Popular Patheos blogger, famous ex-Evangelical, and very vocal critic of the Religious Right Frank Schaeffer gave a terrific interview to Deputy Editor Nicholas G. Hahn III over at RealClear Religion this week. We’ve excerpted a few of our favorite responses here; click on the link below to read the rest of the interview at RCR.
Frank “Franky” Schaeffer is the son of the late Christian apologist and pro-life activist Francis Schaeffer. He has not followed in his father’s footsteps, to put it mildly. In a series of novels, articles and memoirs, Schaeffer has written out at some length his objections to the modern Religious Right. He spoke with me last week about hell, the Bible, President Obama, and why he regards Mormons and evangelicals as estranged cousins.
RealClearReligion: One of your most recent articles is titled: “Jesus Could Be Their Candidate and the Republicans Would Still Lose.” Why don’t you tell us what you really think is going on in this election?
Frank Schaeffer: I think there’s a lot going on. On the surface, it is a competition as usual between two big political parties, but I think below the surface there are other things happening. One, evangelicals are having to get used to the idea that they’re going to help elect a heretic (from their point of view) if Mitt Romney is elected. I think you have a racial question that will not go away. And another thing is that in the first election cycle with Barack Obama you didn’t have the Tea Party as it is today. So in a way you have a referendum on the rightward tilt of the Republican Party post-Barack Obama’s first victory. I think that’s a subtext that might get ignored, but I think there are a lot of people who want to see this election also in terms of bringing the balance back to the center for the Republican Party.
A big part of this election is a watershed where independent voters, moderate Republicans, and certainly most Democrats are going to be able to send some sort of a message to the Republican Party and I can’t imagine a more loud and clear message if Barack Obama wins. Here we have a country that has not really pulled out of the recession, we have a country that is still mired in a global war, we have a black President with all the racial overtones, and yet if [Obama] gets reelected with all those problems, I think it sends a message to the Republican Party that goes far beyond an election.
RCR: Why do evangelicals have such a problem with Mormons?
FS: I think it is a defensive mechanism from a point of view of insecurity. The difference between the Roman Catholic Church and all evangelical denominations is the Roman Catholics know who they are. They have a history. Whereas, evangelicalism is a self-invented form of Christianity that has cut itself off from the history of the Church and the tradition of the Church. Therefore, it’s basically like siblings fighting.
The Roman Catholics know who they are. I happen to go to a Greek Orthodox church; we know who we are. A protestant denomination doesn’t know who it is, or if it does and the youth pastor splits and starts a new church, there’s nothing to say, “You can’t do this.” The chaos within Protestantism — the multiplicity of denominations, seminaries, infighting, different points of view of the Scripture — any kind of new interpretation which deviates from what they regard as their version of orthodoxy is a tremendous threat because there’s nothing to appeal to except personal opinion.
RCR: Evangelicals are then competing with Mormons for converts?
FS: They’re competing with Mormons for coverts, competing with Mormons for legitimacy, and what’s more, Mormonism is an American phenomenon that comes precariously close to being exactly what most evangelicalism is: self-invented religion which comes out of 19th and 18th century revivals which doesn’t even tie back to Protestant history in Europe. It’s like having somebody at a family reunion and you don’t want to admit it, but this guy is my cousin.
Mormons really bug evangelicals because, guess what? When evangelicals look in the mirror, they’re not too many steps removed from where Mormonism came from. Evangelicalism has a lot more to do with North American revivalism than it does with classic Protestantism. I think the proximity is too close and it makes evangelicals uncomfortable.
RCR: …your real beef with the Religious Right is that politics changed evangelicalism.
FS: Oh, very much. For instance, when we were in politics on the pro-life side, we wanted to save babies. Then the guys who came over the hill turn out to be corporate America. They’re saying, “We don’t really care about this saving babies business; we just want Republicans to win because they’ve got our back.” A flip happened. Like the old frog being boiled and doesn’t notice as the temperature is being turned up, look at the agenda of the Religious Right and the Tea Party today and look at where they overlap.
Since when was evangelical Christianity about Ayn Rand’s philosophy? Since when was it about corporate America and lowering taxes for billionaires? All of a sudden the evangelical agenda is about maintaining capitalism. Isn’t that odd? Where did that come from? What does any of that have to do with the pro-life movement or even gay marriage? Nothing. Because the pro-life movement was coopted by the Right and folded in, evangelicalism has been tremendously weakened because it has bought in to an entire right-wing package. It has not done religion any good in this country.