Finding a Better Place to Discuss Controversial Politics

Five more months of Obama and Romney forces counterattacking each other depresses me. Having listened to Frank Schaeffer’s confrontational approach at the Democratic Jefferson-Jackson dinner (see the accompanying article), I phoned him to find a better way to converse. We may have found one.

Specifically I asked how his faith in the Eastern Orthodox Church informed his political position. He said, “I don’t go for political purposes. Our local worship is an apophatic theology, a catchall name for those who look for spiritual connection and not authoritarian rules, such as ‘If you haven’t accepted Jesus you go to hell.’” (He once helped his father, Francis Schaeffer bring lost souls to Jesus at their family’s famously successful L’Abri in Switzerland.) “

[Here, there’s] great openness in my local community. In that sense, [my faith] does inform my view of what is wrong with all the visionary thoughts of religion.”
He told me he opposes the “agenda of religion masquerading as politics, forcing the tide of theocracy down our throats with the emphasis on civil liberties.” In the 1980s he published books, co-wrote others, and produced videos that influenced evangelical leaders such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Charles Colson, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Falwell. Websites such as confirm their political activism against cultural humanism and abortion was influenced by Francis Schaeffer’s book The Christian Manifesto and his son’s work on the book and video, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

In a sermon on The Christian Manifesto, Francis Schaeffer drew rigid lines of opposition: “[T]he humanist world view with inevitable certainty leads in the direction of statism. These two religions, Christianity and humanism, stand over against each other as totalities.”

More radical Christian Reconstructionists such as Gary North and David Chilton advocate more theocratic principles: “The fact remains Dr. Schaeffer’s manifesto offers no prescriptions for a Christian society.” North says in his book, Authentic Libertarianism, “The concept of the rule of law is Mosaic,” including support for private property capitalism. He said, “The New Testament made the resulting position even more market favorable. It is my goal in life to shrink the state.”

Professor of Religion William Martin Chavanne at Rice University found strong support for Reconstructionist views in evangelical leaders’ public statements. Professor Martin added, “Jay Grimstead, who leads the Coalition on Revival, which brings Reconstructionists together with more mainstream evangelicals, has said, “I don’t call myself [a Reconstructionist], but a lot of us are coming to realize that the Bible is God’s standard of morality… in all points of history … and for all societies, Christian and non-Christian alike.’”

I asked Schaeffer what he’d say to those who reject confrontations in favor of finding middle ground. He is sympathetic to those hopes, but recommends fact-based conversations, “basically, by tying [Republican] theories and fundamental beliefs to the actual results, whether it’s economic, eschatological, or warfare, without claiming what’s right or wrong.” For example, “You have to choose between [a biblically based] approach against the policy of a pluralistic democracy. The Bible has to take second place to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence where the nature of American Democracy gets its laws.”

In contrast to political confrontations, Schaeffer most recent book describes the annual Service of Forgiveness in his church. Each member of the congregation bows down before the priest and asks, “Forgive me.” The priest and everyone in the service answers, “I forgive you.” They embrace and both say, “God forgives us both.” The member takes a space next to the priest. The next member repeats the process with the priest and members in the line until everyone forgives everyone else. When he and his wife, Genie embrace, “My wife of forty years says ‘I forgive you’ with such warmth and sincerity that I feel like life is not a step to a ‘Better Place,’ but is that better place—now.”

We both agreed most people recognize something is wrong and we want to find better places for personal relationships around fact-based political discussions.


About Russellsclearskies

Writing to poke fun at a retired klutz like me who's curiously exploring the absurdities and complexities of the good life. .
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