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Frank Schaeffer’s Fundamentalist Fakery

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Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), has a story on about Frank Schaeffer’s call for the Occupy Wall Street protesters to go after evangelical Christians. Schaeffer is the son of evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). Tooley:

A blogger for The Huffington Post, young Schaeffer is now faulting religious conservatives for facilitating Wall Street greed. He’s imploring the Wall Street Occupiers to “protest the root source of America’s tilt to the far unregulated corporate right.” For Schaeffer, the next logical step is to demonstrate “outside mega churches, Evangelical publishing houses, [and] religious organizations that lead the ‘moral’ crusades against women and gays and all the rest.”

The article, titled “Wall Street Occupiers Urged to Target Churches,” also describes Schaeffer attacking Roman Catholics as “likewise ‘fundamentalists’ who have ‘delegitimized the US Government and thus undercut its ability to tax, spend and regulate.’ So Catholic bishops, like evangelical mega churches, have also tricked their followers into voting against their ‘own class and self-interest.'” See the top video in this post for a sample of Schaeffer spleen.

In August, New York Times reporter Mark Oppenheimer interviewed Schaeffer about his new book Sex, Mom and God and said that that the author’s “break with conservatism, and with evangelicalism, came in the late 1980s.” But, as Oppenheimer described it in “Son of Evangelical Royalty Turns His Back, and Tells the Tale,” Schaeffer:

… had long been skeptical of many of his bedfellows. He found the television pastor Pat Robertson and some of his colleagues to be ‘idiots,’ he told me last week, when we met for coffee in western Massachusetts. Looking back, Mr. Schaeffer says that once he became disillusioned he ‘faked it the whole way.’

Schaeffer might be telling the truth, but remember he’s a self-confessed faker. One thing’s for sure — Oppenheimer didn’t do his homework.

The second, grainy video at the top of this post, shot in a Greek Orthodox church about six months after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, shows Schaeffer in his post-evangelical, pre-HuffPo culture wars mode — more than a decade after his purported “break” from the right. You hear him warning those in the pews about the threat from “the Islamic horde that now pours toward our frontiers” and hear him berating Protestants and Catholics for their soft “feminized” Christianity that won’t stand up to secularism, hedonism and a whole catalog of evils that might have been formulated by, say, Pat Robertson. Schaeffer wants a Christianity that isn’t wishy-washy, therapeutic and “sentimental” but has a “my way or the highway” ethic — a lot like the U.S. Marine Corps. In fact, he has found the alternative to America’s flabby faith: the Orthodox Church.

A tireless book promoter (see also the first five minutes of this longer video), Schaeffer spent a good part of the 1990s and beyond attacking Western Christianity for its many failures and novelties over and against the “pure and clean and perfect” Orthodox Church, into which he was received as a convert. The launching pad for much of this vitriol was his 1995 book, Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religions, which combined Orthodox triumphalism and cold-hearted sectarian vituperation and took it to new heights.

My Greek Orthodox parish was instrumental in bringing Schaeffer to Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1995 for a speaking engagement at a local high school that drew more than 1,000 people. The crowd included many curious Protestants who wanted to hear the son of the famous evangelical theologian explain why he had left the fold and converted to Orthodoxy. While in town, Schaeffer was interviewed on Calvin Forum, a public affairs program on the Calvin College educational TV channel. Indeed, the Reformed minister who interviewed him later was received into the Orthodox Church. Listen to Kevin Allen of Ancient Faith Radio interview former moderator of Calvin Forum, Robert Meyering, about the role Schaeffer played in his journey East.

What is Orthodoxy? According to Schaeffer, “it is the church that has maintained the worship, the sacrament, the truth, in its only pure form that can be found in the world today.” Problem is, in his current incarnation as scourge of the Religious Right, Schaeffer doesn’t say much about the Orthodox Church and his many years of (faking it again?) traveling the country as a Neo-Byzantine circuit rider. You see no evidence on his personal web page of any of those rants against the Catholic and Protestant enemies of Orthodoxy, nor access to a digital version of his tabloid Christian Activist newspaper that was frequently the vehicle for these attacks.

In Dancing Alone, Schaeffer decried the “Protestant debacle [embodied in the ecumenical movement] which has resulted in the disintegration of Western civilization, the acceptance of abortion on demand, the ordination of women, homosexuals and lesbians, the apostasy and heresy inherent in ‘liberal’ Protestant theology.” This was years after he “broke” with the conservatives and Religious Right? Here’s the contents page for the book on Regina Orthodox Press, the publishing house Schaeffer founded and which continues to sell titles like From Baptist to Byzantium and The Virtue of War.

Schaeffer’s Orthodox history might be inconvenient to him today because based on the Church’s teachings — sanctity of life, sexuality, marriage, a hyper-patriarchal priesthood — it looks a lot like the dimwitted “Taliban” Christians and “fundamentalists” that Schaeffer spends so much time denouncing of late. Then again, you can hardly go around advertising the fact that you spent years proselytizing on behalf of traditional morality if, today, you want to maximize your page views on HuffPo and get MSNBC producers to call you back.

IRD covered a speech Schaeffer recently gave in which he cited the Orthodox tradition’s reverence for “holy mysteries” as grounds for rejecting “the frozen being of belief.” But the mysteries of the faith in Orthodox teaching (indeed, the Christian faith rests on profound mysteries) do not provide a basis for a faith that changes, as he puts it, “like the weather.” He should go back and re-read his history of the Ecumenical Councils if he thinks that “anything goes” is how the Church does theology.

Years ago, it was obvious to some Orthodox Christians that Schaeffer had anger management issues. In a 1995 review of Dancing Alone, the scholar and essayist Vigen Gurioan said the book “oozes with the same moralism, instrumentalism and pragmatism that have contributed to the secularization and loss of catholic Christian consciousness that he condemns.”

Schaeffer, Guroian wrote, is at heart an individualist who has taken it upon himself to single handedly interpret the Truth and right all wrongs:

Schaeffer seems to have become Orthodox because the rest of America has gone wrong, and Orthodoxy is the best religious remedy for cultural crisis and moral malaise. At work here is not the catholic mind of the church but the romantic self that takes upon itself the task of reconstructing and arbitrating theological truth. Schaeffer intones “Holy Tradition” repeatedly when he passes judgment on the falsehood in others and claims truth for his own statements (“Holy Tradition says…”). But at center stage as arbiter and mediator of this so-called Holy Tradition is the “I.”

Schaeffer is still arbitrating the truth, but now from the left. Fair enough. That’s his choice. Although, inciting mobs to attack churches and publishing houses does sound a tad intolerant.

But the New York Times claim that the years of “faking it” among Christian traditionalists ended in the late 1980s, doesn’t hold water. Actually, his right wing, sectarian hate speech phase extended deep into the 1990s and 2000s, albeit masquerading in the rich brocades of Orthodox triumphalism. You wonder: Because Frank Schaeffer is such a good faker, could he still be faking it today? Is he a double agent in the culture wars, secretly going among the liberals at HuffPo and MSNBC until the time is ripe to once again expose the evildoers with new books and fresh tirades? We’ll have to stay tuned.

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • “No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul’s eyes, preventing it from seeing the Sun of righteousness. Leaves, whether of gold or lead, placed over the eyes, obstruct the sight equally, for the value of the gold does not affect the blindness it produces. Similarly, anger, whether reasonable or unreasonable, obstructs our spiritual vision.” – St. John CassianLet us all–especially Orthodox converts like myself–be on guard against acting, even for what is good, out of anger. Thankfully, Jesus specializes in healing the blind.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this little window into the strange actions of this strange sad man.  Hisprimary emotion seems to be anger and his defining personal quality appears to be narcissism.  A fake for money.  Sounds like an unstable version of Marjoe.

  • Gr8lit

    Uh, so what’s the point? Schaeffer, who contra Toony is no longer “young” (he’s approaching 60) changed his mind. Is that not allowed? Or do you guys think one has to come up with a public stance and remain unchanging for untold years?

    • I think the problem is more his disingenuous rewriting of his own life, not the fact that he “changed his mind.” Furthermore, his angry, polemical stances toward other traditions (no matter which ones he favors at any particular time) calls into question his integrity, which is truly a shame. Schaeffer has every right to whatever opinion he may hold (and we have every right to criticize those opinions), but to speak publicly, often as an unofficial spokesman for an ancient, global Church, and then to drastically change his views while claiming to have always really held them, is irresponsible, not to mention unbelievable.

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  • Father Mark Hodges

    A couple of years ago, I wrote a letter to Franky, with the help of several friends, seeking to reason with him and bring him back to Orthodoxy, in the spirit of correcting an erring brother (James 5:20). Our intent was also to help the weak, especially Orthodox who may be persuaded by Franky’s anti-Christian rhetoric, or non-Orthodox Christians who may think Franky’s fanatically liberal articles represent the Church. We were going to make the letter an open one, with multiple signatories, but ultimately gave up on the idea (I wish we hadn’t). In any case, I sent my letter to him from myself alone. I have not heard back from him. This is what I/we wrote:

    Dear Brother Frank,

    Glory to Jesus Christ!

    First of all, let us say we have been very glad to have you as our brother in communion. Your journey to the Orthodox Church has inspired many, and opened doors for those interested in the Faith. Your publishing company has introduced historic Christianity to those who otherwise would have no exposure to it. Your abilities as a writer and public speaker are wonderful gift to the Church. You have helped bring public awareness to the “best kept secret in America,” and for this we thank you, and we appreciate your work, and we embrace you as our brother in Christ.

    In recent years, however, we have noted with fraternal concern changes in your public comments and in your writing toward traditional Christian teachings. We are concerned because what you say and write represents holy Orthodoxy to many who read your words. It is to your recent writings and public comments that we feel compelled to address you, in brotherly love.

    We believe that while it is natural and to some degree a necessity for converts to make a break from their past, those from backgrounds which hold consistencies with our Holy Tradition are not required to reject everything they were raised to believe, particularly Christian teachings of a moral character.

    Specifically, you have made comments repudiating your father’s seminal works, “What Ever Happened To The Human Race?,” “A Christian Manifesto,” “How Shall We Then Live?,” and your own writings against abortion and supporting societal morality, including “A Time For Anger: The Myth of Neutrality.” This concerns us because the holy Orthodox Faith teaches us to uphold the Sanctity of Life and to be moral “light” and “salt” in our society. We believe it is a time for moral outrage when millions of innocent persons made in God’s image are slaughtered to the modern Moloch. Orthodox theologian Dr Stanley Harakas explains the Church’s historic position:

    “The Church from the very beginning of existence has sought to protect “the life in the womb” and has considered abortion as a form of murder in its theology and canons. Orthodox Christians are admonished not to encourage women to have abortions, nor to assist in the committing of abortion. Those who perform abortions and those who have sought it are doing an immoral deed, and are called to repentance.”

    Your comments during the last Presidential election cycle, ridiculing Christians including Orthodox faithful who by conscience refused to vote for a “pro choice” president were, we feel, unbecoming of a Christian. We believe your public position led many to confusion, and in some cases supported the weak in opposing the Church’s clear teaching on abortion.

    Relatedly, we note your misguided support for destructive embryonic stem cell experimentation. You oppose what you call “the Catholic/Evangelical conspiracy to derail stem cell research.” In fact, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America has clearly stated the Church’s position, that Orthodox Christians “cannot condone the manipulation of embryonic cells in any form for research purposes, including lives developed from destroyed embryos.” The Orthodox bishops call upon the president and congress “to restore and maintain a total ban” on embryonic stem cell experimentation as “inherently immoral and a fundamental violation of human life… Embryonic stem cell research results in unmitigated harm. It should be unequivocally rejected in the interests of preserving both the sacredness and the dignity of the human person.”

    We take issue with your soteriology, proclaiming “atheists or Muslims or gay men and women” do God’s will like the Good Samaritan. Your intent seems to be to admonish Christians toward compassion, but your conclusion that homosexuals will “inherit the earth,” and, “the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to…gay couples who are being denied their civil rights” misleads your readers into thinking homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle, even a virtuous one, and more virtuous than the faith of “American Christians.” Elsewhere, you state, “Gay marriage and gay parents aren’t a threat to children,” a statement which flies in the face of basic psychology, as well as Orthodox Christian common sense.

    We are concerned about your public stereotyping of Christians, especially those who collectively seek to influence our nation toward moral sanity. You not only judge the hearts of evangelical leaders by name, but you publicly proclaim them “haters,” “fools” and “liars,” full of “hysteria” and “anti abortion absolutism.” You judge them –by name– as “hate-filled,” “notorious gay bashers,” and analogize the National Prayer Breakfast to a Ku Klux Klan meeting. This is slander. We fear that while you vehemently decry evangelicals, it is your angry rhetoric which is giving Orthodox Christianity a bad name. You certainly may hold opinions for or against political positions, but to condemn an entire party as a “lynch mob” is both untrue and unchristian.

    But your condemnation is not reserved for evangelicals alone. You state definitively that “If it was up to the American Roman Catholic bishops there would be no health care reform,” which is a misrepresentation of the bishops’ call to take abortion out of healthcare, and is patently false. (Those very bishops were among the strongest advocates of healthcare reform; they simply wanted the killing of children out of it.) It seems anyone who disagrees with President Obama you label, “evil,” and desiring murder and violence. You even accuse those who oppose various Obama policies as racially motivated!

    Your exegesis misrepresents the Orthodox Church’s teaching, and even Her respect for the integrity and truthfulness of holy Scripture itself. You misquote Jesus, writing in His voice, “If gay men and women are asking to be allowed to marry, I commanded you to give to him who asks of you.” With this sentence you disregard the Church’s teaching and pervert Jesus’ message at the same time. You present the Lord as saying, “Ignore the dumb harsh parts of the Bible. That is my message: pick the good, leave out the bad. The Bible is just a book.” You teach, “There is no Heaven or Hell,” without the necessary explanation for your readers to understand that in the age to come there is either eternal torment or the joy of Christ’s Kingdom. You falsely state that the Bible “doesn’t match reality,” and advise people to “reject the parts of one’s scriptures outright that fly in the face of fact, compassion and decency” (as understood by the fallen individual). You speak of the theory of evolution as “proven Darwinian biological evolutionary science,” and juxtapose it against a caricature of the biblical account of creation. You recently wrote, “…the best thing a believer in any actual God can do is to admit that a lot of the Bible is hate filled blasphemy.” These statements are against our Holy Tradition.

    We read with concern your tendency to lump all religions into one, relatively equal faith system. You defend the “truth” that “we can’t know anything conclusively because we are evolving and not “there” yet (wherever there is!).” You write, “The next great task for the human race is to wean ourselves off literal interpretations of religion. We need to eradicate fundamentalism in all its forms.” This is contrary to all the Fathers and Mothers and Monks and Nuns and Hierarchs and Faithful of the Orthodox Church stood for, and all the Martyrs died for. “God has revealed Himself to us!,” we proclaim with joy in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

    We are concerned about your misrepresentation of apophatic theology, which can easily lead others away from the true God. It seems to us that you misunderstand the quotes you cite (“Do not define the Deity”), doing precisely what you accuse evangelicals of by taking them out of context and overly literally. Apophatic theology is not “anti-theology,” as you teach; and though, as you point out, “this way of perceiving God is found not just in Christianity but in other religions too,” our Tradition is quite specifically Christian, and we claim that Christ is The Truth for all. Apophatic theology does not endorse the subjectivity you imply, or that truth is relative to individual experience. You misunderstand the patristic use of the concept of “being” (and “wise” and “good”) when you write that God neither exists nor doesn’t exist. Likewise when you teach that “one should never claim God is ‘one’ or ‘three.’” This kind of teaching confuses and misleads many. The whole point is that God is above us, beyond our finite categories of understanding. But our Gospel message itself is about a particular God, Who is the one, true God, and Who is knowable Personally, through His only Son, Jesus Christ. Orthodox apophatic theology absolutely affirms that God is Three Persons with One Nature.

    And now, again in The Huffington Post, you recently use inflammatory rhetoric against Orthodox and other Christians who oppose the building of a mosque near Ground Zero, calling them “racists.” How can you judge others’ hearts as “racists”?

    We ask you to reconsider your public comments. We urge you to take public stands consistent with The Orthodox Church that teach abortion is murder and is never a “choice.” Evangelical Christians should not to be vilified or ridiculed for positions which are consistent with Orthodox moral tradition. Destructive embryonic stem cell experimentation kills a human being. Homosexual behavior is not healthy, not for participants or for children in such an environment, or for society at large. The Orthodox Church believes in and defends the integrity of the Bible. All religions are not equal. And racism does not motivate Christians who hold the opinion that it is inappropriate to build a mosque at Ground Zero.

    I’m sure as Orthodox faithful we may disagree on various current events in the political realm. But as Orthodox Christians there are principles and doctrines which transcend personal opinion and which we are bound to support. These issues seem to us to be so plain and clear that we would ask you in brotherly love: if you feel you cannot correct yourself and retract your inflammatory public statements and judgments, that you refrain from public speaking.

    It is with genuine love and respect that we write to you. If in anything we have offended you, we apologize. We offer you this correction in the spirit of humility, welcoming any corrective response from you.


    V. Rev. Fr. Mark Hodges, Lima, Ohio


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  • Boratindahouse

    The videos linked to on this web page put this man in perspective.  Amazingly, it does not seem like any of his recent adulators have caught on to these frightening displays of hatred.  I can’t do justice to the things he was saying in these videos.   

    Whats fascinating, though, is that regardless what form he has taken — evangelical, orthodox, secular humanist liberal — the substance has been the same: throughout all of Frank or Franky or Francis Jr’s permutations his arrogance, anger, self-absorption have remained constant.

    He shows very little signs of empathy or humor.  He doesn’t listen to others.  I honestly believe that he needs professional help. 

    This man brings orthodoxy in to disrepute.  The one virtue our faith has is the focus on the inner life — calmness, humility, hesychia.  This is a deeply disturbed man. 


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