Monday, March 17, 2008

Francis Schaeffer's son implies racism in response to Jeremiah Wright comments

If you're not reading the Huffington Post at this point, I highly recommend you do so. It features the widest range of commentary on everything going on in the world, often including people that aren't normally writing about the news. With that endorsement out of the way, here's what Frank Schaeffer, son of Christian culture commentary legend Francis Schaeffer, had to say about the criticism of Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama's relationship with him.

"Take Dad's words and put them in the mouth of Obama's preacher (or in the mouth of any black American preacher) and people would be accusing that preacher of treason. Yet when we of the white Religious Right denounced America white conservative Americans and top political leaders, called our words "godly" and "prophetic" and a "call to repentance.""

What words of his dad was he talking about? Specifically he quotes the comparison of the US government to the USSR and Hitler. Specifically, he quotes his claim about overthrowing the government in response to abortion:

"There does come a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate... A true Christian in Hitler's Germany and in the occupied countries should have defied the false and counterfeit state. This brings us to a current issue that is crucial for the future of the church in the United States, the issue of abortion... It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God's law it abrogates it's authority. And our loyalty to the God who gave this law then requires that we make the appropriate response in that situation..."

Frank goes on to point out that he and his dad were celebrated by the Republican party for saying these things and for calling for the downfall of corrupt America. His criticism is that these same Republicans are calling for Obama to denounce the statements of Wright calling for God to damn America for racism amongst other more controversial actions. While in general I find Schaeffer's comments to be clearly stated and revealing about the fact that in the eighties and nineties conservative calls of anti-American culture were embraced by Republicans, I believe that his comments prove to be a little naive. He points to Falwell and Robertson and their use of more extreme statements of anti-Americanism being poorly received after 9/11. I would go so far as to say that very few politically connected religions folks get to say anything controversial anymore. The media criticism comes down strong on these leaders of the religious right when they criticize gays and lesbians, amongst other issues. In this sense, then, I imagine that if Francis was saying the same things today that he did twenty or thirty years ago that he would not be receiving White House invitations.

On the other hand, I think Frank rightly points out the implicit racism in the response to Wright.

"Every Sunday thousands of right wing white preachers (following in my father's footsteps) rail against America's sins from tens of thousands of pulpits. They tell us that America is complicit in the "murder of the unborn," has become "Sodom" by coddling gays, and that our public schools are sinful places full of evolutionists and sex educators hell-bent on corrupting children. They say, as my dad often did, that we are, "under the judgment of God." They call America evil and warn of immanent destruction. By comparison Obama's minister's shouted "controversial" comments were mild. All he said was that God should damn America for our racism and violence and that no one had ever used the N-word about Hillary Clinton."

While I believe that if John McCain's pastor gave a charismatic sermon against gays and lesbians we'd see the same response, Frank's comparison does show the racist reaction in strongly renouncing the racism that has permeated America from its founding. Further, suggesting that experiencing the persecution of sexism pails in comparison to the suffering of racism is debatable but far from treason. What Frank doesn't get into are the other Wright comments that are garnering criticism, including a sarcastic rendition of America the Beautiful and a general diatribe against the evils of white America. I believe that a quiet, academic presentation that makes similar comments would be received differently, if at all. Does the charismatic presentation of Jeremiah Wright elevate the ire of his critics? Does the religious position that he holds, a leader of one of Chicago's largest African American congregations, create fear and intimidation in his critics? The black church experience is a mysterious unknown for most of white America. The style of presentation, including the use of certain forms of rhetoric, taken out of context and viewed in isolation doesn't help the reception of Jeremiah Wright's comments. Further, they may be an implicit fear of "radical blacks" having the ear of the President that wants to see Obama break from these influences immediately. And while I do believe that a white conservative politically connected pastor would receive a similar treatment if he called for American damnation because of gays and lesbians, can we not say that condemning racism is condemning an agreed upon evil amongst both conservatives and liberals? Specifically, if a white academic theologian who supported Obama said that Obama's experience of racism lead to a tougher road to the White House than what Clinton experienced as a white woman and that the racism throughout American history was damnable, would the media and conservatives be calling for a rebuke from Obama? Would they even care? I don't really think so.