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Os Guinness Calls Frank Schaeffer Out (and I Call Him a Greedy Parasite)

John on February 26, 2008 at 11:57 pm

Several months ago I asked a question in the comments. It was: When did Franky Schaeffer become such an ass? Finally, Os Guinness take the time to answer it for all of us. As he points out, he is in a position to know:

For six years I was as close to Frank as anyone outside his own family, and probably closer than many in his family. I was his best man at his wedding. Life has taken us in different directions over the past thirty years, but I counted him my dear friend and went through many of the escapades he recounts and many more that would not bear rehearsing in print. It pains to me say, then, that his portrait is cruel, distorted, and self-serving, but I cannot let it pass unchallenged without a strong insistence on a different way of seeing the story. There is all the difference in the world between flaws and hypocrisy. Francis and Edith Schaeffer were lions for truth. No one could be further from con artists, even unwitting con artists, than the Francis and Edith Schaeffer I knew, lived with, and loved.


The deepest issue of all lies in how all this happened, and here Frank gives us the clue but never follows the trail with the honesty he should have. Throughout the memoir he says he was neglected by his parents, which may have been true—though he was always central in the daily thoughts and prayers of his mother, and at the time he welcomed the neglect as freedom. Frank also hints at his ability to manipulate his parents because of their guilt over the neglect: “No one has more power over a loving father (especially if that father feels a bit guilty for neglecting his children) than a beloved son.”


Frank himself is where the con artistry came into the story.

Later, pushed far out of his depth by the momentum of his and his father’s activism, Frank found himself propelled into becoming the arrogant, pompous, and hollow young fraud that, to his credit, he came to loathe and then repudiate. Frank himself is where the con artistry came into the story.

In sum, the combination of neglect, guilt, nepotism, and spoiling was a toxic brew. Some sons of famous Christian fathers are pushed by their fathers into following in their footsteps, and they respond with a slow-burning resentment that comes to cast a shadow on their fathers’ reputations. In Frank’s case, he chose to steer his father’s steps for his father’s sake, so he is responsible rather than resentful. But he is responsible for what he now acknowledges was a horrible outcome, so he turns on his entire upbringing to excuse his role.

As someone who once admired Franky Schaeffer, I’ll just add that his turn to wishy-washy agnosticism strikes me as just one more step in a lifelong attempt to garner attention on the back of his father’s fame. He began making films for dad and parleyed that into a failed film career, then turned to writing semi-autobiographical books about, what else, his family life growing up.

Frank Schaeffer’s career is that of a greedy parasite, the kind that kills the host sustaining it.

Once he’d driven the Schaeffer reputation into the ground with trite books like Sham Pearls for Real Swine, Frank decided to sell short, publicly converting to Orthodoxy (I attended his speaking tour on that occasion). And once that well went dry he decided to cannibalize his father’s reputation wholesale in order to sell this current raft of books and articles. In short, Frank Schaeffer’s career is that of a greedy parasite, the kind that kills the host sustaining it. He has just enough art to provide plausible deniability to his publishers but never enough to make him more than his father’s son. Honore de Balzac he is not.

Frank may be under the delusion that his “crazy” parents handicapped him in some way, but nothing could be further from the truth. Speaking as someone whose seen his films, subscribed to his newspaper and read at least three of his books let me make an observation about Frank Schaeffer. Without that famous last name to trade on all these years, publishers and readers would literally be saying “Frank who?”

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Category: Religion & Faith |

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