only) “unchastity before marriage.”
Still, there’s nothing more here than Schaeffer’s convincing Falwell that there was no scandal in Christians working with non-Christians on shared political concerns, and his being admired — for whatever reason — by Reconstructionists.
Schaeffer affirmed the common Christian belief that Jesus is Lord of all creation. Nothing in his work suggests, however, that Christians therefore ought to establish a theocracy in the United States or any other nation, much less to gather stones to hurl at anyone. I’ve yet to see an argument to the contrary that amounts to anything more than feverish speculation built on a foundation of hearsay.