Sex, Mom, & God: How the Bible’s Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics – and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway
Denver Journal Book Review by Denver Seminary Student Aaron Hopper
Schaeffer, Frank. Sex, Mom, & God: How the Bible’s Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics- and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2011. 320 pages. Paperback, $10.88 ISBN 978-0-306-82073-1.
Frank Schaeffer, the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, has for some time been a critic of mainstream evangelicalism. His book, Sex, Mom, & God, follows this pattern. While it is true that an overly simplistic and fundamentalist reading of scriptures can be problematic, and Schaeffer points this out, his ultimate reaction and response to that reality is unwarranted and rather odd.
Much of his book is spent mocking the way God is portrayed in the Old Testament. He says, for example, “I wonder if The-God-Of-The-Bible would use His Divine Spit (the way Jesus did to heal a blind man) to clean off dirt from a baby’s face.” (p.38) In context, Schaeffer is talking about ritual laws regarding uncleanness, particularly with respect to menstruation. Schaeffer essentially suggests that the Bible is completely anti-woman, and apparently the God of the Old Testament is far inferior to Jesus.
One must remember that much of his present writing is done to combat ideas presented by his father Francis, the great evangelical leader of the 20th century. This book instead focuses on his mother Edith and frequently portrays her as giving silly, simplistic spiritual advice to the young Frank, although he admits he was a small child at the time the advice was given (but apparently still remembers lengthy quotes.) He says of Edith, “I found myself wondering why my sweet, forgiving, and kind mother was so much nicer than The-God-Of-The-Bible,” whom he claims commanded murder, rape, and killing babies, while Edith mourned the loss of one single child (p.83). His answer, of course, is that Edith was a fundamentalist. Fundamentalism was wrong, but in her deepest recesses, she knew it.
Frank’s problem is not in his realization that fundamentalism can be problematic. It is not even primarily in his irreverent and snarky attitude toward the one he calls The-God-Of-The-Bible. His biggest problem is his all too common overreaction to fundamentalism. For those attempting to flee fundamentalism it becomes a trend to identify anything conservative with fundamentalism and promptly cast it aside. Denver Seminary would do well to take note of this, and not be so quick to mock, ridicule, and dismiss popular ideas among the laity as relics of fundamentalism.
For example, Schaeffer says, “Many American evangelicals believe that to ‘be a real Christian’ means that you must give your full support to the extremist elements in the state of Israel” (p.41). For him, support for Israel is a “conservative thing,” therefore it smacks of fundamentalism. It seems to be his assessment that only a strict literalist would dare support Israel. Not only is this false, since many Democrats and liberals, ideologies into which Schaeffer has essentially become adopted, support Israel as well. Further, it violates political and historical truths to suggest that Israel is extremist by nature. This is simply a false, albeit a very popular belief, even within Christian circles. Attempting to survive in the midst of a neighborhood that hates you is hardly extremism.
Schaeffer’s total disregard for all things conservative continues with statements regarding abortion. His analysis of Roe v. Wade is, in part; “The incremental state-by-state approach to finding a more humane (not to mention realistic) way to deal with unwanted pregnancy than the nefarious ‘back alley’ abortion ended with a smash” (p. 129). Later, Frank poses the abortion issue as, “dead babies pitted against women killed by coat hangers” (p.130).
And here we come to the crux of the problem with Schaeffer’s thinking. Abortion is unavoidable, so we need to manage it instead of oppose it; just as sex was unavoidable as well. He relates the story of how many women he had slept with as a youth and says of himself, “I was a virtual caricature of the irresponsible young male, the type who becomes (as much as anything else) the reason for many women’s need for access to abortion” (pp.132-133). Here was poor Frank Schaeffer, stifled by being the son of the great Francis Schaeffer, who simply could not live up to the expectations of his parents. He just could not find a way to avoid promiscuity. Certainly he does speak of himself as having been foolish at this time, calling himself “irresponsible,” but it is clear in his language that he feels like he and so many other deviants are the victims. This is one case of Schaeffer’s attempting to play both sides of the fence, as he does in many places.
Although he incessantly mocks traditional Christian views of sexuality saying, “all this stuff about waiting for the ‘right time and right age’ and ‘right person’ is nonsense,” at the same time he praises Edith’s elevation of family over career (pp. 152-153). If family is to be placed above career, then how is legalizing abortion, perhaps the most anti-family policy of all time, to be considered “humane” and “realistic?” This should be chalked up to Schaeffer’s decrying Christians and conservatives while at the same time trying not to be identified as a complete apostate. (Hence the “How I learned to love… Jesus” in the title.) This is further evidenced by a statement such as, “I did know that God and I were inextricably entangled, and I still know that, no matter what the fifty-eight year-old version of me says that I believe or don’t believe on my agnostic days” (p. 9). This type of language resonates in an emergent, saturated atmosphere, where Christians crusade more against the church and popular Christianity than they would ever dare to do against the powers of the world.
Further, it is my contention that even in cases of rape, abortion should be opposed. How many of us know people who are dear to our hearts who were conceived as the result of rape or some other unplanned situation? To consider it “humane” and “realistic” to brush aside their rights is complete insanity. It is neither humane nor reasonable for the child. While rape is certainly an evil and a tragedy, the children conceived from such an act should not be treated as the perpetrators of the crime. They are not the guilty ones. We in our society often punish the innocent and set free the guilty because we have eliminated a firm belief in values. After all, is not dogmatism the cause of all the great evils in the world? Frank Schaeffer would agree, which is why he writes these books.
We at Denver Seminary, so long prided on our non-fundamentalist position, should consider when we wantonly mock anything even smelling fundamentalist. Are we doing so because we want to stand for the truth or are we doing it out of a hatred for fundamentalists?