Insider: "The Christian Right is Aiming to Destroy All Things Public"
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The following is an excerpt from Frank Schaeffer's new book, Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics -- and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway(Da Capo Press, 2011). Raised in Switzerland in l'Abri, a utopian community and spiritual school his evangelical parents founded, Schaeffer was restless and aware even at a young age that "my life was being defined by my parent's choices." Still, he took to "the family business" well, following his dad as he became one of the "best-known evangelical leaders in the U.S." on whirlwind speaking tours. While rubbing shoulders with Pat Robertson, James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, Schaeffer witnessed the birth of the Christian anti-abortion movement, and became an evangelical writer, speaker and star in his own right.
Ironically, at the very same time as Evangelicals like Dad and I were thrusting ourselves into bare-knuckle politics in the 1970s and 80s, we were also retreating to what amounted to virtual walled compounds. In other words we lashed out at “godless America” and demanded political change—say, the reintroduction of prayer into public schools—and yet also urged our followers to pull their own children out of the public schools and homeschool them. The rejection of public schools by Evangelical Protestants was a harbinger of virtual civil war carried on by other means. Protestants had once been the public schools’ most ardent defenders.
For instance, in the 1840s when Roman Catholics asked for tax relief for their private schools, Protestants said no and stood against anything they thought might undermine the public schools that they believed were the backbone of moral virtue, community spirit, and egalitarian good citizenship.
The Evangelical’s abandonment of the country they called home (while simultaneously demanding change in that society) went far beyond alternative schools or homeschooling. In the 1970s and 1980s thousands of Christian bookstores opened, countless new Evangelical radio programs flourished, and new TV stations went on the air. Even a “Christian Yellow Pages” (a guide to Evangelical tradesmen) was published advertising “Christcentered plumbers,” accountants, and the like who “honor Jesus.”
New Evangelical universities and even new law schools appeared, seemingly overnight, with a clearly defined mission to “take back” each and every profession—including law and politics—“for Christ.” For instance, Liberty University’s Law School was a dream come true for my old friend Jerry Falwell, who (when I was speaking at his school in 1983 to the entire student body for the second time) gleefully told me of his vision for Liberty’s programs: “Frank, we’re going to train a new generation of judges to change America!” This was the same Jerry Falwell who wrote in America Can Be Saved, “I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools.”
To the old-fashioned conservative mantra “Big government doesn’t work,” the newly radicalized Evangelicals (and their Roman Catholic and Mormon cobelligerents) added “The U.S. government is evil!” And the very same community—Protestant American Evangelicals—who had once been the bedrock supporters of public education, and voted for such moderate and reasonable men as President Dwight Eisenhower, became the enemies of not only the public schools but also of anything in the (nonmilitary) public sphere “run by the government.”
As they opened new institutions (proudly outside the mainstream), the Jesus Victims doing this “reclaiming” cast themselves in the role of persecuted exiles. What they never admitted was that they were self-banished from mainstream institutions, not only because the Evangelicals’ political views on social issues conflicted with most people’s views, but also because Evangelicals (and other conservative religionists) found themselves holding the short end of the intellectual stick. Science marched forth, demolishing fundamentalist “facts” with dispassionate argument. So science also became an enemy.