I have known the Christian Right from the inside. They are literally my family. I eat Christmas dinner with them. My artwork adorns the offices of a religious right congressman. I have known this movement since its inception.
I listened to James Dobson when his ministry consisted of a radio show and films that would keep us busy during the Sunday night service, so the pastor wouldn’t have to preach again (that poor man–can you imagine Sunday morning and Sunday night services?).
But somewhere in college, when they were really gaining in power, I realized I couldn’t be a part of it.
Dobson’s op-ed in the New York Times proclaimed that “If neither of the two major political parties nominates an individual who pledges himself or herself to the sanctity of human life, we will join others in voting for a minor-party candidate.”
As we know, Dobson’s a huge voice. He can mobilize millions with a single plea. He has been focused, determined, and tremendously effective.
He organizes leaders like no one else, giving common voice and ground to Baptists, Charismatics, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, some Mainliners, and a host of other Evangelical faith communities. The idea that in the 1990s we could think of “Evangelicals” as one hulking entity is amazing. These groups actually hate each other, but somehow, he got them to throw down their debates on Acts chapter two, set aside their arguments on the dispensation of God’s grace, stop predicting who the anti-Christ might be, and even quit worrying if the tribulation was going to happen before the rapture or after it.
Through Dobson’s genius, they found a way to put aside their monumental differences. They let go of all of it, so they could take up their swords and focus on the family. We now paint all of these groups with the broad brush of “Evangelical,” and we know longer think, “Oh! Those are the people who bring good news!” but we think, “homophobic, sexist, pro-war, pro-death penalty, Republican.” (Forgive me, Evangelicals out there. I know it’s much more complex than that, I’m not saying that is who you are. I’m saying this is now the perception for most people….)
Their agenda is clear: The defense of the family means no abortion, no same gender relationships. (Question: Are they still fighting against having women in the workforce? That was huge for Dobson in the 80s, but I’m wondering if he had to give that one up, given our economy. It’s interesting that he added “herself,” as if a woman could be an option. Was that for show?)
But, even as Dobson pulls out his strong arm of defense at this time, we cannot help but notice that the sword…it’s shaking a bit. He can still get an Op-Ed piece in the NYT. He can still claim that 40 percent of his followers made up the Bush vote. But can he get his way? Can he get the Republican Party to bow once again to his bullying? He’s certainly not keeping his power in a new generation.
Ironically, Dobson’s critical error in engaging young Christians is that he is not standing up for the sanctity of human life. He fights against environmental efforts in the Evangelical movement. He refuses to stand for children’s health care (those are our children, our family!). His policies work against the poor. He refuses to stand up for peace in Iraq, which is killing so many precious lives every day.
And, if Dobson loses his young constituency and he loses the Republican party for his soap box…well…that leaves him pretty unfocused.