There is perhaps no evangelical writer and philosopher more important to the rise of the Christian right than Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer helped to construct the present identity of the politically active evangelical Christian. He wrote dozens of books that provided an intellectual groundwork for evangelicals to attack anyone who did not share their Bible-believing political framework. Schaeffer also urged Protestants to take up the anti-abortion crusade which at the time of his death in 1984 was a mostly Catholic movement. Two of his books, A Christian Manifesto and The Great Evangelical Disaster are good introductions to understand the basis of the evangelical obsession with culture and lack of concern with economic issues.
For Schaeffer, an evangelical Christian is someone who believes the Bible is the utmost authority on all matters, reads the Bible as God’s literal word, accepts Jesus Christ as savior and most importantly, spreads the word to others. An evangelical also believes that when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, mankind was forever tarnished and made evil. That’s why it’s necessary to be born again and accept the truth of evangelical Christianity.
Thus sin and moral issues are tantamount and economic justice can never address the more fundamental issue for evangelicals – that man has “fallen” and his soul must be redeemed.
“It is a horrible thing for a man like myself to look back and see my
country and my culture go down the drain in my own lifetime,” writes
Schaeffer in The Great Evangelical Disaster.
In both books, Schaeffer laments the decline of traditional American Christianity. He blames that loss on secular humanism, leftist movements of feminism and Marxism, and the cultural rebellion of the 1960s.
“The key to understanding extreme feminism centers around the idea of total equality, or more properly the idea of equality without distinction,” Schaeffer contends. “The Bible does not teach the inequality of men and women … It is an equality which preserves the fundamental differences between the sexes.”
Schaeffer believes that feminism disrupts the Bible-based model of heterosexual marriage because the Bible says wives “should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.” For evangelicals a submissive woman is not oppressed but constitutes a “beautiful picture of what marriage should be” and “equally of the love of Christ of the church.” Homosexuality is the same as sexual immorality and both are strongly condemned by Schaeffer.
Schaeffer’s greatest contribution to the Christian right is politicizing evangelical Protestants to take control of the anti-abortion movement. He called for “legal and political action” against abortion providers, setting the stage for the blockades in the years following his death. Schaeffer was also instrumental in encouraging evangelicals to use militant tactics on the courts and government to fight abortion.
“State officials must know that we are serious about stopping abortion … This may include doing such things as sit-ins,” Schaeffer said in A Christian Manifesto. “We must make people aware that this is not a political game.”
The 2004 election of Bush reaped the harvest of Schaeffer’s backlash seeds. Though he denies it in his books, Schaeffer wants to construct a theocracy. He also warns against wrapping religion in the flag, yet that is precisely how Bush supporters garnered another victory. Schaeffer promoted a cultural backlash and the soldiers in this movement are mostly working class. In order to counter this movement, progressives must learn from Schaeffer. We must build organizations to protest the Bush agenda and produce economic benefits for the working class such as unions and worker centers. We also must pressure government and the Democratic Party on universal health care and other economic issues.