I was a right-wing sidekick: What I discovered working for the anti-woman right

As GOP leaders woo the far right at CPAC this week, I recall my past as a young Jerry Falwell. Here's what I saw


Frank Schaeffer
February 28, 2015 12:30AM (UTC)

As I watch the GOP presidential candidates duke it out to be "the most conservative" at CPAC this week, I'm reminded of my own long-ago past. I was part of the right's early antiabortion, anti-woman movement back in the 1970s and 1980s. I became the sidekick to my evangelist parents who were instrumental in founding the religious right. Then I left the movement, and as the New York Times notes, was branded a traitor. But unlike many Americans, I know where "these people" come from. I was one of them.

When you read the latest news stories about Mike Huckabee, CPAC, Fox News or whomever, fomenting yet more anti-woman or anti-feminist rhetoric, and crafting a "traditional values" Republican platform, you need to know that this anti-woman reaction has a carefully crafted cynical history.

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You can't understand where America is headed and what drives today's GOP unless you know the truth about the anti-woman religion that is the very heartbeat of the Republican Party. On the plus side, I've distanced myself from my shameful past and offered an alternative to this horrible kind of religion in a book excoriating this movement, "Why I am an Atheist who Believes in God: How to Give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace." The bad news is that what I helped start is still shaping American politics.

I'm reminded of an event called the “True Woman Conference,” where organizers used it to launch a “True Woman Manifesto.” A clause in the preamble read, “When we respond humbly to male leadership in our homes and churches, we demonstrate a noble submission to [male] authority that reflects Christ’s submission to God His Father.”

“We are believing God for a movement of reformation and revival in the hearts and homes of Christian women all around this world,” the group’s leader, Evangelical best-selling author/guru and “motivational speaker” Nancy Leigh DeMoss, said in her opening remarks.

The other speakers at the conference included some of the foremost leaders of the 21st-century “mainstream” Evangelical world. Names like pastor John Piper; Christian radio personality Nancy Leigh DeMoss; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and anti-feminist author Mary Kassian; J. Ligon Duncan III, chairman of the board for the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; and Susan Hunt, an author and consultant to the Presbyterian Church in America’s Women in the Church Ministry. The conference was organized by DeMoss’ St. Louis–based ministry, Revive Our Hearts, a women’s ministry that teaches abject “submission” that will “bring America back to God.”

I’m guessing that none of those leaders would have publicly embraced Reconstructionism. Nevertheless, by lending their presence to that meeting and many like it, they were implicitly endorsing the Reconstructionist view of women and the “divine male headship of women ordained by the Bible." For instance, recently "mainstream" and "moderate" Wheaton College (Billy Graham's school) got the Supreme Court to exempt them from providing women with contraceptive coverage.

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Women are “called to encourage godly masculinity” by submitting to men, says the “True Woman Manifesto,” those leaders assembled to sign. Women must “submit to their husbands and [male-only] pastors.” According to this view of what I’ll call Godly Groveling Women, women must “honor the God-ordained male headship” of their husbands by allowing their men to rule them. Thus, selfish “rights” (as in the Bill of Rights) are “antithetical to Jesus Christ.” So The Godly Groveling True Woman believes that she must (as it were) rent her womb to God (and thus to a Reconstructionist revolution in whatever name) in order to embrace “fruitful femininity.”

For those who missed the conference, the way to a “Complete Submission Makeover” was made easy. Check out the True Woman website: “Don’t miss out—take the 30-Day True Woman Make-Over to discover and experience God’s design and calling for your life! Join Nancy Leigh DeMoss on a journey through Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 2:9–10, and Titus 2:1–5. For thirty days, we’ll send this email directly to your inbox, complete with biblical teaching; helpful links, printable downloads, and recommended resources.”

What Nancy Leigh DeMoss was doing with her “Complete Submission Makeover” was to extend the reach of a fringe fundamentalist movement—the “Quiverfull Movement”—into the Evangelical mainstream. (The name of the Quiverfull Movement alludes to Psalm 127:3: “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed.”)

Some Quiverfull leaders have argued against allowing daughters to attend college, as “worldly outsiders” might destroy their faith. Daughters, they say, should stay at home after they graduate from home schooling. Daughters should practice being a “helpmeet” to their fathers, training to someday “serve” those godly husbands God will send their way. Some Quiverfull women are not allowed to drive. Others make lists of daily tasks to submit to their husbands for an OK. Quiverfull wives are carrying on at least one of Mom’s rules, however: They believe that it is their duty to be sexually available to their husbands at all times. If a husband strays because of a wife’s refusal, it’s her fault.

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Mary Pride, the modern-day Patriarchy/Quiverfull Movement’s female founder, was often quoted at the True Woman Conference. Pride paved the way for the modern-era “submission movement” decades ago. She did so with my help.

Pride was one of my mother’s followers and began to write me fan letters in the 1970s after I’d emerged as a successful rabble-rousing antiabortion leader. By then I was doing the rounds, speaking at the biggest and most politicized churches of the day, including Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist. I was even pursuing my own Evangelical media side project: the business of publishing and promoting far-right books.

As a moonlighting literary agent, I represented my parents, as well as C. Everett KoopJohn Whitehead and several other religious right and (emerging) neoconservative authors.

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I met resistance when selling Pride’s first manuscript because her antifeminism struck even some evangelical editors as too far out. I eventually got "The Way Home" published by convincing Crossway Books publisher and editor Lane Dennis to take on the book even though he doubted it would sell.

Dennis had said, “No women want to read a ‘women’s book’ that tells women to give up their rights.” After arguing for a while, I snapped back that unless he took on my new author, I’d pull the whole Schaeffer oeuvre from his company—a heretofore minor tract publishing mom-and-pop outfit (also a printing company for hire) that had recently turned into an Evangelical publishing powerhouse based on the sales of the Schaeffer books. I also told Dennis that Pride’s book would “become a movement.” The Schaeffer books, as well as those by Pride and other of “my” authors, put Crossway on the map. My own books sold well, too, such as "A Time for Anger: The Myth of Neutrality."

By the time I signed up Pride as an author-client, I was connecting my expanding “stable” of far-right authors to Crossway Books, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Word Books, Zondervan and Tyndale House and also to the neoconservative (Roman Catholic) Regnery Gateway Publishers.

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Henry Regnery and I used to talk on the phone and strategize about breaking the “stranglehold of the liberal media.” Regnery co-published books with me and printed special Christian Activist and/or “Franky Schaeffer” editions of several Regnery books. Regnery even created a new imprint called “Discipleship Books.” Across the top of each book, in large bold type, the words appeared: “A Franky Schaeffer/Christian Activist Book.” Our projects included "Target America: The Influence of Communist Propaganda on U.S Media" by James L. Tyson, (1985); "Panic Among the Philistines" by Bryan F. Griffin (1985); and "The Coercive Utopians" by Rael Jean Isaac and Erich Isaac (1985). The books published under our joint imprint received glowing reviews in Commentary, the American Spectator, Chronicles of Culturethe Wall Street Journal, and other to-the-right publications.

The Christian Activist was my widely circulated antiabortion, anti-liberal freebee newspaper. I was editor and founder. (The Christian Activist was published by Schaeffer V Productions.) The Evangelical version of the Christian Activist hit a circulation of about 250,000 in the mid-1980s. After I left the Evangelical world, I re-created it as a short-lived Eastern Orthodox paper that reached a circulation of about 50,000. I stopped publishing that, too. I’d come to see that my “Christian” activism was antithetical to the spirit of the kind of religion I was inspired by: the Eastern Orthodox embrace of sacrament and community. (The Orthodox church has a right wing, too, but the Orthodoxy I embraced, not to mention my local parish, was not of that ilk.) My politics was changing. By then I saw the neoconservatives as a threat to America and beyond. War without end—often in “defense of Israel”—seemed to be all the neoconservatives were really about as they fixated on a worship of military brute force put in service of some fuzzy imperial idea of so-called American exceptionalism.

Back in the day, Regnery told me that the editions of his books reprinted with my name on them as co-publisher and then promoted in my newspaper sold more than the original editions. As he once said, “With the Schaeffer name on it, I can sell anything to the Evangelicals, and there are lots of them!” My Regnery co-publishing ventures also included books by such neoconservatives as writer Richard Grenier. I got his pro-colonial "The Gandhi Nobody Knows" published as a counterstatement to the film "Gandhi." Conservatives had reacted to the movie negatively because it was “soft” on Gandhi, it was “hard” on white men and colonialism, and, worst of all, it made Hinduism look OK in comparison to our “Judeo-Christian heritage.”

So I was in a good position to “launch” not only Pride’s book but also any project I wanted to get behind. It was in this capacity as a brash young wheeler-dealer, literary agent/author/filmmaker to the religious right, and Evangelical/pro-life link to the emerging neoconservative movement that I launched Mary Pride. And she, in turn, started a large movement that—like so much else that has come from the Reconstructionist-inspired religious right since the 1970s—flew under the radar of the mainstream media.

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Many Reconstructionist-influenced pastors began using Pride’s materials almost as soon as they were published because (at last) here was a woman telling other women to submit to men. And as luck would have it, Pride and her husband were computer experts back when few people were. So Quiverfull adherents were some of the first Internet users to grasp the potential of home computers. Home-school groups began to network, and Pride became the leader of the Evangelical home-school movement, which she, only second to Rushdoony, created in its anti-American incarnation.

When I say “anti-American,” I mean anti-American as America actually is: multicultural, pluralistic, gay embracing, multiethnic and based on a secular Constitution and the secular rule of law. Pride and company would have claimed to be patriotic, but their loyalty was to a “Christian America.” They seemed to have nothing but contempt for America as it actually was. They also ignored America’s complex roots, as described wonderfully by historian and cultural critic Jacques Barzun, who writes:

Our [American] spirit is watered by three streams of thought, originally distinct, but here mingled: The eighteenth century enlightenment view of progress toward social reason, or what we Americans know as the Jeffersonian ideal; The Romanticist view of man’s diversity, inventiveness and love of risk by which society is forever kept in flux, forever changing; The native tradition of Deafness to Doctrine which permits our Federal system to subsist at the same time as it provides free room for carrying out the behests of our other two beliefs ( God’s Country and Mine).

The religious right I was part of seduced millions of Americans with titillating hatred and lies:

The earth was created in six days and is not warming;

Obama is a secret Muslim (perhaps even the Antichrist!) and wants women to have more abortions; gays are trying to take over America; the United Nations (and/or Obama and/or the pres­ident of the European Union) is the Antichrist;

An unregulated market economy is Christian;

Guns keep people safe;

Taxing the rich is “communism”;

Capital punishment is good;

Immigrants are the enemy;

National healthcare is “communist..."

and, of course:

Women need to be put in their place!

Some or all these paranoid fantasies are accepted as truth by a whole substratum of “Christians” determined to judge their country as “fallen away from God.” They believe America is “doomed” because they don’t agree with their fellow citizens’ politics or because, as their signs routinely proclaim, “God hates fags!” They call people like me “abortion­ists” because I and others say that maybe the best way to reduce abortion is to keep it legal but to also help women escape poverty, educate young people, and provide contraception rather than trying to reverse Roe v. Wade (realistically an impossibility, on which pro-lifers have wasted almost 40 years of effort and untold tens of millions of dollars).

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Appeals to facts get nowhere with these folks because, like the women who are helping keep other women down, they don’t trust any sources but their own and listen only to what emanates from an alternative right-wing universe.

Thus arguments become circular. The more impartial the source, the more suspect it becomes. Propaganda, fulminating (and fundraising), and hatred of gays, women, our government, big-city folks, black people, the educated “elite,” everything-not-like-us-Real-Americans supplant compassion. And common sense.


Frank Schaeffer

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