Frank Schaeffer was once a rising star in the Evangelical movement. Along with his father, he was a driving force behind the growth of Evangelical Christians as a political force and once promoted culture war issues, such as abortion rights. He was expected to “inherit,” his father’s crown. But he walked away from the movement more than 30 years ago and now calls himself a “Christian atheist.” He’s become increasingly critical of Christian fundamentalists and their alliance with the Republican Party and President Donald Trump. This is my interview with him.
Otiko: You walked away from both the Republican Party and the Evangelical movement. How would you describe your religious beliefs now? I think you call yourself a Christian atheist.
Schaeffer: All faith is paradoxical. I got tired of putting things in simplistic categories.
Otiko: What was the breaking point that finally made you say, “I’ve had enough.”
Schaeffer: I think it really came down to the ugliness of the relationships. The driving force of evangelicalism is not the teaching of Jesus Christ. It was reflecting a political power grab along right-wing conservative lines. The other thing was the nepotism, everyone was hiring their wife, sisters, cousins, and friends. The business of religion is like North Korea, with one family in place for 60, 70 years. It’s literally a family business. I said, do I want to spend the rest of my life doing this? Even though the money in this field is good, and I was very successful.
I think white nationalism and Christian nationalism have merged into the Trump cult. They’re the same movement now. Trump has merged the white nationalist with Evangelicals. Evangelicals have taken on white nationalist themes. They’re now screaming about “build the wall” exactly the same way as Trump. — Frank Schaeffer
Otiko: I watched your recent video where you compared Steve Bannon’s arrest to televangelist hustles. So, what is the goal of televangelists such as Joel Osteen? Making money or saving souls?
Schaeffer: It’s more complicated than just money. Some of these people start off sincere, but the money is so big, some get utterly corrupted. A lot of them have narcissistic personality disorder. These guys are the same as Trump. This kind of deluded, narcissistic existence is exactly like rock stars. The idea of failing or losing or not being famous or hot all the time …it’s something that personality disorder can’t deal with. Franklin Graham long ago gave up any claim of real faith in Jesus or trying to follow the teachings. Now it’s all about ego. It’s all about fundraising and holding onto power. They’re all Donald Trump. He would have actually made a good evangelical preacher because his whole life has been scamming people.
Otiko: An August New York Times article profiled Christians in Iowa who still back Trump. Several of their comments were complaints about the changing ethnic makeup of the country. How much of a role does race have to do with Christian nationalism? Eighty percent of white Evangelicals still back Trump.
Schaeffer: I think white nationalism and Christian nationalism have merged into the Trump cult. They’re the same movement now. Trump has merged the white nationalist with Evangelicals. Evangelicals have taken on white nationalist themes. They’re now screaming about “build the wall” exactly the same way as Trump. They have decided to work together in ways that would completely undermine their basic principles. And that’s horrible, from an Evangelical point of view because it means they have essentially sold out their beliefs. They are literally turning against people who claim the name of Jesus in the same way they do.
Otiko: Lastly, what would you say to Christians who still back Trump? Is Trumpism compatible with being a Christian?
Schaeffer: I would say to them (Evangelical Christians,) it is not. How can you reconcile this to the teachings of Jesus Christ? Look where you’re going with this? Are you going to follow this guy down to the bitter end? Look at everyone else who hitched their train to Trump? His workers didn’t get paid, everybody who signed up for his university, everybody who invested in his casinos. How did it work out for those guys? Not well.
For more information go to www.frankschaeffer.com