Patience with Frank Schaeffer?

In my recent post “Will New York Mega-Church Pastor Tim Keller Redeem Publishing?,” my suggestions for potential books from the new Redeemer imprint elicited this response: “Why is there a book called, No Patience with Frank Schaeffer?” To which I responded, “Frank S. has been very critical of religious moderates who sat by and let the right wing take over the party.”

My answer was based on my reading of Frank’s books Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and Patience with God: Faith for People Who Dont Like Religion (or Atheism). In the Huffington Post Frank sums up his feelings towards those who claim to be “moderates” seeking “common ground” in an “Open Letter to the ‘Respectable’ Evangelical/Republican Party Leadership”:

When have you all—the respectable leaders—stood up and denounced and called out your haters? You the “moderate” evangelical leaders and “respectable” Republican leadership have nurtured the beast of ignorance in your bosom. Now it’s about to bite you —big-time. Your willfully ignorant followers are inflicting the rest of this country with the image of hate, intolerance and sheer stupidity on a level that is hard to believe.

One senses that Frank feels an almost desperate need to undo the tone of a movement he helped start. Having played a role in birthing the Religious Right, he now takes on the role of the whistle blower, who feels called to expose the underbelly of this missional monster. Like a former mobster turned FBI informant, Frank knows where all the bodies are buried because he was one of the ones who had a hand in creating this Tim Burton-esque horror show that he feels bears scant resemblance to the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.

I can sympathize with Frank’s anger. As a religious satirist, who covers Christian carnage for a living, I’ve seen the dangers of what happens when Christians believe that they can use their proximity to power and money in the service of enacting God’s will here on earth. The Lord’s Prayer asking God that “Thy will be done” is replaced by “God bless my will.” All too often, they get co-opted into serving the idols of power and money by deceiving themselves into believing that their desires are in sync with Jesus’ call for their lives.

In skimming though the comments from my interview with Frank on the God’s Politics blog, I was struck by the degree of anger directed towards him. On one level, I understand this outrage because whenever I shoot someone’s sacred cow, they tend to moo very loudly. But the level of vitriol generated by Christians in a post-Obama era has reached such a level of animosity that the quiet voice of reason appears to have been silenced.

But lest anyone feel the Republican party has de-evolved into a Palin-esque parade of lipstick loonies, Frank sounds a warning bell to be wary of the elite power brokers operating well under the religious radar. For example, one doesn’t hear much outrage from Christian organizations following Jeff Sharlet’s reports linking the Family to the anti-gay legislation being proposed in Uganda. Regardless of how one interprets select Pauline verses and a few lines from Leviticus, how can anyone claim to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and yet turn a blind eye with others are murdered simply on the basis of their sexual identity?

Along those lines, given these recent revelations coupled with the C Street scandals, how can any religious leader continue to participate in the Family’s National Prayer Breakfast scheduled with a clear conscience? Christians can long for that day promised in the Book of Revelation when the lion lies down with the lamb but in the meantime, they need to be careful because these lions of industry dine on lamb chops.

In Patience with God, Frank speaks to those who have grown weary of such power plays. They want to believe but can no longer buy into this unbiblical bunk. To these spiritual seekers, Frank offers his account of how he left the spiritual faith of his childhood to embrace the mysteries of the orthodox faith. Through his story, Frank encourages other Christians to embark on a similar journey of self-discovery to see where God may be speaking to them these days.

Also, secular readers of Frank Schaeffer’s fiction won’t come to his post-evangelical nonfiction work with such preconceptions. Hence, his books can be read in two different ways: from the “inside” (where the rage against him is found in the evangelical community) and from the “outside” (where he is perceived as a novelist of well-received books like Portofino, Zermatt and Saving Grandma,) Either way, Patience with God serves as a powerful witness in helping turn down the white noise generated by both conservative Christians and the New Atheists, so that we can create a space to actually dialogue with each other.

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