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Betty Smartt Carter


Son of a Preacher Man

A memoir by Frank Schaeffer.

If you happened to grow up as the conflicted child of evangelical missionaries (like my husband) or just the overlooked offspring of a zealous preacher (like me), then Frank Schaeffer's 1992 novel Portofino more than paid for itself in counseling fees. "Read this," you could say to your psychiatric other, "and you'll understand my whole childhood. Except I never had the Mediterranean, or the prosciutto."

I loved Portofino. Almost against my will I loved it. It came from the imagination of a guy I'd disliked since high school, when I had to watch all of How Should We Then Live three—count them—three times (maybe it was two). Frank directed his father Francis in those Christian documentaries, and I sided with my big brother, who said that the Schaeffers oversimplified history. Mostly by then I was just sick of everything the evangelical world pushed toward me. When Francis and Edith Schaeffer visited Wheaton in my freshman year, the year before Francis died, I participated in an orgy of mock-clapping and stomping before they came out onstage. Maybe the Schaeffers thought the loud adulation was real, and maybe it was for some of the people who joined in. For me it was one more chance to be obnoxious and unkind. I had a lot of chances back then.

Which brings me back to Schaeffer the Younger—"Frankie" in those days—a firebrand writer and speaker who also tended to be obnoxious and unkind, though in a different way. Wheaton never hosted Frankie while I was there, maybe because he accused some well-liked professors of being wishy-washy on abortion.

I agreed with him about the personhood of the unborn, but I disliked his personal attacks on people who disagreed with him or his father. I thought if we ever stood in the same room, I'd probably chuck something at him, like a film projector, or a copy of Whatever Happened to the Human Race.

Years passed, Frankie Schaeffer faded from public view, and then one day some friend gave me Portofino and I zinged through ...

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