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Frank Schaeffer

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A Wild Goose Second Chance for Refugees From Politicized Religion

Posted: 03/21/2012 4:08 pm

My love for the Wild Goose Festival is personal.

Until peace activist and Christian leader Gareth Higgins asked me to speak at Wild Goose in 2011, I hadn't spoken at a major (or minor) evangelical or religious event for 25 years plus (with one exception of the Greenbelt Festival in the UK 5 years ago).

Almost 30 years before that I found myself abandoning the evangelical world as it became more and more right wing, exclusionary, homophobic and frankly more like some religion based on Ayn Rand than Jesus. Not to mention, the evangelical arena seemed fatally politicized. But how could I complain? My late father Francis Schaeffer and I helped make it that way.

We helped found the religious right and the anti-abortion movement in the 1970′s and 80′s. I wrote, produced and directed the multi-million dollar documentary series featuring my father ("How Should We Then Live?" and "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?") that started the ball rolling to the eventual takeover of the Republican Party. It was taken over by people who once were mostly interested in Jesus but whose actions eventually made them look more interested in backing George W. Bush and his wars.

Today it seems to me these same religious right folks talk about morality and family values. But these "values" are put to the service of the likes of the Koch brothers and their ilk who do nothing more than empower Wall Street by getting working people to vote against their own interests because of a list of "social issue" litmus tests.

These so-called conservatives have also become a radical party of perpetual war driven mad by their version of imperial overreach combined with a zany "Christian" Zionism that bounces from calls to bomb Iran to intervention in Syria to who knows what next? As the father of a former Marine who was deployed to Afghanistan twice and once to Iraq I'm acutely aware that most of these war mongers have no skin in the game personally and love to send other people's children to die for their idea of American exceptional-ism combined with vague notions of what we "owe" the State of Israel when it comes to American policy.

In the early 1990s I repented of my family's tilt-to-the-right, changed my mind on politics, life and faith and shook the dust from my shoes and ran. After a weird journey through the movie business I became a novelist and never looked back. In 1990, I started to go the Greek Orthodox Church. I was burnt out on personality cults and "great pastors", but I liked liturgy and ritual and community. And there are few to no sermons!

The people who read my books these days such as my novels like Portofino or my books on military families like Keeping Faith (that Oprah helped turn into an NYT bestseller) have mostly never heard of my dad let alone of me when I was -- as if in a different life -- a right wing evangelical nut.

Once in a while I get reminders like when the New Yorker called me in October of 2011 to ask me why Michele Bachmann was telling everyone that she got into politics because of my dad's and my work. But other than those just-kill-me-now moments -- and/or the questions raised by bemused interviewers about my childhood and youth -- I figured I had moved on.

Then Gareth called. And I went to Wild Goose last year.

I found that I was still deeply hungry for the "old neighborhood" so to speak. To tell the truth I was - perhaps like some other former evangelicals - wounded. I have had a successful career over the last 20 years as a writer of "secular" fiction and nonfiction but my new world is as alien to me as my old world has become.

Where do I "fit?" Are there other people "like" me? If so, where?

The hurt came from the fact that there was so much I still loved about my evangelical past -- the community, the shared love, the clear path to following Jesus. But that world had become so polarized and political that I'd been thinking I had to make an either/or choice: run and keep running from the American "Christian world" and be a secular writer (although "privately" still religious since I go to a Greek Orthodox church) or tear open old wounds.

Participating in the Wild Goose Festival proved me wrong. It turns out I'd thrown out the bath water, the baby and the tub! It turns out that I'd made an either/or decision when there is a better and middle way.

I had agreed to speak for Gareth because he is a friend. But I soon found that Wild Goose made me see I'd been wrong. I'd been blind.

I discovered that there is a "third way" that transcends the either/or choices between a "Christianity" more interested in how you vote, and a "secularism" that seems to want to strip my life of transcendent meaning. That third way is what Wild Goose means to me and I think, to many others.

Wild Goose has connected and re-connected me to people I'd written off. I'd presumed I knew all about "them." I did not. This summer (June 21-24) I will speak at Wild Goose again (I gladly donate my time). Mostly I'll just and hang out. Wild Goose is a hospital for the soul and I plan to check into the ICU again to be humbled and to learn. I hope to see you there.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of many books including Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back .

 
 
 

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