STOKING FIRE: Frank Schaeffer’s New Book Takes Muddled and Condescending Approach to Abortion

When Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy for God was published in 2007, leaders of the religious right railed against the expose and dubbed the author a mendacious turncoat.

This was not surprising. In fact, as Schaeffer–a former heir apparent to Evangelical leadership–made the transition from Christian conservative to Christian liberal, he angered more than a few former colleagues. His revelations about how the Bible is used to manipulate the flock, and his condemnation of evangelical hypocrisy, sent high-flying sparks into religious circles.

His latest book, Sex, Mom, & God: How the Bible’s Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics—and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway (Da Capo Press), continues to dissect fundamentalist belief systems. Part memoir, part revelation about Evangelical pathology, and part prescription for theological sanity, the book has much to recommend it. At the same time, the often-hilarious narrative is downright maddening on the subject of abortion.

Frank Schaeffer came by his conservatism naturally. The only son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, he was reared in L’Abri, a Christian retreat center in the Swiss Alps. His father, Francis—an authoritarian wife-and-child abuser—is credited with moving fundamentalist Protestants into anti-choice politics. His 1979 What Ever Happened to the Human Race?, co-authored with former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, motivated his followers to block clinic entrances and antagonize patients and clinicians.

Schaeffer entered the inner sanctum of fundamentalism in 1969 when he became his dad’s errand boy-slash-sidekick. He took this position—AKA the path of least resistance–after accidently impregnating his girlfriend. Before he knew what hit him Schaeffer went from horny 17-year-old to father/husband. In short order he was hob-knobbing with Reconstructionist kingpins Rousas Rushdoony and Gary North and becoming increasingly mired in a worldview that championed a return to Old Testament morality. Although uncertainty had begun to creep in, Schaeffer writes that, “The more doubts I had the further to the Right I moved ideologically, as if shouting and demonizing any who disagreed with me would solve my real problem: The growing realization that the Bible is horribly flawed.”

Instead, Schaeffer focused on Roe, writing that he made the 1973 Supreme Court decision the focal point of his rightward tilt. In retrospect, Schaeffer is appalled at the movement’s comparisons between abortion and Hitler’s genocide, and, to his credit, he apologizes for his role in revving up the troops to commit violence and murder. His breast beating then goes a step further, and he concedes that the Right has for nearly 40 years used the abortion issue—and code words like family values, life, and choice–to keep financially afloat. “A multi-billion dollar industry grew from the anti-abortion movement’s roots,” he writes. “Its sole business became the winding up of white middle-and-lower-middle-class undereducated fundamentalists and their fellow patriotic secular Libertarian far right travelers. “

He, himself, admits to raising more than $5 million to make two antiabortion documentary films. Then, he writes, he began to see the light.

After Francis’s death in 1984, Schaeffer confesses that he could no longer suppress the apprehensions that had been dogging him for years; slowly but surely he left the fold and began rethinking his beliefs about faith, piety, and sexuality. Twenty-five years later, he supports LGBTQ rights and comprehensive sex education and opposes racial and economic injustice. “Worshipping a ‘God’ who sniffs around women’s menstrual cycles, hands virgins to warriors to be raped as a reward, worries about who ejaculates where, wants unmarried women who lose their virginity (pre-marriage) stoned to death, and recommends castration so that men can become eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven, is the sort of ‘God’ who winds up attracting the worst sorts of nuts to His ‘cause,’” he quips.

Sure enough—and beautifully said.

But this makes Schaeffer’s continued reservations about abortion all the more loathsome. “Roe has remained a perpetual insult to many Americans,” he begins. “This wound won’t heal. Abortion rights rulings were not like civil rights rulings wherein there was plenty of Biblical material within various religious traditions to move people’s hearts to accept men and women of other races as brothers and sisters. There is nothing warm and fizzy about abortion. Doing unto others doesn’t translate well into eliminating a fetus.”

Schaeffer’s solution is to restrict abortion to 12 weeks–“cases of fetal deformity, rape, incest, and/or threat to the mother’s life excepted.” He also trumpets the creation of medical panels to adjudicate the cases of women seeking second or third trimester procedures. For reasons that remain unclear, Schaeffer believes this “compromise” will silence anti-choice naysayers and curtail sidewalk picketers. The suggestion is both offensive and naïve, since a quick perusal of present-day restrictions–from Medicaid cutoffs to waiting periods, from mandatory lectures about the dangers of pregnancy termination to parental notification requirements–have done absolutely nothing to stifle anti-choice terrorism or harassment.

Worse, he fails to recognize that groups like the American Life League, Operation Rescue, Operation Save America, and 40 Days for Life, to name just a handful of the most vitriolic, are thoroughly uninterested in finding common ground. For them—it’s all or nothing.

Warm and fuzzy? What about essential and empowering? Or thoughtfully requested? Or medically or psychologically necessary? Or—you fill in the blank—adding your own reason for choosing to end an ill-timed pregnancy.

Indeed, Schaeffer’s muddled—and condescending–posture on abortion weakens Sex, Mom, & God and reveals a profound gaffe in an otherwise rational, incisive, and entertaining analysis of what’s wrong with the Right. He, and the editors who green-lighted his copy, should be ashamed.

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  • sschoice

    What does Shaeffer say about minors access to abortion? 

    Would he feel that a woman at 16 or 17 ought to have the same right to abortion as a woman who is 18 or 19?  If he can empathize with women enough to allow abortion before 12 weeks with minimal restrictions, would he support similar rights for mature minors?  That is, hypothetically at least, hopefully he wouldn’t suggest medical panels to determine “maturity.”   If he could truely support access to abortion with minimal restrictions before 12 weeks for women who are 18 and 19, and say the same ought to be the true at least in principle for women 16 or 17, he’d be more pro-choice on those counts than most of the legislators we supposedly consider allies.

    Someone trying to take a historical, even perhaps a biblical perspective, might actually be more sympathetic to the plight of mature minors who get pregnant and want an abortion, seeing how historically many more women in the past got married (or impregnanted, anyway) at 15, 16, 17, starting families at that age rather than in their 20s or 30s like today over much of the so-called developed world.

    There’s even a passage he could quote and draw inspiration from, from John 8:7

    1 Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
    2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

    3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

    4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

    5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

    6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

    7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

    8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

    9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

    10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

    11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

    To add to all the commentary that is out there on this passage, one might wonder, how old do you think that woman likely was?

    Was she likely in her late teens, maybe even in her mid-teens?

    Could this passage and concordant passages be useful in encouraging thoughtful discussion and empathy and nonjudgemental support for minors seeking abortion?


    —southern students for choice, athens