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!