Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus)
One of the things I love most about being with my grandchildren is that they only know me now. So before I explain why I had sex with an ice sculpture and how my family helped push the Republican Party into the embrace of the Religious Right and chronicle my family’s complicity in several murders, let me say that my granddaughter Lucy has just turned two. She, along with my three other grandchildren, is my second chance now that I’ve carved out a spiritual identity as dramatically eclipsing of my former self as if I’d disappeared into a witness protection program.
My four grandchildren, Amanda, Benjamin, Lucy, and Jack, notwithstanding, I’m still prone to label people and ideas as my mother labeled them. Mom divided everything into Very Important Things, say, Jesus, Virginity, Japanese Flower Arrangements, Lust, See-through Black Lingerie (to be enjoyed only after marriage), and everything else, say, those things that barely registered on my mother’s To-Do List, like home-schooling me. So I’ll be capitalizing some words oddly in this book, such as Sin, God, Love, and Girls, and also words like Him when referring to God. I’m not doing this as a theological statement but as a nervous tic, a leftover from my Edith Schaeffer–shaped childhood and also to signal what Loomed Large to my mother and what still Looms Large to me.
Blessedly, Lucy and Jack live only a few hundred feet up the street. I walk to their house every day and collect them for playtime. When it’s Lucy’s turn, she perches in my arms and talks to me. (Jack is six months old and pulls my nose and laughs a lot but isn’t saying much yet.) Lucy likes to be carried when we stroll back to “Ba and Nanna’s house.” (I’m “Ba” and my wife, Genie, is “Nanna.”) Lucy’s big brown eyes scan the eighteenth-century clapboard houses of our New England neighborhood to see which of the ubiquitous American flags are wrapped around their above the- front-door flagpoles “by the wind, Ba,” and which are waving free in the ocean breeze.
When we get to my house, Lucy commands me to read The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter. It’s a story about two deluded mice, Hunka Munka and Tom Thumb, who mistake a dollhouse dinner laid out in the dollhouse’s miniature dining room for real food. When they discover that the lovely looking ham, fish, and pudding can’t be eaten, they smash up the plaster “food” in revenge and then spitefully ransack the dollhouse.
When she wrote the book in 1904, Potter couldn’t have known that her classic story would someday be an allegory aptly illustrating the delusion suffered by members of the American Religious Right. Some people who helped lead that movement—including me—were very much like Hunka Munka and Tom Thumb. We lived lives informed by beliefs that were not based on fact and that led to deep-seated resentments that couldn’t be cured because what we resented never actually happened. We took it as a personal insult that the real world didn’t conform to the imagined religious“facts” that we’d been indoctrinated to believe in, and so we did our share of smashing.
My late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key founder and leader of the Religious Right. My mother, Edith, was herself a spiritual leader, not the mere power behind her man, which she also was. Mom was a formidable and adored religious figure whose books and public speaking, not to mention biblical conditioning of me, directly and indirectly shaped millions of lives. For a time I joined my Dad in pioneering the Evangelical antiabortion Religious Right movement.
In the 1970s and early 1980s when I was in my twenties, I evolved into an ambitious, “successful” religious leader/instigator in my own right. And I wasn’t just Dad’s sidekick; I was also Mom’s collaborator in her mission to “reach the world for Jesus.” I changed my mind. I no longer ride around “saving” America for God, nor am I a regular on religious TV and radio these days. Nevertheless—like those two bad mice who later felt remorse and so put a “crooked sixpence” in the dolls’ Christmas stocking to pay for the damage they’d caused—I’m determined to acknowledge the destruction I contributed to before Lucy grows old enough to inherit the vandalized “dollhouse” that she’ll soon discover lurking beyond her childhood horizon...
Sex, Mom and God is available from Amazon and will be in bookstores everywhere by May 10.