Maybe you’ve seen the T-shirt: “Pray for Obama Psalm 109:8.” Verse 8 reads: “Let his years be few: let someone else take his position.” Requesting Obama have one term as president appears harmless enough—unless one keeps reading verse 9: “May his children become fatherless, and his wife a widow” to verse 13: “May all his offspring die. May his family name be blotted out in a single generation.”
Popularized by the likes of California Pastor Wiley Drake, these verses have become an evangelical fundamentalist Christian incantation calling for the death of President Barack Obama. When asked by national radio host Alan Colmes if he was praying for the death of the US President, Drake said, “Yes,” adding, “If he does not turn to God and does not turn his life around, I am asking God to enforce imprecatory prayers throughout the Scripture that would cause him death, that’s correct.” The President’s death doesn’t quite do it for Arizona Pastor Steve Anderson of Faithful World Baptist Church who sermonized, “I’m supposed to pray for the socialist devil, murderer, infanticide, who wants to see babies killed through abortion and partial-birth abortion. Nope. I’m not gonna pray for his good. I’m going to pray that he dies and goes to hell.”
On the other side of the fundamentalist imbalance sheet are the “New Atheists,” who not only say there is no God, but declare themselves “Bright” (coined by Breaking the Spell author Daniel Dennett) as opposed to “Dim” religious folk, and call for religion to be abolished. Taking it one step further in his book,
The End of Faith, New Atheist Sam Harris suggests that some religious people may need to be killed because of their dangerous beliefs.
Enter Frank Schaeffer and his latest book, Patience With God (Da Capo, 2009). Agreeing with neither of these camps, Schaeffer sees both as equally fundamental, evangelical, and “religious,” less interested in truly helping people than they are in building million-dollar empires of belief by selling “certainty” to people who are looking for spiritual answers and salve.
Schaeffer should know. As insider turned outsider, he has taken it upon himself to reveal the underbelly of the Religious Right that he and his parents helped to found and rakes in millions annually. Millions Schaeffer abandoned because he was disgusted at what grew from a one-message anti-abortion campaign into a hate-filled, fear of the “other” dogma inspiring people to kill, and an empire focusing more on its balance sheet than the souls of followers. Hearing the same sort of know-it-all, vindictive message coming from the New Atheists, Schaeffer says, “My life experiences have led me to believe that there are better choices out there than being asked to decide between atheistic cosmic nothingness and fundamentalist heavenly pantomimes.” Taking time from speaking engagements and television appearances, Schaeffer spoke with senior editor Lorna Tychostup from his Manhattan home. www.frankschaeffer.com.
Lorna Tychostup: You are the insider gone rogue, revealing the
underbelly of the Religious Right. What was your turning point?
Frank Schaeffer: There were really three things that operated. First, the experience of living in America as an adult starting in 1980. That opened my eyes to the fact that the propaganda I had been raised on—the Religious Right’s portrayal of America as this failed place plunging into chaos because Christianity was being “abandoned by the government, the secularists, the media, and the humanists”—simply didn’t match the facts. Second, the Religious Right was rooting for the failure of America on every level, much as Rush Limbaugh today is rooting for the failure of this country to serve as proof that Barack Obama has failed. Third, the people that I was working with on the Religious Right were simply getting more and more extreme. My introduction into the Religious Right was in 1973 and ended in the 1980s. We were working in the so-called pro-life movement to roll back Roe v. Wade. But that kept expanding into areas I had no sympathy for: gay bashing, anti-immigrant paranoia, this xenophobic version of the city-set-on-a-hill idea where America is afraid of the world and angry with everybody who is different. The deeper I got into the movement and the further “right” it got, the less comfortable I felt. Personally there was the aesthetic question. I’ve ways been interested in art and film. And the politics of the Religious Right is anticultural, antieducational, and I was working with people I didn’t enjoy being with who didn’t share my tastes. Then there was the theology issue. Moving away from evangelical beliefs that I had grown up with led me in a different direction in terms of spirituality. Those things came together, and I began to wake up, smell the coffee, and got out.