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Monday, August 15, 2011

Bachmann, Lizza and Schaeffer(s)

I am writing first ever airplane blog having shelled out a few bucks for wifi on my ATA flight to southern California. The five hours of flight time gave me a chance to read the much-discussed article on Michele Bachmann by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker. Nancy Pearcey, whose book Total Truth is grossly mischaracterized in the article, has written a response to the article, as has Joe Carter, whose blogging at First Things I have referred to before. I completely agree with them that Lizza has done a disservice by describing Francis Schaeffer and Pearcey as "Dominionists", a term Pearcey had never even heard of, and that the article engages in simplistic "cut and paste" journalism unbecoming of a serious journal.

Having said that, and in no way meaning to minimize Lizza's thin understanding of American religious history and culture, I disagree with wholesale dismissals of the article. I think Lizza has provided a valuable, if flawed, examination of Bachmann's radical roots and is right to see her as symbolic of a brand of evangelicalism that many evangelicals would just as soon keep buried in the basement.

For instance, although I agree with Os Guinness and others that Francis' son, Franky Schaeffer, has done the historical record a disservice with some of his rants against his father, I think that the quote Lizza has of Franky in this article is on the mark. Quoting in its entirety, here is Franky's contribution to the article:

I asked his son Frank, who directed the movies—and who has since left the evangelical movement and become a novelist—about the change in tone. He told me that it all had to do with Roe v. Wade, which was decided by the Supreme Court while the film was being made. “Those first episodes are what Francis Schaeffer is doing while he was sitting in Switzerland having nice discussions with people who came through to find Jesus and talk about culture and art,” he said. But then the Roe decision came, and “it wasn’t a theory anymore. Now ‘they’ are killing babies. Then everything started getting unhinged. It wasn’t just that we disagreed with the Supreme Court; it’s that they’re evil. It isn’t just that the federal government may be taking too much power; now they are abusing it. We had been warning that humanism followed to its logical conclusion without Biblical absolutes is going to go into terrible places, and, look, it’s happening right before our very eyes. Once that happens, everything becomes a kind of holy war, and if not an actual conspiracy then conspiracy-like.”

I think that is true of a lot of evangelicals and Catholics, not Schaeffer alone. The conspiratorial mindset, the willingness to believe that "seculars" or "liberals" would be willing to do just about anything to advance a single-mindedly pro-abortion vision led Schaeffer and many others to a Manichean view of American politics inconsistent with other aspects of their thinking. This mindset has spawned much that is destructive in our political discourse, including the Bachmann campaign. Whatever else we might say against Franky, we can't blame him for pointing this out.

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