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A Response to Frank Schaeffer’s Warning to the Evangelical Establishment

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As a writer, I often read things that embolden me to write and share my faith. Many times it is often out of a passion to share the truth of Christ. But I must confess, sometimes, it is fueled by anger I feel from the liberal agenda that wants to hinder my freedom of belief. However, I was recently torn over an open letter written by Frank Schaeffer (son of the late Francis Schaeffer) that had me at a loss to why I felt so compelled to respond to it and anger had nothing to do with it.

The open letter was featured in The Huffington Post and it was written to the Evangelical Establishment. Frank starts off the letter, “Dear Evangelical Establishment, I know you don’t trust me or like me and I don’t blame you…But instead of just writing me off as wicked, for once you’d better listen up.” Frank used to belong to the cultural war of the religious right, like his father, but openly declares he is now a liberal “throwing mud” in the opposite direction.

The premise of the letter was to warn those in the evangelical movement that they are being “duped” by the neoconservatives in a political agenda masking itself as religious liberty. He targets the recent decisions by Christianity Today, Gordon College and Wheaton College in standing against homosexuality and holding to the biblical view of human sexuality of marriage between a man and a woman. The letter accuses the neoconservatives of using the religious liberty issue for their own political gain. He warns, “A day is fast approaching where ordinary evangelicals will be cursing Wheaton College, Gordon College and the other evangelical establishment bastions that demanded the right to discriminate against women and gays as a matter of religious liberty”.

His letter goes on in not only promoting his own book but naming various other evangelicals like Professor Robert George of The Beckett Fund as well as the much respected late Chuck Colson and his Manhattan Declaration as “bastions of intolerance”.  He warns, “…the evangelical institutions that are making the anti-women and anti-gay headlines are going to discover that their more moderate religious and secular peers are going to punish them. They will also be losing their young people in droves.”

Now as a Christian Conservative it is easy to read this letter, dismiss it as ridiculous and, like he writes in his opening, to “write him off.” But for some reason I couldn’t walk away from this letter. In fact, something in me resonates with it even though I completely disagree with him.

Perhaps, it is because I too grew up in the evangelical movement and have witnessed first-hand how uncharacteristically “Christian” people in the evangelical world can act and behave. Maybe it’s because I can identify with “mudslinging” among evangelicals and have watched people use and abuse others for either political or religious gain. Whatever the reason, after reading the letter I refuse to feel anger towards Frank Schaeffer but I am more convinced than ever that freedom of religion is so important in the cultural environment we live in today.

We are living in an age where religious liberty is at the forefront of political and cultural decisions, whether we as evangelicals like it or not. The freedom to share our belief in Christ and act on those beliefs is being threatened. Christian institutions that hold biblically based beliefs and are standing up for them are being labeled as discriminatory and hateful despite their open stance on how and why they believe as they do. Religion and freedom are being linked together and both sides of either the political or religious are using it to their own advantage. It’s as if there is a tug of war and religious liberty is the rope in this cultural battle.

However, what many evangelicals fail to do in the battle is share exactly what motivates them to pull on this rope of religious freedom. They tug out of perhaps a righteous anger but lose the battle when it comes to sharing their heart over why the battle is so important.

Frank Schaeffer and other self-proclaimed “liberal Christians” see the religious side of it. They think we are motivated by a superior moral obedience and our political identity motivates us in our quest for moral superiority. This might be the pull for some on the religious right and if so then the battle is truly not from their heart towards God but for their own personal gain.

Standing up for religious liberty should never be about demonizing the opposition. The Green family in the Hobby Lobby Case brought their Christian convictions before the Supreme Court not to denounce women or contraception but to live out in obedience of their faith. This is what the gospel of Jesus Christ should look like in times of opposition. We as Christians live under different standards than the secular world around us not because of a superior moral code but because we desire to live in obedience to the One who gave us life.

If we tug at the rope of religious liberty out of a purpose to prove ourselves we have lost. It is not about us but about Christ who lives in us.

Schaeffer’s open letter was a reminder to me that how we stand up for religious freedom is just as important as why we stand. I too could list my grievances over the church or Christians who have acted out in an intolerant or self-righteous way that pointed more to themselves than to the Christ that they claim to follow. But being motivated by how others Christians act or behave only pulls me further away from who Christ wants me to be.

Those that do not know the gospel of Jesus Christ will never understand why religious freedom is so important to those that call themselves Christ followers. Nor should we expect them to.  But to those who follow Christ and see how this age of skepticism of Christianity is leading to greater persecution of faith and belief in God, remember that we have nothing to prove except to the One who sacrificed all for us. This battle should always stem from the heart of obedience to God where we are laying everything down of our own sinful nature.

I disagree with Frank Schaeffer’s letter and his accusation that those in the forefront of the evangelical movement that are standing up for religious liberty are merely doing so out of a political agenda. However, I don’t hold any animosity to him. In fact, he just reminds me how important my own actions are in this cultural war with regards to religious liberty.

I am reminded to pray for those in the evangelical movement that have to take a stand that is deemed unpopular by the secular world around them. I pray for confidence as we as bible believing Christians live out our convictions but ask for more humility as this should be the motivating force for all of us who understand the importance of religious freedom in this country.



 

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