Somebody, please focus


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.

4 thoughts on “Somebody, please focus

  1. On Oct 14 I’m going to preach a sermon called “Family Doesn’t Matter” because the text is the 10 lepers, where Jesus specifically commends “the foreigner” who returned to thank him. So I thought I’d plunge into: Who is the Samaritan today? A parallel question could be: What does it mean to “focus on the family?” Whose family? Do you mind if I quote from the above? because I love that you were “inside” which I wasn’t, and I love that you give such a condensed history. I’ll also borrow from that Barna article. Thanks!

  2. You are right in calling Dobson a genius, and I would call that genius political. I used to listen to him on the radio in the early 1990s, when Bush Sr was president, and it indeed influneced my church to become more politically active. But you have to give Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell credit for that also. My church never could endorse candidates by law, but when Robertson ran for the 1988 presidency, they heavily implied that there was only one party to vote from if we were true Christians, and we knew what that party was *hint* *hint*. They even went so far as to say that an incompetent Christian in office is better then the most accomplished non-Christian. And that attitude seemed to follow every church I attended since. Never before that time had I seen the Christian church so blatently political.

    I have no idea what Dobson is endorsing these days. I have not listened to him in many years.

  3. That is a very interesting article you linked to from the Barna Group. This in particular caught my attention:

    Their perceptions about Christianity were not always accurate, but what surprised me was not only the severity of their frustration with Christians, but also how frequently young born again Christians expressed some of the very same comments as young non-Christians.”

    Not long ago, I led a small group Bible Study in my home with lots of young people. It seemed that they were always apologizing to me for the behavior of the older Christians (I think they meant Christians my age – *groan*). When I left Christianity, the younger ones were the only ones who continued to converse with me about their Christianity, and a few still do to this day. And I don’t mean they are trying to debate me back into the fold, I mean they are still seeking my advice on Christian life! But just the other day, one young woman apologized to me *again* for the older churchgoers’ behavior of abandoning me.

    I just led a little Bible study, so my sample size is small, but have you observed the same thing that the Barna Group and I have?

    Here is an interesting article by Robert Price on the changing sexual mores in evangelical Christianity. It discusses the same thing from his perspective. Check it out:

  4. Ruth, of course I don’t mind. That’s the fun of this whole net thing! Sound like a great sermon. How far in advance do you plan them? Does that work?

    HIS, Thanks for the link. That’s fascinating.

    I’ve certainly seen the same frustrations between Christians and non-Christians. Often it’s because they’re right. There’s a lot of wisdom in the critiques. It’s hard to listen, without getting defensive. You know, when you’ve given your life to something, it’s difficult to hear what some people think about it…but if religious leaders can learn to hear it, and take it seriously, we would learn a lot.

    You’re also right that Pat and Jerry had a great deal to do with the rise to power. Now that Jerry’s passed, I wonder if they will be able to hand the baton off to someone else.

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