Fundamentalists to the Right, Fundamentalists to the Left
What my hate mail tells me about Christian factions today.
BY: Frank Schaeffer
I abandoned Protestant Christian fundamentalism many years ago for Greek Orthodoxy. I converted because the Orthodox tradition embraces paradox and mystery. For someone raised in a strict Calvinist home, relief from absolutist certainty was most welcome.
But Christian fundamentalism has not abandoned me. It's come back to haunt me in both liberal and conservative forms. I find myself a minor lightning rod in the culture wars: apparently, I haven't chosen sides well enough.
You see, I write novels and nonfiction for a living. My novels describe a boy growing up in Switzerland as the son of American Calvinist missionaries. In these books, I take what I hope is an empathetically amusing insider's look at what it's like to grow up in a home run by zealots who make it their life's work to separate themselves from the World.
My most recent nonfiction work, "Keeping Faith, A Father-Son Story About Love and The United States Marine Corps," I co-wrote with my son John. It's about the aftermath of his 1999 decision to join the U.S. Marine Corps.
So now I'm swimming in a vortex of indignant e-mail from members of both the "Christian right" and the "Christian left." Some Christian evangelical/fundamentalists who disliked my earlier novels find my latest one particularly offensive. They've written to me that they hate everything about it, starting with its "pornographic" cover (a bra and postcard of the Matterhorn are featured). In the book, the fourteen-year-old protagonist is torn between his volcanic burgeoning sexuality and a fundamentalist family so strict that he has never seen a movie, watched television, or danced (read an excerpt
Apparently, some fundamentalists recognize themselves in the parents portrayed in the book and don't like looking in the mirror. They also don't like sex. The gist of their angry letters is: Take a number, God will kill you soon.
On the other side of the fence, my liberal readers assume I must be "some sort of right-wing war monger" because the book I wrote with my son expressed admiration for the Marine Corps. They accuse me of being the sort of imperialist who would stone Jesus to death if given the chance.