Schaeffer on Schaeffer: Alumni son on pilgrimage


Frank SchaefferThough he is better known as a New York Times bestselling religious author and political commentator, Frank Schaeffer (at left) came to Hampden-Sydney College in February as the doting son of an alumnus. He is the son of another noted religious author, Francis Schaeffer ’35.

Francis Schaeffer was a Christian theologian of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s who wrote a series of influential books and, along with his wife Edith, founded L’Abri Fellowship International in Switzerland. Since its founding in 1955, the L’Abri organization has grown to include residential study centers in many countries, including England, Germany, Brazil, Korea, Holland, Sweden, Canada, Australia, and the United States.

The elder Schaeffer, who wrote some 18 books that have sold millions of copies, is credited with politicizing the abortion issue and sparking the rise of the Christian Right. His son said during his lecture at the College that his father was “hijacked” by the Christian Right and would likely have abandoned that segment of the Church, as Frank Schaeffer has done, if he had not died in the early 1980s.

Religion Professor Michael Utzinger says Francis Schaeffer is undoubtedly one of the top-five most influential men to ever graduate from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank Schaeffer was visibly excited about being at the school that had such a tremendous influence on his father.

The younger Schaeffer spoke about his career and faith-journey to a crowded Johns Auditorium, and he also shared many personal memories. He says he and his father used to hike in the Swiss Alps and test for avalanches by singing the Hampden-Sydney fight song at the top of their lungs. The song still has a strong place in his family. His mother, who is in her late 80s, still sings the fight song before she goes to bed at night. Schaeffer added, “I asked my sister if mom still says her prayers before bed too. She said, ‘no’.”

Religion Professor Gerald Carney says, “Frank Schaeffer’s talk highlighted the process of rethinking the traditions we have inherited from our families and, especially, from our parents. His, after all, were larger than life at home and in the world of evangelical Christianity. He also narrated the influence of political opportunism, rather than religious or theological necessity, in the focus by the Christian Right on issues of sexuality, especially abortion. He got behind the slogans and caricatures to give a humble and humbling picture of how the contemporary religious political agenda developed.”

Schaeffer was on campus in connection with the release of his new book, 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. His appearance was made possible by the Department of Religion through the Father Gouch Fund.