Recently, the notorious abortionist Dr George Tiller was gunned down in his church in Wichita, Kansas. The killer was a man who appears to be a dysfunctional loner with grave psychological problems. Nobody in the pro-life movement has stepped forward to applaud him or his actions; routine condemnation has been the order of the day.
One man however, has bravely stepped forward to take responsibility for this act. Frank Schaeffer, a self-described former member of the “Republican Party hate machine,” a group that included his father Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, and Ronald Reagan among many others, recently offered a mea-culpa in the left-wing journal The Huffington Post. Schaeffer believes that his life’s work as a young man in the Evangelical movement directly led to this incident because he helped create a "climate of fear" with his documentary (Whatever Happened to the Human Race?) and other work that made such atrocities like Tiller's murder inevitable. As such, he puts himself in the pantheon artists like J. D. Salinger and Jodie Foster, whose ouvre inspired the murder of John Lennon and the attempted assassination of President Reagan.
On closer reading however, Schaeffer’s credibility is suspect from his first paragraph. He states that he “got out of the religious right (in the mid-1980s) and repented of [his] former hate-filled rhetoric.” Actually, he did no such thing. Sure, he may have abandoned the Evangelical Right, but as a new convert to Orthodoxy, he helped create an “Orthodox Right.” As for his abandonment of “hate-filled rhetoric,” one can read his various books and writings or view any of the numerous books and DVDs he produced since that time. There is more than enough venom against the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and secular humanism in the Schaeffer canon to choke a horse.
To be fair, it is possible that Schaeffer’s recollection of the “mid-1980s” extends to the years 2000-2002, in which he traveled the country barnstorming Orthodox Churches, telling them that America was going to hell in a hand-basket. One of his bugbears was abortion and the degradation of man. The other was the threat of Islamo-fascism. I first heard the term "Islamo-facism" in 2002 and it was from his lips. Schaeffer’s grave disappointment in President Bush actually started then, when he rightly saw Bush’s phrase that Islam was as a “religion of peace” as a sham. I got the impression sitting in the pews at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma that in Schaeffer's mind, Bush should have taken up the Cross instead of placating the Islamic masses who were “an implacable enemy” of our civilization.
It’s impossible to get into a man’s heart and judge him. That belongs to God alone. All I can do is look at his words and actions and note the inconsistencies. In earlier times there was a coherence to his message. Now I am not so sure. Not to put too fine a point on it but his recent writings don’t square with Orthodox teaching concerning abortion which appear to be increasingly liberal.
Unfortunately for Schaeffer, the Gospel and the historical record stands in his way (not that this matters to those who inhabit the febrile precincts of The Huffington Post). The Orthodox Church has preserved the deposit of the faith uninterrupted and inviolate. It was only the Orthodox Church that was both right-teaching but more importantly right-acting. These were Schaeffer’s words, not mine. I’ll never forget his analogy of Orthodoxy as a tripod, one leg was Scripture, the other was worship, and the third was praxis. It did no good, he told us, if we went to church on Sunday and to our abortion clinic jobs on Monday.
He woke us up from our sleepy, Greek Orthodox ghetto thinking in a startling fashion, telling us that the abortion wars were not about the Evangelicals and the Catholics only, but about us. He reminded us that these shocking words were in fact the common witness of the Church which it has maintained for 2000 years, and that we as Orthodox Christians would have to give an account to the Lord for our apathy in this matter. Maybe Schaeffer didn’t believe this right-wing hokum then, but he sure made us think that he did. A lot of other people who came to hear him speak believed it as well. Schaeffer’s “street cred” among Evangelicals contemplating Orthodoxy was significant. If they thought that he was a political liberal — especially regarding abortion — they would not have given Orthodoxy a second look.
The Orthodox Church may be miniscule in the United States, but our witness is greater than our numbers. The teachings which mandate against the murder of innocent life is one of Orthodoxy's gifts to Christendom. It was the Orthodox Church Fathers — with whom we are still in communion — who condemned abortion as a grave evil. It was the Orthodox Church which preserved the Didache, which still influences many non-Orthodox about correct Christian praxis, including the condemnation of abortion, even today.
Schaeffer not only appears less reticent about the moral prohibition against abortion, he seems to advocate it — at least in terms of supporting the arguments that blunt the moral objections against abortion. He holds back only about partial-birth abortion, that grisly procedure performed by Tiller that doesn't even qualify as a method of execution of those guilty of heinous war crimes. But even here his complaint is not moral but tactical. Partial-birth abortion makes the entire abortion regime “too all or nothing” Schaeffer says, and gives legitimacy to the anti-abortion crowd. We can’t have that. The enemy must be deprived of any moral standing whatsoever. In order to keep abortion legal, Schaeffer feels that we should “re-regulate [abortion] according to fetal development.” (Gee Frank, why didn’t we think of that?)
Moreover, wiser heads tell us that we should instead opt for a more sensible regime in which “sex education and condom distribution” would mitigate the number of abortions. Maybe we should listen to Levi Johnston, Bristol Palin’s baby Daddy who told Larry King that “condoms should be mandatory.” This position may be sensible to Schaeffer and his new friends who think Christians are, well, icky, but it is not Christian. It certainly isn’t Orthodox. To my knowledge, no Orthodox theologian believes that human beings are animals operating without any autonomy and that abortion is necessary to either cull the lesser orders or emancipate a woman from the results of one too many drinks. Maybe Schaeffer still hasn’t shaken off the Calvinism of his youth. I challenge him to find the Scripture, the canon, or the Church Father that makes these facile distinctions.
To be sure, we Orthodox share culpability in the advance of the culture of death because many of our leaders are silent and many laity are complicit. We even rewarded two Greek Orthodox Senators with Church honors although they voted to uphold President Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban (Tiller's specialty); a procedure so gruesome and morally abhorrent that only three doctors in America perform it (and are very well-compensated for it).
This silence plays to Schaeffer’s advantage as the newly found “voice of reason” on the Left. Honest liberals who don’t know any better tend to look at Schaeffer and think, “here’s a Christian who makes sense.” Since Schaeffer jumped ship from the Religious Right to Orthodoxy, this must mean that the Orthodox are far more "tolerant" about the issues that matter to the Secular Left, they reason. (On the Left of course, "tolerance" is defined as any position that supports the Secular Left). Schaeffer's kitchen makeover doesn't just stop at abortion either. Support for homosexual marriage is also moving from the back to the front burner. Although cozying up to the Camp of Tolerance has won Schaeffer plaudits from secular elites, he will eventually have to make a decision — either own up to the true teachings of the faith or renounce them.
I began this essay commenting on Schaeffer's admission of guilt in the murder of Tiller. Besides himself, he mentions other culprits as well, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Republican Party, and the pro-life movement. So what’s a man of real conviction to do? Schaeffer tries to make it all better by ending this essay with the words “I am sorry.”
I'm sorry? That's it? That's the best he can do?
Let me suggest a more principled way. If Schaeffer really feels guilty about Tiller’s murder, let him go to Wichita and turn himself in to the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s office. After all, the shooter was just the trigger-man. Rather, Schaeffer, along with his father, Reagan, Falwell and other miscreants are the real culprits because they created the "climate of hate" that caused the killing.
Will this happen? Not likely. The truth is that Schaeffer doesn't really feel guilty about the killing. The apology is merely a tactical ploy calculated to win favor from the secular left. Schaeffer isn’t intellectually honest. And he certainly isn’t true to the precepts of his faith either.
George C Michalopulos, is a layman in the Orthodox Church in America. He was born in Tulsa, OK where he resides and works. George is active in Church affairs, having served as parish council president at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and as Senior Warden at Holy Apostles Orthodox Christian Church. Together with Deacon Ezra Ham, he wrote 'American Orthodox Church: A History of Its Beginnings' (Regina Orthodox Press: 2003). He is married to Margaret and has two sons, Constantine and Michael.