Evangelists’ sudden turn to abortion after feminist and cinematic reaction – 6/5/2022

Not many know that abortion for many years was a topic left aside by religious people? And that the documentary from the 1970s, which was followed by feminist protests, changed that story.

Is the right to abortion one of the most controversial issues of our time? It sometimes caused violent clashes between activists on both sides. Both in the United States and in other countries, such as Brazil, abortion is central to the so-called culture wars, the struggle over values, beliefs, and customs that put religious people and feminists in opposing camps.

The topic resurfaced this month with the recent leak of a draft opinion from a US Supreme Court judge? Which indicated that the United States could overturn the famous Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, which has guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion at the federal level since then.

What many people don’t know is that miscarriage? Now central to the American culture wars agenda? For many years it was a topic completely ignored by evangelicals.

That changed only in the 1970s, after the release of a documentary film produced by a charismatic American evangelical leader, whose rhetoric brought the topic onto the American political agenda.

This story was told on the BBC’s Things Fell Apart podcast, which interviewed Frank Schaeffer, son of evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer.

Frank was responsible for producing an anti-abortion segment in one of his father’s documentaries. This segment inspired many evangelicals in the United States to campaign against a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. The documentary was also cited as an inspiration by an anti-abortion activist who murdered a doctor performing the procedure in the United States in the 1990s.

Now repentant for his contribution to the abortion controversy and criticism of his late father and the evangelical movement in the United States, Frank Schaefer tells BBC’s John Ruston the story of this documentary that helped change the course of the American culture wars and in the world. .

From Bob Dylan to the Word of God

Frank Schaeffer was raised in the Swiss Alps, in the Labre Evangelical Society, which was founded in the 1950s by his father, pastor and theologian Francis Schaeffer.

“I was a dyslexic kid wandering in the Alps, growing up in a peculiar fundamentalist American evangelical community,” Frank Schaeffer recalls, speaking to the BBC.

“[Meu pai] He was a wonderful fellow and totally eccentric. It may seem paradoxical, but on Sunday morning he was preaching what he called the infallible word of God and the Sabbath before lecturing on Bob Dylan’s words.”

In the 1970s, Labri was frequented by many Westerners who were on a pilgrimage to the East or Israel. To these travelers, Schaeffer? A leader different from all the evangelicals of his generation? Present on how Christians relate to modern art or the Woodstock Festival.

Schaeffer attracted eclectic audiences. Even musician Eric Clapton frequents LaBrie. Among the visitors to the community was Billy Zuoli, a gospel film producer who after a few years in the White House served as spiritual leader for President Gerald Ford.

“People told my father that he should attend his lectures on the relationship between art, culture and Christianity and put them in a film. He should make a documentary. Billy Zioli raised $3.5 million to fund the project, which at the time was a lot of money to buy a documentary. ‘” Frank Schaeffer recalls.


Francis believed in his son Frank’s potential as a film director. Fascinated by filmmakers like Federico Fellini, Frank was excited by the idea. Is he saying he doesn’t really want to make a documentary on religious themes? But he saw in the film an opportunity to start his career in the world of cinema.

A combination of these three elements? Francis Schaeffer’s Religious Thoughts, Frank’s Cinematic Vision and Zioli’s Money? The documentary series has ten episodes How should we live then (How should we liveThenin free translation), from 1976. The documentary had a large budget, with sections in different countries, such as Italy and France.

The movie’s message was that without God, humanity would be morally lost.

One clip of the documentary talked about abortion, and denounced the practice. Was Frank’s idea included? Until then, evangelicals had not usually discussed this issue.

Most evangelical Christians have seen this [aborto] As a “Catholic” issue. And in those days we did not wish to have anything to do with Catholics, if possible. In fact, our theology said that Catholics would go to Hell,” Frank recalls.

“My suggestion to my parents was that the last two episodes of the show were about Roe vs. Wade and the legalization of abortion. My suggestion came from the context of being a teenage father. It was a very personal matter for me, it had nothing to do with it. Do it with a philosophical argument.”

The documentary series was a huge success in the United States. The tour took place in 16 American cities, in arenas that gathered about 20 thousand people. In New York, the launch took place in the famous Madison Square Garden.

“Our time is over in a small community in the Swiss countryside. Now my father was a great evangelical leader in the United States.”

Despite Francis Schaeffer’s enormous influence among evangelicals, he continued to be ignored by the mainstream media. Frank Schaeffer claims that his father’s books were selling five times the bestsellers at the time. But since the publications were being sold in evangelical churches rather than bookshops, the book did not appear on the most-read list in newspapers.

A thousand dolls in the Dead Sea

Something about the success of the documentary upset Frank: The evangelical audience didn’t like the abortion episodes. Religious bystanders were not sensitive to this topic.

Did Frank Schaeffer later convince his father to make a new documentary series? This time only about an abortion? call What happened to the human race? (What happened to the human race?in a free translation).

“I started getting aggressive with my dad. I’d say, ‘If you don’t do an abortion presentation, it’s like you’re pro-abortion.'” “I was using every trick I knew. And for him, the point was ‘Okay, that’s just a little extra money for my son, so I’m going to do it for him.'”

Frank is artistically daring in the new documentary series, with whimsical, groundbreaking images of ghost children wandering the world and an anti-abortion doctor in front of a thousand dolls at Israel’s Dead Sea.

As in the previous series, Schaeffers held another promotional tour. But this time it was a complete failure. In an effort to salvage the quest, the father and son embark on another type of tour: a journey across the United States in search of support from other evangelical pastors.

One of the first contacts. Criswell of the Southern Baptist Convention, the second largest Christian denomination in the United States after the Catholic Church.

“They didn’t even want to hear that,” Frank recalls.

Dr. Criswell said, ‘Why am I participating in this? Why should I tell a pregnant woman she needs a baby? I will not preach this. We tried to convince the editorial board of Christian Today, and they replied: “We think you are wrong. We are not pro-life. We think this is a contradictory issue at best.”

Feminists vs. Evangelicals

But a review praising the film in the New York Post changed the course of the documentary’s history. Other newspapers repeated the column that infuriated the feminists.

Progressive and feminist associations began to protest in front of cinemas to show the film? This in turn attracted the attention of the mainstream press.

“Every time [o protesto das feministas] Featured in the press, throngs of evangelicals took to the streets to support us against these angry feminists, whom they saw as enemies,” recalls Frank Schaeffer. Their agenda is burning bras and advocating for women to have professional careers.

“The feminists have been doing us a great favor. [mulheres protestando], better. We made the news because of these protesters.”

But what started when peaceful demonstrations gradually took on violent features? Violence became the main discourse of the abortion debate in the following decades. Women became targets of violence near abortion clinics.


In 1998, a gynecologist who performed abortions was murdered by an activist. Barnett Nebula was murdered by James Charles Cobb in Amherst, New York.

Selbyan’s niece, Amanda Robb, who says she became an investigative journalist because of her uncle’s murder, devoted part of her life to interviewing anti-abortion activists who committed murders. In her interviews, she says she has found a common pattern: They have all cited Schaeffer’s documentary as the motivation for their anti-abortion activism.

“These people saw the movie that was shown in churches, went to clinics and blocked the entrance. They ended up being arrested, but they were released with a $50 fine, and at night they were at home,” Rob told the BBC.

Among those investigated was Robb James Charles Cope, who had murdered his uncle. Before committing the crime, Cope traveled to Switzerland to meet with the Labrie community. He also wrote a letter to Schaeffers praising the documentaries.

At this point in his life, Frank Schaeffer is no longer involved in anti-abortion campaigns? He rejected many of the doctrines defended by his father, who died in 1984. Frank says he became disillusioned with his father after joining Jerry Falwell, an evangelical pastor of the Moral Majority movement, which advocates against homosexuality.

Francis, who initially included the topic of abortion in the documentary just to appease his son, became a strong advocate against the practice. your book Christian Manifesto (Christian statementin the free translation) of 1981, is still influential among evangelicals who fight abortion.


Has Frank managed to establish a career as a director in Hollywood across multiple genres? From slapstick to apocalyptic science fiction.

But as the years went by, he began to regret the consequences of his documentary about abortion.

“I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life trying to undo the damage I’ve done with this documentary. I don’t think I’ve made any progress in changing the mindset of evangelicals, but what I think I’m talking to is people who have been disillusioned with the evangelical movement and have given up on it,” he says.

Frank Schaeffer wrote memoirs and went on campaigning against the religious right on social media.

“My father’s hands were stained with blood from the death of Barnett Sleepian and so many abortion providers. There is a direct line between what we Schaefer did until Jim Cobb killed a doctor for reading my father’s anti-abortion books while I watched the films they produced. I have no words to express my remorse and the depth of regret for my stupidity and callous disregard of decency and the value of human life.”

“I beg your pardon. I am a very pro-choice advocate and I work to defend women’s rights. My father and I attacked us a lot in the ’70s and ’80s.”

Unfortunately, though, will Schaeffer’s work continue to have repercussions for Americans opposed to abortion? To recruit new activists.

Rusty Thomas, an evangelical clergyman leading the rescue of America? The largest anti-abortion initiative in the United States, activists visit communities to preach about the issue? He summarizes Schaefer’s influence in shaping the abortion debate in the United States.

“Most people consider Schaeffer the father of anti-abortion.”

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