Did Francis Schaeffer advocate the "violent overthrow" of the U.S. government?

In a Vox Nova post, Gerald Campbell claims the following of Francis Schaeffer:

In 1982, Frank’s father (Francis Schaeffer) wrote a book called A Christian Manifesto in which he called for the use of force if all other means of stopping abortion failed. He compared the United States and its practice of legalized abortion to Hitler’s Germany and argued that whatever means might have removed Hitler could be used to stop abortion here. In 1984, Frank Schaeffer wrote A Time for Anger. in which he argued the same point. His book became a national best seller with the help of the evangelical movement. Dr. James Dobson alone gave away 100,000 copies.

Gerald is not only wrong, but I believe — having corrected him once already on this very matter — he joins Frank Schaeffer in wilful slander of his father.

The charge that Francis Schaeffer advocated “the violent overthrow” of the U.S. government was previously made by Frank in the Huffington Post in March 2008, in which Frank cites the following “passages” from A Christian Manifesto:

There does come a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate… A true Christian in Hitler’s Germany and in the occupied countries should have defied the false and counterfeit state. This brings us to a current issue that is crucial for the future of the church in the United States, the issue of abortion… It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God’s law it abrogates it’s authority. And our loyalty to the God who gave this law then requires that we make the appropriate response in that situation…

The only problem is: Francis Schaeffer never advocated “the violent overthrow” of the government.

As I demonstrated in my March 2008 response to Gerald / Vox Nova, Frank Schaeffer makes his charge only by cobbling together a smattering of partial sentences by his father from some 25-30 pages of his book, taken out of context.

Rather, in response to the grave scandal of abortion — the state-sanctioned murder of innocent children — Francis Schaeffer actually asserted the following:

Christians must come to the children’s defense, and must come to the defense of human life as such. The defense should be carried out on at least four fronts:

First, we should aggressively support a human life bill or a constitutional amendment protecting unborn children.

Second, we must enter the courts seeking to overturn the Supreme Court’s abortion decision.

Third, legal and political action should be taken against hospitals and abortion clinics that perform abortions. […]

The ‘fourth front’, according to Schaeffer, consisted of presenting a Christian alternatives to abortion, in the form of crisis pregnancy centers.

According to Schaeffer, the pursuit of legal-political restrictions on abortion must be accompanied by the provision and witness of Christian alternatives — and vice versa. (To rely solely on the latter, neglecting the legal route, he thought utopian).

As far as the use of armed force, Schaeffer commented:

“If there is a legitimate reason for the use of force, and if there is a vigilant precaution against its overreaction in practice, then at a certain point the use of force is justifiable. We should recognize, however, that overreaction can too easily become the ugly horror of sheer violence. [p. 106]

The “force” that Schaeffer goes on to entertain is that of civil disobedience — such as refusing to pay a portion of our taxes:

Of course, this would mean a trial. Such a move would have to mean the individual’s choice under God. Happily, at the present time the Hyde amendment has removed the use of national tax money for abortions, but that does not change the possibilty that in some cases such a protest would be the only way to be heard. One can think of, for example, tax money going to Planned Parenthood . . .

Finally, Schaeffer contemplates the “bottom line” for Christians, after such efforts at civil disobedience fail:

“If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been put in the place of the Living God, because then you are to obey it even when it tells you in its own way to worship Caesar. And that point is exactly where the early Christians performed their own acts of civil disobedience even where it costs them their own lives. [p. 130]

Ever the disgruntled son, Frank Schaeffer never met an opportunity which he didn’t take to slander, misrepresent and otherwise publicly dishonor his dead father.

And to the extent that Campbell parrots Frank in such libelous behaviour, we have every reason to be wary of them both.

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31 Responses to Did Francis Schaeffer advocate the "violent overthrow" of the U.S. government?

  • Campbell twisting the truth so as to demonize pro-lifers and defend his pro-choice position? Ain’t the first time.

  • This piece is just crap. No one suggested Francis Schaeffer advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Period.

  • Gerald,

    If you knew your piece was “just crap”, why did you write it?

  • This piece is just crap. No one suggested Francis Schaeffer advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Period.

    Um, you did.

    In March 2008, you linked to and cited approvingly the opening lines of an article you previously linked to, and republished in condensed form, by Frank Schaeffer (“Frank Schaeffer Decries Double Standard” Vox Nova March 17, 2008).

    When Senator Obama’s preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father — Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer — denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

    I responded and corrected you in the comments, as well as Catholics in the Public Square.

  • Campbell:

    Provide your proof (citation and direct quotations, preferably with PDF scans or some other means of verifying your accuracy) that the following claims are correct:

    Schaeffer “called for the use of force if all other means of stopping abortion failed.”

    Schaeffer “argued that whatever means might have removed Hitler could be used to stop abortion here.”

  • Very brave of Frank the Younger to blast Catholics without noting that the Orthodox refer to abortion as murder.

    See, e.g.: http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8083

    Yet not a word about that. Oh, and it’s nice to see him continuing his Pope Formosus act with his father’s corpse.

  • The ONLY reason I disagree with the idea of a ‘revolution’ to stop abortion is because it is NOT like the Holocaust, or to use a more accurate modern comparison, China’s forced abortion policy. It is something desired and sought out by large numbers of Americans on a regular basis, something woven into our cultural fabric as a result of consumerism and materialism (as JP II argued again and again).

    That said, every individual abortionist is still a murderer, as are those who solicit his services, and even while addressing the root cause of abortion we should strive for just laws that recognize the dignity of the unborn and meet out the proper punishment.

  • Joe,
    Your last comment represents my views as well, and expresses them perfectly.

  • Anyone see Gerald’s refusal to take Blackadder’s views into account, instead obstinately declaring twice that he still believes Frank Schaeffer’s interpretation (for no reason that he seems to be able to explain).

    If you’re going to play the part of a peacemaker who is against harsh rhetoric and just wants everyone to get along, it isn’t exactly persuasive if your case rests on demonizing and misrepresenting what other people said.

  • Yep, I saw that, S.B. Well, I have to concede “partisan” and “peacemaker” share a couple of letters.

    “Calumny: It’s OK when I do it.”

  • Franky Schaeffer has made a career out of his father. First by trying to follow in his footsteps and second by spitting on his grave. He is for the moment a useful tool for the far Left and they are welcome to him.

  • Kind of odd when you think about it. Franklin Graham is the very visible face in front of Billy Graham Ministries- taking it where his father stopped due to infirmity. Joel Osteen’s father was just a pal of Kenneth Copeland in the 70s. Now the church is a Sunday teevee staple and eminates from the former home of the NBA Houston Rockets. Not sure what’s going on inside the noggin of Frank the Younger and why he’s ripping on Pop. Better that we don’t know.

  • Just one question: why should anyone care what Francis Schaeffer thought about anything?

  • Joe Hargrave,

    The ONLY reason I disagree with the idea of a ‘revolution’ to stop abortion is because it is NOT like the Holocaust, or to use a more accurate modern comparison, China’s forced abortion policy. It is something desired and sought out by large numbers of Americans on a regular basis, something woven into our cultural fabric as a result of consumerism and materialism (as JP II argued again and again).

    in that sense it is in no substantial way different from the Holocaust. In spite of the fact that it is perhaps slightly more popularly supported than Hitler’s Holocaust, it is in reality quite similar in that many of it’s supporters are wilfully blind to the true nature of it.

    The reason that armed rebellion is not justified in this case is pure and simple. It would violate Catholic teaching of just war on certainly one and probably two or three points.

    1. All other means have not been exhausted
    2. It will cause more harm than good
    3. It has no reasonable chance of success

    That said, every individual abortionist is still a murderer, as are those who solicit his services, and even while addressing the root cause of abortion we should strive for just laws that recognize the dignity of the unborn and meet out the proper punishment.

    Amen brother.

  • Matt,

    I disagree, and I’d like to do so without the usual animosity.

    A while back a book came out arguing that the Holocaust was the result of the ‘anti-Semitism of the ordinary German’. Most historians panned the book, and rightfully so – most Germans did not know about the Holocaust until it was too late. They certainly had no idea when they elected Hitler that he would murder millions of people in death camps. It isn’t as if it were part of the Nazi party program.

    Abortion is not motivated by an ideological hatred of the unborn, it is motivated by personal, selfish reasons that find rationalizations in ideology. The Holocaust was imposed by the Nazis from above; abortion is chosen by the people from below. Most people don’t want to murder their children – they just want to not have them, and it so happens that murdering them is the the most expedient way to abandon parental responsibility.

    So, I do see a difference there. There are root causes of abortion that require a much different strategy than would be the case if the government were forcing women to get abortions, in which case, I would argue, we would have a right to revolution.

    As for the criteria for just war, if the government were carrying out a Holocaust – an actual Holocaust, like the Nazi Holocaust – I would take up arms against it and, if I am wrong to do so, take it up with God when I meet him.

  • Joe,

    A while back a book came out arguing that the Holocaust was the result of the ‘anti-Semitism of the ordinary German’. Most historians panned the book, and rightfully so – most Germans did not know about the Holocaust until it was too late. They certainly had no idea when they elected Hitler that he would murder millions of people in death camps. It isn’t as if it were part of the Nazi party program.

    Perhaps they didn’t actively believe that he would murder millions, however, they know that the Nazi’s believed that Jews were subhuman, and that they would be subject to all sorts of oppression and violence before he was elected, and they knew that all sorts of horrible things were going on to the Jews.

    Abortion is not motivated by an ideological hatred of the unborn, it is motivated by personal, selfish reasons that find rationalizations in ideology. The Holocaust was imposed by the Nazis from above; abortion is chosen by the people from below. Most people don’t want to murder their children – they just want to not have them, and it so happens that murdering them is the the most expedient way to abandon parental responsibility.

    So, I do see a difference there. There are root causes of abortion that require a much different strategy than would be the case if the government were forcing women to get abortions, in which case, I would argue, we would have a right to revolution.

    The unborn are the victims being forced into the the death rooms, just like the Jews were. It matters not a wit that the mother is participating in it, it is still state supported, state protected.

    As for the criteria for just war, if the government were carrying out a Holocaust – an actual Holocaust, like the Nazi Holocaust – I would take up arms against it and, if I am wrong to do so, take it up with God when I meet him.

    Even given that we live in a democracy, and that the rebellion would do more harm than good, and would not be successful you would attack the government?

    Are you rejecting my assessment of the conditions of just war, or are you rejecting Catholic doctrine on Just War???? Tell me how you answer the test of doing more harm than good, or the impossible chance of success?

  • Matt,

    There is a difference with respect to strategy, is what I am saying.

    Overthrowing the Nazi regime would have meant ending the Holocaust.

    Overthrowing the US government would not mean ending abortion because it is something the people want. If the majority or even a large minority wants it, there are few ways to prevent it, and getting rid of the current government isn’t one of them.

    That is why ending abortion is ultimately about changing the culture, though we must also work to change the law as well. Unlike some in our camp, I would put changing the culture as a higher priority than changing the law.

    As for your final questions: to the first one, yes. But the proper word is not ‘attack’ – the proper word is ‘resist’. Like the Warsaw uprising or the revolt at the Sobibor death camp, we have a right to resist, to preserve not only our own lives both those being immediately threatened, as millions of Chinese babies are in China, for instance. If we don’t have a right to fight to defend our own lives or the lives of our neighbors as they are being exterminated, then we may as well have no rights at all. I won’t live in such a world. I will change it or die trying.

    As for your assessment of just war – I’m not sure that resistance against wholesale slaughter warrants any reference at all to just war theory. Self-defense is a legitimate right. If we were invaded tomorrow by China or Russia, we wouldn’t have to consult the Church as to whether or not it would be ok to resist the invasion. Likewise if the state has a policy of genocide, it has effectively declared war on its own people. If your argument is that we must stand idly by while millions are exterminated by the government lest we violate just war theory, I reject that argument.

    And if that is in fact what the Church argues, then, like I said, I will take up my transgressions with what I believe to be a just God in the hereafter. I have my limits. It would indeed be insane and imprudent to fight a civil war over legal abortion, but it would be plain crazy not to resist a policy of genocide.

  • So, if instead of rounding up the Jews, the government simply declared open season on Jews. Anyone could grab one and kill him, would that qualify as “a genocide” that is then exempt from just war theory? or is it only “resistance” to the government which is exempt from these principles?

    If we were invaded tomorrow by China or Russia, we wouldn’t have to consult the Church as to whether or not it would be ok to resist the invasion

    no, we don’t always need to “consult” the Church, but we certainly need to apply the moral principles which the Church provides in any situation. Certainly if Russia or China invaded, just war principles could be met, because the resistance would almost certainly be successful. But what if the imbalance was so great that no chance of success existed? Would it be morally acceptable to commit suicide?

  • Matt,

    It’s a good question – in spite of the snide tone. There’s no need for you to reply to this as if we’re fighting yet again.

    It’s still not quite the same as abortion, because not ‘anyone’ can grab any woman and force her to abort. Abortion is allowed by the government, yes, but it is the power differential between the mother, and sometimes the father, and the unborn child that is really the mechanism causing the abortion.

    What legal abortion does is offer people a way to abandon their parental responsibilities. Thus it is a much more personal thing than one ethnic group wanting to cleanse another ethnic group. That we could stop in various ways, through military intervention, diplomacy, or whatever. You can’t do that with tens of millions of individual family units.

    So legal abortion is not tantamount to a declaration of ‘open season’ on the unborn – it is still, at least in some states, considered homicide if an act of violence against a pregnant woman ends up killing her wanted child. What we have here is something very specific – a law that allows individual mothers to kill their children.

    As for the last paragraph, I absolutely reject the notion that the morality of our resistance depends upon our chances of success, which in any event are hard to know with absolute certainty. My intention in resisting would not be to commit suicide, but to do what is in my power to resist evil. I would not go out of my way to seek my own death, I would try to survive for as long as I could and, perhaps, turn a situation where to odds are against me into one where they are not against me.

  • Thanks Christopher for again reminding us that this guy is to put it in a polite way eccentric

    I very much think the earlier article you link and his comments today are very telling

    In 2008

    “Today we have a marriage of convenience between the right wing fundamentalists who hate Obama, and the “progressive” Clintons who are playing the race card through their own smear machine. As Jane Smiley writes in the Huffington Post “[The Clinton’s] are, indeed, now part of the ‘vast right wing conspiracy.’

    “Both the far right Republicans and the stop-at-nothing Clintons are using the “scandal” of Obama’s preacher to undermine the first black American candidate with a serious shot at the presidency. Funny thing is, the racist Clinton/Far Right smear machine proves that Obama’s minister had a valid point. There is plenty to yell about these days.”

    Yes that is the same Clinton that is Obama ‘s Sec of State. Who knew Obama put in his Cabinet and in fact in one of the most important positions in the U.S. Government a person behind the “hate machine”.

    The piece today

    “Regardless, the same hate machine I was part of is still attacking all abortionists as “murderers.” And today, once again, the “pro-life” leaders are busy ducking their personal responsibility for people acting on their words. The people who stir up the fringe never take responsibility. But I’d like to say that I, and the people I worked with in the pro-life movement, all contributed to this killing by our foolish and incendiary words.”

    Wow so many hate machines!!! One gets a sense that anything is a hate machine that dares disagrees strong with the Frank Schaeffer. I think it is apparent who is throwing “incendiary” words around.

  • You can’t do that with tens of millions of individual family units.

    You don’t need to. Abortion is only possible because the government allows and protects the operation of abortuaries. Close them, and abortion is over. That is a significant portion of our non-violent “war”.

    As for the last paragraph, I absolutely reject the notion that the morality of our resistance depends upon our chances of success, which in any event are hard to know with absolute certainty.

    It depends entirely on the alternative. If it’s subjection vs the loss of an entire people, surrender would be the only morally acceptable action (again, where there is no reasonable possibility of success).

    My intention in resisting would not be to commit suicide, but to do what is in my power to resist evil. I would not go out of my way to seek my own death, I would try to survive for as long as I could and, perhaps, turn a situation where to odds are against me into one where they are not against me.

    I am not speaking here of the morality of an individual or unit accepting a “suicide” mission but the certainty that resistance would lead to a greater harm than good, and having no reasonable chance for success.

    Sorry if you confuse my blunt approach for “snideness”, if I was sensitive I’d probably accuse you of the same for saying something about “consulting the Church in order to act”.

  • So now Gerald (in the VN thread) is claiming that he objects to forthright descriptions of abortion because he’d rather change hearts:

    No one said that the truth should not be told about abortion. It should. What was said is that truth should be told with a view to a practical end.
    * * *
    If one wants to defend innocent lives in America, the best way is to change hearts and minds.

    The obvious problem is that Gerald admittedly never tries change people’s “hearts and minds” so as to oppose abortion . . . he couldn’t name even a single such effort when directly asked. To the contrary, he’s constantly trying to “change hearts and minds” in favor of pro-choice policies, i.e., arguing that letting women choose abortion is “reasonable and ethically defensible,” or that abortion “should be decided at the level of the women, the doctor, and the pastor. This is subsidiarity.”

    What explains this phenomenon of seemingly intelligent people acting like such dimwits? It’s one thing to argue that letting people choose abortion is ethical, but it’s just stupid to pretend that your aim in making such arguments is to persuade anyone that abortion is wrong.

    Again, one doesn’t see this phenomenon on the right . . . I’m not aware of any commentators who constantly make arguments about how having the death penalty is ethical and wise, and who never utter even a single word that is critical of the death penalty, but who then turn around and expect everyone to be stupid enough to believe that their objective is to “change hearts and minds” against the death penalty rather than in favor of it.

  • S.B.:

    Not only that, but the “hearts and minds only” campaign effectively argues for the repeal of the few provisions on the books which attempt to put the brakes on abortion, i.e., parental notification, waiting periods, medical certification (however weak).

    In what other social problem does anyone make this argument? Try it with drunk driving, exploitation of migrant workers, employment discrimination, and the sheer vacuousness shines through.

    More to the point: where has it ever worked?

  • I’m curious as to why Catholics care one way or another what Francis Shaeffer thought about anything.

  • Francis Schaeffer was a very thoughtful man who deserves the bulk of the credit for rallying evangelicals to the pro-life cause (e.g., the Southern Baptists were initially pro-choice after Roe). He also deserves enormous credit for broadening the intellectual horizon of American evangelicalism.

    Here’s an overview of his life and work.

    http://www.markheard.net/heardtribute/archive/schaeffer1_c_today1997.html

    http://www.markheard.net/heardtribute/archive/schaeffer2_c_today1997.html

  • I’m curious as to why Catholics care one way or another what Francis Shaeffer thought about anything.

    Dymphna,

    Thanks for commenting.

    Well, I certainly can’t speak for the rest of my colleagues. But as for myself, being the author of the post in question, several reasons:

    As a Christian philosopher and theologian, Francis Schaeffer had a great influence in the 70’s and 80’s. He’s credited with inspiring Christian political activism, particularly in response to the moral scandal of legalized abortion. He also provided a ‘counter-cultural’ Christian witness and renewal to many who were aimless and wandering in those years. My parents in what you might call their ‘hippie’ years spent time with him at his Swiss retreat in La’Bri, and (by way of reading my father’s books) he subsequently played a role in my own religious development.

    Curiously, the Catholic Anarchist and Morning’s Minion (residents of Vox Nova) might something to appreciate in Schaeffer — such as his critique of American consumerism; his ‘preferential option for the poor'; his ecological-mindedness (see Pollution and the Death of Man: A Christian few of ecology) … that is to say if they only got over their phobia towards Christian Evangelicals. ;-)

    There is a recent biography written about him that captures what I and no doubt others find inspirational:

    The man who cared enough to tutor a little boy with Down Syndrome is also the man who told his church in St. Louis that he would resign if a black person ever came to his church and felt unwelcome. The budding intellectual who answered the existential questions of college students in Europe is also the agitator who took up the cause of the unborn and became arguably the finest shaper of and advocate for a potent evangelical critique of modern culture.

    Why should Catholics care one way or the other about Francis Schaeffer? Or C.S. Lewis for that matter? Or any other Protestant or non-Catholic writer? — That’s a question you’ll have to discern for yourself.

    But even as a convert from Protestantism, I still retain my interest and appreciation for those who have played a role in forming and inspiring me as a Christian.

    And insofar as I have an interest in ecumenism, particularly in the collaboration between Catholics and evangelicals in responding to the relativism and secularism of our nation, I find Schaeffer’s witness relevant today.

    That said — with respect to the current topic, when somebody misrepresents Schaeffer’s thought and engages in falsehoods (whether it’s his own heterodox son or a fellow Catholic like Gerald Campbell), I feel obliged to correct the record.

  • Even if he did advocate it – so what? Are you folks so wrapped up in an American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny mentality that you can not forsee any circumstances under which we should hit the reset button? The world existed prior to the USA and will exist after it is long gone. There is only one earthly institution against which Hell will not prevail.

  • awakaman,

    Even if he did advocate it – so what? Are you folks so wrapped up in an American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny mentality that you can not forsee any circumstances under which we should hit the reset button? The world existed prior to the USA and will exist after it is long gone. There is only one earthly institution against which Hell will not prevail.

    No awakaman, we are so wrapped up in Catholic teaching that we would not endorse an unjust war, which a rebellion in a democratic nation would be. Our system of government has flaws, and is in need of reform, but it is still a democracy.

  • Hargrave, Petrik, Thank you.

  • Matt,

    “Abortion is only possible because the government allows and protects the operation of abortuaries. Close them, and abortion is over. That is a significant portion of our non-violent “war”.”

    Even if it took a Supreme Court ruling, against the will of the people at the time, to legalize abortion, now we can see that it does have much broader (but not absolute) support from the population. That is what really continues to make it possible.

    Since we live in a democracy, a democratic republic to be more precise, that counts for something. It means that the law at least in part depends on the will of the people, which in turn depends upon many things, most importantly, the culture in which they live.

    So I will continue to maintain that this is an important distinction between abortion, and the Holocaust, or abortion and any other policy where the state and not individuals are the actors – it is a distinction important for strategy and tactics.

    As for the just war stuff – again, if you are being faced with a war of extermination, which is what genocide is, it would be suicidal and probably therefore immoral not to resist. And even if it is not ‘your group’ targeted with elimination, I still think it would be unconscionable not to resist with them.

    So, yes, a policy of genocide would not only mean that resistance is allowed, but in fact a duty. But we do not have that now. We have a cultural disease that no amount of killing will put a stop to.

  • Matt:

    Wow someone on this blog recognizing that there is such a thing as an unjust war. However, using your reasoning the American Revolution was an unjust war.

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