December 7, 2012

My Beer Summit with Frank Schaeffer

Luke Moon and Frank Schaeffer following their beer summit.

Luke Moon and Frank Schaeffer following their beer summit.

My first assignment for the IRD outside of my responsibilities as business manager was to cover the Wild Goose festival in 2011. I was just beginning to familiarize myself with the people and organization that represented what we at the IRD call the Religious and Evangelical Left.  The Wild Goose festival was, as I described then, a “mix of old time hippies and young idealists enjoyed an eclectic blend of art, music, talks, and general dissatisfaction directed at traditional evangelicals.”  I remember first listening to Frank Schaeffer thinking, “Wow, this guy is angry.”  He was a masterful communicator who told stories of growing up as the son of “fundamentalist icon” Francis Schaeffer.  He deftly punctuated his talk with joke and outbursts again “evangelicals and other right-wing bigots.”  I sent out my first tweet when he said to a gleeful audience, “St. Paul says women should be silent in church. Screw him! Screw Saint Paul!” I thus discovered that you could always count on Frank Schaeffer to say something outrageous.

Frank was so consistently outrageous that IRD staffer Kristin Rudolph could write something about him every couple months.  There was the time he said, “It’s not God’s fault there’s dumb stuff in the Bible” and we are not “stuck with the stupidity of Christianity.”  Or the time he claimed that Evangelicals were advocating a “soft version of Sharia Law.”  Then in the interview with Jay Bakker, son of former televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, where Frank said, “I describe myself as a Christian Atheist.”

This last summer, I took fellow staffers Bart Gingerich and Jeff Walton with me to the Wild Goose festival because it was too big for just one person to cover.  I chose to cover the talk by Frank because, like I said earlier, he is a great communicator and says outrageous stuff.  I was not disappointed.  Within minutes Frank was ranting about those “Evangelical right-wing bigots” seeking to force their radical belief against women and gays.  Following the talk I felt I should go introduce myself since the IRD had written so extensively about him.  Walking up to him, I stuck out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Right-wing bigot who wants to be your friend and if you come to DC I will buy you a beer.”

Well, as it turns out, last night I had my chance.  Frank was in DC to help promote the film, Hellbound? Directed and written by Kevin Miller, who in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado theater massacre declared if you believe in hell your God is like not much different than a mass murderer.  As one might expect a film about hell that is promoted by Frank, praised by Brian McLaren and written by Kevin Miller is going to be rather unorthodox.  Following the Q&A with Frank Schaeffer, Kevin Miller, and Michael Hardin we all went down to a local pub.  Kevin and I discussed the absence of true justice if everyone is ultimately saved while Frank talked with other moviegoers who joined us.

Finally, Frank sat down, him a Stella, me a Guinness.  We talked for over an hour about whether it is worse that universalism encourages people to sin more freely or that fear of hell motivates people to live more morally. I challenged his view of Mark Driscoll and straw-man attacks on the Religious Right. We found common ground in our dislike of the happy-happy-kumbaya emergent church and our concern for a generation lacking secure committed relationships due to a lack of healthy modeling in the home.  I offered to participate in a public discussion at the next Wild Goose festival, because they need to have at least a few conservative voices to balance out all the Lefties.

When I moved to Washington DC two years ago I recall someone telling me how much more divided this city had become.  Supposedly, back in the day the Right and Left would beat each other up in the media and on the floor of Congress and then in the evening they would go hang out and have a beer together.  Last night, perhaps recalls those former days when antagonists in public were also friends.  After sharing a beer together Frank is not going to stop lashing out at Evangelical Right-Wing Bigots and I am not going to stop calling out Left-Wing Heretics, but the next time we meet, Frank and I will laugh, joke, argue, and talk about what we think God is like.  Ultimately, we are both better for our friendship and I pray it continues.

Jim Wallis, you’re next!

Luke Moon is business manager of the IRD and regular blogger for Juicy Ecumenism. You can follow him on twitter @lukemoon1 or @TheIRD.


10 Responses to My Beer Summit with Frank Schaeffer

  1. Eric Lytle says:

    Luke, you do the agape thing better than I could, I just can’t see myself sharing a drink (well, maybe a hemlock) with this character. I can dialogue with some liberals, but with a guy who has sunk to the level of “Screw St. Paul!”? None for me, thanks. Anyway, you made the effort, and that’s good.

  2. Brad Jersak says:

    Hi Luke

    It was great meeting you in Bethlehem and then seeing you at Wild Goose (which is also where I first met Frank) but frustrating not getting time with you there. Glad to see you know how well you know how to befriend people so different in perspective – and able to disagree strongly while sharing a ride or a bar tab. Many blessings.


  3. Ben Welliver says:

    Is Luke larger than average, or has Franky V shrunk outwardly as well as inwardly?

  4. Dave Gingrich says:

    We Christians have been hated for 2,000 years. Frankie is nothing new.

  5. J. D. Edwards says:

    I’ve somewhat distantly followed Shaeffer’s trajectory since filming “How Shall we Then Live” with his father, from being conservative, to criticizing evangelicalism, to tilting and then plunging left-ward. It’s not something I haven’t seen before. Usually starts with a born-and-bred evangelical with questions and problems regarding the faith, involves someone (usually several someones) telling them they’re going to hell for whatever’s bothering them, and ends with them turning to the left to get away from the judgmentalism and close-mindedness they associate with Christianity. I’ve also seen it from another side, as my own experience was much the opposite. I came from an agnostic/atheist background, had my questions and doubts about disbelief scorned and condemned, and turned toward Christainity and conservatism as a result. Seems to me, the genesis of many of the Frankie Shaeffers in the Christian world isn’t a black-hearted desire on their part to apostasize, but a combination of (1) fearful judgmentalism on the part of fellow “believers” whose faith their questions and problems seem to threaten and (2) an overly rosey belief on their part that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Fact is, evil and foolishness exists on both sides of the right/left divide. It’s just that one expects — and has every right to expect — intellectual sloppiness from a religious liberal. It’s in the nature of their approach to the Bible. But one does not expect — and shouldn’t have to expect — cruelty, harsh judgment, and close-mindedness from a religious conservative, who has every reason to be both kind and firm in the faith. And yet, far too often, the conservative is cruel, capricious, and intellectually defensive, while the liberal is “accepting.”

    • Paul Hoskins says:

      Well, thanks for sharing that, sunshine. Sure makes my day to be called cruel, capricious, and intellectually defensive. You sure know how to brighten up a room. Since Christians are accustomed to being called “haters,” your remarks don’t upset me.

  6. cynthia curran says:

    Anyways, back in the 1990’s Frank was a strong eastern orthodox, maybe because it is somewhat critical of the west thru theology and culture. That seem to not work out for him and he become more vocal than he was in the 1990’s. His Beck series means that some things bother him in his childhood.

  7. Jim Robb says:

    This is super good. Luke, you are a breath of fresh air! I love the security this whole experience implies! Good going!

  8. Fred Garvin says:

    Wild Goose was unusual for a group of “Progressives”; they claimed to be inclusive but it was only about 8% non-White in attendance. One organizer lamely tried to blame it on the “fact that Black people just don’t like sleeping in tents”.
    Have the Greek Orthodox any idea of his demand that women be ordained? They don’t even let widowed priest re-marry.

    • Luke Moon says:

      I would also add that the inclusive is more for LGBT than race. I have attended both WG and they are pretty much attended by wounded young people who grew up in conservative evangelical homes and old hippies.

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