In a recent article at the Huffington Post, Frank Schaeffer penned an opinion piece with this provocative title: “All Evangelical Leaders Will Soon Be Doing Gay Weddings”. Continuing with his recent life course, the son of famed Christian apologist and intellectual Francis Schaeffer and the recently deceased Edith Schaeffer (both of which made tremendous contributions to evangelical Christianity during the 20th century), may be more right than we would care to admit.
Only God can discern the heart of Schaeffer and what led him to abandon the evangelical faith of his parents. He has himself tried to chronicle his reasons in his books Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or almost all) of it Back and 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. The titles themselves suggest a biting cynicism as well as give a subtle preview of Schaeffer’s own agenda including the acceptance of homosexuality in general and same-sex marriage in particular.
But could he be right? Not entirely and certainly not for the reasons that drive him to his conclusions. Schaeffer’s cynical reason is ultimately evangelicals will cave on this issue because we are unprincipled charlatans more concerned with surviving and keeping our positions and careers than standing for biblical truth. We are nothing more than mere hirelings who…well, need to be hired and for that to happen we will join the culture. Plain and simple self-preservation.
But Schaeffer grossly misunderstands a movement that he claims to have been a major part of making. If evangelicals cave on the issue of marriage, it will not be for self-preservation but rather a poorly misguided ‘others-preservation’. His father was prophetic in identifying two terribly damaging weaknesses that we as conservative evangelicals tend to suffer from. What are they? Namely, the desire to be accepted by a hostile culture (almost always with the good heart motivation of reaching people not realizing what we are giving away to do it) and the fact that we are rarely ahead of the cultural curve. As Greg Thornbury has rightly written, an apropos description of evangelicals could be “anything you can do I can do later, I can do anything later than you.”
Each of these weaknesses puts evangelicals in the position of being reactive rather than proactive with the truth of the gospel. How many good things usually come from our reaction? Not many. It often forces us into corners that seem unavoidable, hence the issue of same-sex marriage. Since we have allowed culture, for the most part, to set the parameters of the debate we once again find ourselves in a reactive posture. Culture has said it is about consenting adults who want to express their love for another, experience the joy of children, and receive all the benefits of being married. Bill O’Reilly has said that must leave our ‘Bible-thumping’ arguments in the church. They have no place in the courts. And the media and entertainment industries are supposedly convincing us daily that the battle is over. It is simply a matter of when, not if. A reactionary position seems primed and ready to acquiesce (see Rob Bell) and accept the inevitable. If this is true, then Schaeffer is right.
But there is more to the story for evangelicals. One of our defining foundations has been the authority of the scripture. That is the bigger issue at stake for believers in debates over the definition of marriage. It is not a postmodern battle over whose opinion gets to carry the day but by what authority will we live. For those of us who long to be faithful to Christ and his Word that means the scripture is our authority. This means that despite being unpopular or even persecuted we will be found faithful to the one that matters…and it isn’t Frank Schaeffer.