Friday, February 05, 2016

JR Rushdoony and Franklin Schaeffer from Republican Gomorrah

In 1973, J.R. Rushdoony published his magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law, an eight-hundred-page book deliberately invoking Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion to suggest his traditionalism. Instead of appealing to a mass audience, the pedantic Rushdoony sought to influence an elite cadre in the expectation that they would distill his message for the grassroots. He labeled his philosophy "Christian Reconstructionism" and painstakingly outlined plans for the church to take over the federal government and "reconstruct" it along biblical lines. According to Frederick Clarkson, a pioneering researcher of the Christian Right, "Reconstructionism seeks to re-place democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their interpretation of 'Biblical Law.' Reconstructionism would eliminate not only democracy but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Women would be generally relegated to hearth and home. Insufficiently Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps executed." Calling for the literal application of all 613 laws described in the Book of Leviticus, Rushdoony paid special attention to punishments. Instead of serving prison sentences, criminals would be sentenced to indentured servitude, whipped, sold into slavery, or executed. "God's government prevails," Rushdoony wrote, "and His alternatives are clear-cut: either men and nations obey His laws, or God invokes the death penalty against them." Those eligible on Rushdoony's long list for execution included disobedient children, unchaste women, apos-tates, blasphemers, practitioners of witchcraft, astrologers, adulterers, and, of course, anyone who engaged in "sodomy or homosexuality." Burning at the stake, death by "the sword," and hanging were some of Rushdoony's preferred modes of execution. However, his son-in-law Gary North, a self-styled Reconstructionist economist (who even-tually fell out with his father-in-law) and former advisor to libertarian Republican representative Ron Paul of Texas (a onetime outspoken
admirer of the John Birch Society), advocated stoning evildoers to death. Rocks, North argued, are free and plentiful, making them ideal tools for the financially savvy executioner. Although Rushdoony's Institutes and his other books are hard to find and remain obscure, his anti-government ideas attracted the interest of an emerging group of southern pastors rankled by the forced integration of public schools. Among them was Jerry Falwell, a firebrand reverend from Lynchburg, Virginia, who gained his early prominence as a local leader of massive resistance to civil rights. When the Supreme Court handed down its Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, Falwell inveighed against the Court from the pulpit. Like Rushdoony, Falwell posited segregation as a biblical man-date. "The facilities should be separate," the basso profondo preacher boomed from above his congregation during a 1958 sermon. "When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line. The true Negro does not want integration." Falwell promptly enlisted with the FBI's director J. Edgar Hoover to distribute propaganda leaflets attacking Martin Luther King Jr. as a Communist subversive, and he publicly denounced King for daring to mix politics and religion. Finally, in 1966, with the pace of integration intensifying, Fal-well founded the Lynchburg Christian Academy—"a private school for white students," as the Lynchburg News described it the week its doors opened. Falwell's school was one of the many "seg academies" christened across the South—the last redoubt for him and his brethren. Some of those around Falwell felt uneasy about Rushdoony's under-ground influence. In 1986, two of Falwell's associates at Liberty Univer-sity, Ed Dobson and Ed Hindson, wrote an article warning against Rushdoony's "scary vision." "Rushdoony distrusts democracy," they wrote. And they noted that he prescribed the death penalty for homo-sexuals and alcoholics. Rushdoony wrote in response that Dobson and Hindson had misrepresented his views. Never, he indignantly maintained, had he said he was in favor of executing drunkards. For Falwell and the figures who would later constitute the leader-ship of the Christian Right, race was the issue that galvanized their political activism. But as America grew increasingly weary of overt, ugly racism they turned to a more palatable crusade.


Back in the States, Schaeffer's writings riveted the counterculture. Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page carried Schaeffer's book Escape from Reason in his back pocket when he met with the Christian phi-losopher. (Decades later, Bono pronounced himself a fan of Schaeffer's work.) Countercultural interest in Schaeffer's commune reached such a degree that Timothy Leary, the avatar of acid, made his own pilgrim-age. For self-proclaimed "Jesus People;' L'Abri seemed a more spiritual version of Haight-Ashbury. And Schaeffer, who once declared that "one of the greatest injustices we do to young people is ask them to be conservative," was their guru. True to the free-wheeling spirit of the times, the fifty-something Schaeffer cast aside the Bible and focused his lessons instead on the modernist art and existentialist literature that captivated his young guests. He was convinced he could channel the restive energy of the "Jesus People" into a movement that would rejuvenate the dour, polit-ically impotent church. "The hippies of the 1960s did understand something;' he wrote. "They were right in fighting the plastic culture, and the church should have been fighting it too." (Schaeffer went on to quote approvingly from the "longshoreman philosopher" Eric Hoffer.) But when the Supreme Court legalized abortion with its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, Schaeffer snapped. He transformed suddenly into a fiery herald of doom unrecognizable in the all-embracing counselor of
L'Abri's halcyon days. Schaeffer now cast the counterculture as a can-cerous side effect of modernism, and the modern age as a giant sick-ness that imperiled the survival of civilization. In 1976, he published a best-selling polemic that inspired the Christian Right's advance guard, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Civilization and Culture. The book concluded by proclaiming legal-ized abortion—"infanticide," Schaeffer called it—the final leg in Western civilization's death march. To preserve Judeo-Christian soci-ety, Schaeffer implored evangelicals to organize a crusade to stop abortion by any means. By this time, Schaeffer's twenty-four-year-old son had become a force in his own right. Having studied film and painting in Europe, Frank Schaeffer applied his talents to advance his father's mission, producing a three-part documentary film version of How Should We Then Live? In the film, the elder Schaeffer appeared beside a suburban sewage drain warning that the secular elite would soon begin infusing the public water supply with anti-aggression drugs and birth control pills. Frank Schaeffer and his father hoped that by showing their film to church audiences, they would cultivate a new generation of shock troops for the coming culture war. But impressing the value of opposing abortion on the new generation of politically assertive evangelicals would be a daunting task. Paul Weyrich, a right-wing Washington operative and anti–Vatican II Catholic, had already tried to sell evangelicals such as Falwell on anti-abortion. The issue had riveted America's Catholic community and pushed elements of it deep into conservative politics. In his discussions with Falwell, however, Weyrich's pleas for pivoting resent-ment on a wedge issue other than race fell on deaf ears. "I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed," Weyrich recalled in an interview in the early 1990s. "What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation." In this tumultuous atmosphere, Schaeffer became an evangelist in the truest sense of the word. He insinuated himself into Republican Washington and befriended then representative Jack Kemp, a former professional football player elected to the Congress from suburban Buffalo. Kemp was best known for his advocacy of supply-side eco-nomics and tax cuts, but he also became an ardently anti-abortion evangelical. Kemp arranged a series of speeches for Schaeffer before conservative lawmakers and movement luminaries. Kemp's wife Joanne led a book club of congressional wives, including Elizabeth Dole, who diligently read Schaeffer's works. One of Schaeffer's acolytes at L'Abri was Michael Ford, son of Michigan congressman Gerald Ford, who became president upon Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974. At Michael's urging, Schaeffer was invited to a private dinner with President Ford at the White House. In his spare time, Schaeffer lobbied Falwell on the strategic importance of joining the "pro-life" cause. Finally, he brought Falwell onto the anti-abortion bandwagon and even sold the anti-papist Baptist on the concept of "co-belligerency," or working with conservative Catholics and other nonevangelicals to assail the secular establishment. Un-der Schaeffer's guidance, in 1979, Falwell founded the Christian Right's first lobbying front, the Moral Majority, and made certain to place abortion at the top of the group's agenda. Whether or not Falwell shared Schaeffer's passion for banning abortion, the Moral Majority's swelling membership convinced him of the issue's popular appeal. As Schaeffer's crusade gradually expanded beyond his influence, he grew disenchanted with his retrograde Southern Baptist allies. He privately called Falwell a charlatan and mocked his followers as "the low IQs." Schaeffer was particularly disgusted by the homophobic passions of Falwell and his allies. Abortion was the issue that made Schaeffer's blood boil, not the presence of gays at the head of public school classrooms and Boy Scout troops. "My dad would have identi-fied with the Left if they had picked up on the issue of abortion," Frank Schaeffer told me. Suffering from depression and sapped of strength after undergoing several grueling rounds of cancer treatment, Schaeffer channeled his final ounces of energy into pushing his movement in a truly radical direction—into the streets and toward domestic terrorism. "There does come a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate,"
Schaeffer wrote in his 1981 book A Christian Manifesto. "When all avenues of flight and protest have closed, force in the defensive pos-ture is appropriate." In Manifesto, Schaeffer described Christians as victims of persecu-tion at the hands of a tyrannical secular elite not unlike the Romans who dragged Christians before teams of lions 2,000 years before. So long as the "establishment elite" held sway, Schaeffer argued, Bible-believing Christians were powerless to stop the mass slaughter of innocent fetuses. To defend their supposedly threatened rights, Schaeffer suggested that Christians at least consider righteous violence as a last recourse. In spite of the fact that Schaeffer repeatedly rebuffed R. J. Rushdoony's requests to meet, Rushdoony's son-in-law, Gary North, accused him of "the nearly verbatim lifting of certain material from Rushdoony's The One and the Many." Whether or not North's claim was true (he did not produce any evidence in his essay containing the allegation), Schaeffer and Rushdoony clearly influenced one another and mutually shaped the Christian Right's philosophy as a result. Even though Manifesto—and its call for literally attacking the foundations of liberal democracy—went unnoticed by mainstream America, it sold a whopping 250,000 copies in its first year after publication. "What's amazing about Christian Manifesto," Frank Schaeffer remarked to me, "was that my father was practically calling for the overthrow of the United States government. If his words had come out of the mouth of anyone other than a white American it would have been called sedition. Instead, we were invited to the White House and I went swimming in Michael Ford's pool."

As he lay dying at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Schaeffer agonized about the rise of the Christian Right. He was convinced that he had created a monster. When former orange juice industry poster child and outspoken homophobe Anita Bryant appeared to beseech Schaeffer for his deathbed blessing for her anti-gay crusade, Schaeffer angrily rebuked her. "My dad simply told Anita off and told her he would have no part of what she was doing under any circumstances," Frank Schaeffer recalled. "He said if she had any concern for the well-being of homosexuals this was a hell of a way to demonstrate it." When Schaeffer finally succumbed to cancer in 1984, his acolytes had assumed key positions within the Republican Party. The Repub-lican National Convention plank that year not only reiterated the party's call for a constitutional amendment asserting legal rights for fetuses, it insisted for the first time that the Fourteenth Amendment's legal protections apply to them as well and called for the appoint-ment of more anti-abortion judges. Four years later, the party plank invoked the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" to demand that Roe v. Wade be overturned. With Schaeffer's inspiration, the move-ment that once mounted massive resistance against civil rights had regenerated itself by co-opting the very tactics used to defeat it. Schaeffer had influenced not only Jack Kemp and Jerry Falwell. He had also had a lasting impact on Tim LaHaye, a Christian Right leader he considered a huckstering extremist. After visiting Schaeffer at L'Abri, LaHaye went on to coauthor the best-selling apocalyptic pulp fiction Left Behind series. The Reverend Pat Robertson, whom Schaeffer believed to be pathologically insane, and who once boasted to Schaeffer of burning a Modigliani painting in his fireplace, praised his books. Late in Schaeffer's life, a popular child psychologist named James Dobson became a fixture at his lectures. Schaeffer resented Dobson's machinations, privately deriding him as a disingenuous power-monger concerned with politics above all else. But with Schaeffer dead, Dobson cast himself as torchbearer of his legacy. "Thank God for Francis Schaeffer," Dobson declared in a 2002 speech. "He saw everything that we're going through today ... He said that there was a connection between abortion and infanticide and euthanasia." Born-again Watergate felon Chuck Colson assumed a similar pos-ture, styling himself as Schaeffer's intellectual heir. Colson marketed his 1999 polemic How Should We Now Live? as a twenty-first-century remix of Schaeffer's seminal tome How Should We Then Live? But the admiration was not mutual. "Dad absolutely couldn't stand Colson," Frank Schaeffer said.

Other less prominent but significant activists felt Schaeffer's impact. Two young Pentecostals, Randall Terry and Rob Schenck, studied Schaeffer at the Him Bible Academy in upstate New York during the early 1980s. Upon their graduation, the two founded Operation Rescue, a militant anti-abortion group that organized blockades of Planned Parenthood clinics and spawned closely affiliated offshoots that en-gaged in acts of domestic terror and the assassination of abortion doctors. Terry, a self-described Christian Reconstructionist, credited Schaeffer as his inspiration:

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