Frank Schaeffer is the scion of Francis Schaeffer, the evangelical philosopher and founder of the religious right. Growing up in his father’s considerable penumbra, Schaeffer has shrugged off those attitudes and ontologies he at one time so fervently embraced. He is now a self-described progressive, a fan of Elizabeth Warren and a proponent of the notion that the time to put a woman in the Oval Office is overdue. Having, like Schaeffer, intersected with the evangelicals in my youth, and traced the arc of my life along a similar path, I intuitively grasp his paradigm and recognize the same disturbing truths he does.
When it comes to the religious right, Schaeffer avers (and I agree) that “the liberal media has a hard time understanding them because they are so outside the orbit of where the folks at the New York Times and the Washington Post and the others live.” The hatchling movement Schaeffer and I both knew in the pre-Reagan seventies has grown and mutated into the ugly, Frankenstein patchwork of today, here a heart from the anti-abortion movement, there a head from the Prosperity Gospel, there legs and arms from its origin in white, Christian nationalism. “Evangelicalism no longer exists in its white, nationalist form,” Schaeffer says, “it is now a Trump personality cult.”
Thanks to Donald Trump, the religious right has come of age and power. They no longer need be satisfied with meek control, and, as they now stand at the threshold of power, they like it and will not give it up easily. As Schaeffer puts it, “… the evangelicals have now crossed the line, setting up a future in which should Trump lose the election they will call it bogus, they will say it is rigged, they will do the same thing they do with their so-called ‘fake news’ and tell boldfaced lies, push conspiracy theories, … opening the door legitimizing violence against our government and our elected officials. Make no mistake, they will not tolerate the loss of the presidency by Donald Trump either through impeachment or through the election of a Democrat.”
Nor will the evangelicals part with their saviour, despite their recent criticism of Trump over his withdrawal of troops protecting the Syrian Kurds. Their disaffection has been registered, but it is, as Freud put it, the narcissism of small differences. Trump is Messiah, and anyone who says otherwise is a blasphemer. “They are also laying the groundwork now for saying that since Trump was ordained by God, to work against Trump … is to be working against God,” Schaeffer says. “This is the talk of jihad. They are Isis. Franklin Graham, Dr Jefress, Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and the rest, are our new Ayatollahs.”
Many of the evangelicals are not only unfazed by the potential destruction of the planet by global warming, they actually welcome it. After all, the End Times are predicted in the New Testament, and much has been made of those apocalyptic verses in the last forty or fifty years. “They are,” says Schaeffer, “the enemies of the planet standing in the way of climate change science. All in the name of Jesus.”
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.