Hi, my name is Frank Schaeffer. I’m a writer who grew up as the son of an evangelical leader in the 1970s. I was his nepotistic sidekick. We toured the country essentially founding what became the religious right, along with Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and a number of others. I bailed in 1984, in my late twenties, when my dad died. I reconsidered the direction of my life and decided that I was on the wrong side of history; that the evangelical right wing and the fundamentalists in the far right of the Republican party and the xenophobes and the racists and the people who flew the Confederate flag that started white schools so they could get their kids out of an integrated public school system; I just couldn’t be part of this. And I rethought my theology and my politics today. Sadly, Donald Trump is president, partly because of what my father and I and other evangelical leaders in the 1970s and 80s did in marrying the Republican party to the evangelical far right, and then coming up with a series of litmus tests; anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-woman and anti-abortion. That became a kind of a checklist that pushed the religious right further and further to the extreme.
Now we have Donald Trump. Donald Trump has a presidency that will go down in history as not only the worst president in the history of the United States, but also the one that destroyed the evangelical movement I was part of because forever, now, the white evangelical movement will be identified with a fascist racist who has thugs wearing federal military uniforms, but without name tags has invaded our cities. And by the way, my son was a Marine who proudly wore his name tag and his insignia as a Marine, and never would have wanted to put on a uniform where you didn’t know what branch of the military he served in.
We have the federal government using agencies now to track and gain knowledge and compile dossiers on journalists. Worst of all, we have a president who says that he may not abide by the election result and he’s gone further now, calling for a delay of the election.
I want to tell you something. If you had told an evangelical leader back in the 1970s and 80s, that, in their wildest dreams, they needed to imagine a president who would want to delay an election because he is scared of losing. Who’s even going to undermine the US Postal Service so that he doesn’t have to fear mail-in ballots that will bring a blue tsunami and avalanche of votes against him, claiming fraud, which is completely bogus on absolutely no evidence. If you could imagine a day when the President of the United States would no longer be on the side of a constitutional democracy. They would have laughed in your face and said nobody, Republican or Democrat, in your wildest imagination, would do this. Even Richard Nixon at the height of Watergate, never tried to pull anything like this. Even Joe McCarthy in the hearings on un-American activities never went this far, where you actually jeopardized an election and said you might not abide by the result and called for a delay so the terms would be more favorable to you.
Coincidentally, minutes after you read that the US Economy lost a third of its value since COVID-19 came out. Now this president, who denied COVID-19 and said it was a hoax, who still has not implemented a national testing regime was watching Red States that voted for him, Texas, and a whole swath of the South die; one person, a minute dying.
That would be about 500 people dying in any four-hour golf outing that Trump takes. This same president now wants to delay the election. This same president is now trying to actually set up a scenario where he can claim he was robbed, that it was rigged and call out his thugs, whether they’re armed federal agents crushing dissent in our cities, or whether they are the mob of armed, militia, right-wing, Neo-Nazi, Confederate flag waving thugs with their AR-15s and all the rest of it to back him up.
This is the bleakest moment in American history as far as I’m concerned. Even during the Civil War, no one was calling for delaying or postponing, or cancelling a national election. Even during World War II, we never went to the extreme of canceling our democracy by tracking journalists and having national federal agencies compiling dossiers on them in the same way that Putin does in the Kremlin in persecuting journalistic freedom there.
Never in our history have we faced such a moment, and people like me, a former evangelical bear responsibility for this moment, but what amazes me is that other evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham, who I knew by the way, when we were young people and he visited my home with his evangelist father, Dr. Billy Graham, and people like Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, who now is an old man. People like Ralph Reed who got into politics because of my father’s call to get into politics from a Christian point of view, and so forth and so on, have not stood up and screamed bloody murder and said, “We can no longer support you if you are trying to lay the groundwork for overthrowing our democratic system, just because you might lose an election.”
Where’s Fox news on this? Where are the Republicans? Well, a few Senators have said, “No, we’re not postponing the election,” but they have not told the truth, which is that Donald Trump knows perfectly well that he can’t postpone the election, but what he has created is a scenario for his own people –the spin from Fox news and right-wing fantasy sources like that– to set up a storyline that says, “Well, because I couldn’t postpone the election, and because there was mail-in ballots, that massive fraud has been created and I am contesting the result and refusing to leave office.”
He has guaranteed that the interregnum between him losing the election and January when the new president is sworn in, will be a time of chaos, violence, and bloodshed. He has guaranteed it, and he doesn’t care any more than he cares that his own voters, elderly white Americans in Southern States are dying in droves now in hospitals that are full and can no longer even help them. All he cares about is maintaining power.
Why? Interestingly enough, you don’t hear this often enough, because he has such a criminal record going back to his dealing with the mobs in the 80s that now he has the scrutiny of the nation on him, and he knows that, once out of power, he will no longer have the protection of being “The President,” and the floodgates are going to open, and this man fears going to prison for crimes committed through a lifetime of fraudulent activity. That is his motivation. He doesn’t give a crap about maintaining power, he is avoiding jail. For himself, for Jared Kushner, for his daughter, for the whole rotten Trump clan, and all their cronies. He has told for instance, Ms. Maxwell, that, “Wink, wink, nod, nod. I support you,” letting her know that a pardon might be in the books in the next four years stint he does, rather than her spilling the beans on what he got up to in Jeffrey Epstein’s jet and on his Island with young and underage girls.
This man is so rotten to the core, and so shockingly horrible and below standard for anybody in public service, let alone as president, that it’s shocking that evangelicals are still for him, but what is most shocking of all is that clearly he’s now preparing the groundwork for rejecting an election result and building a scenario with his tweets, saying basically that he would rather maintain it power, than preserve democracy. And there are still evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr., who have not stood up and denounced this, and called on their people to turn their backs on this fraud. This anti-democracy activist who is trying to stay out of prison.
That’s all that’s going on now. I am ashamed for my family’s part in this. I am ashamed for my stupidity as a younger man that I didn’t see through the religious right sooner. And I call on other evangelicals to stand up and to be counted now in this moment.
My name is Frank Schaeffer.
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The photo of you and your dad is so free, warm, and beautiful.
I am a contemporary of yours, Frank. I became a follower of Jesus in the 70’s and was enamored by your parents and the spirit of L’Abri. I feel so sad that you feel responsible for the Christian Right’s alignment with Donald Trump. This is only what happens when Christians stop syncing their support of people in power with the Bible’s message. When they can believe in a man like Donald Trump who personifies each of the traits of the ungodly as listed there: arrogance; party spirit; jealousy; sexual immorality; pride; bearing false witness…I could go on. Why so many evangelicals ignore something so obvious is a mystery to me. I almost think they are hood-winked by the Enemy, by “spiritual forces in the heavenlies.” Don’t despair. God knows what He was about in bringing this president to power. I don’t know what it is but I am sure that it isn’t what right-wing evangelicals think it was. Quite the contrary. More epic. More earth-changing. But in the end, it will be all right.