Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Onward Christian Soldier: James Dobson.

James Clayton Dobson, PhD, is a psychologist and founder of Focus on the Family- a nonprofit organization formed in 1977. He is a conservative evangelical Christian, and preaches his line on a daily radio program named after his organization (which is based in Colorado Springs, CO). His claims of having 200 million listeners in 164 countries are impossible to substantiate. But obviously many Americans, including some prominent ones, are listening to him. His program is even televised daily on 80 stations. Monthly Focus on the Family bulletins are inserted in church programs and passed out during services. He has his own media empire. And his credentials are outstanding- he is a long-time Nazarene and has received "entire sanctification", which means he has been cleansed of all sin and is thus "morally perfect". It doesn't really matter that he has no formal theological training.

Dobson first gained national prominence by appealing to Christian parents to take a hard line with their kids. His book Dare to Discipline (1970, 1972, 1977) empowered countless right-minded folk to once again spank their children's buttocks (his obsession seems slightly creepy to me, considering his son is adopted). Thank God that Dobson included a note of caution: he wrote, "It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely." But then again, he also wrote "When you are defiantly challenged, win decisively."- which doesn't seem like a counsel for restraint. He follows that gem up with, "as surely as a dog will occasionally challenge the authority of his leaders, so will a little child β€” only more so." And he said that if a child cries too long from a spanking then he would, "require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears." It seems like that methodology could extend the encounter all night.

Fortunately for women in need of Christian guidance, Dobson provides instructions for them too. He points out that while both men and women are created in God's image, marriage roles require women to submit to the authority of their husbands. He also warns against women in leadership positions in such areas as church and government. But unlike the holy restraint he offers females, Dobson has extended his gift of freedom to homosexuals. Focus on the Family spent $500,000 in Colorado during the 2004 election to promote a ban on same-sex marriage. They also sponsor a program ("Love Won Out") aimed at converting gays to heterosexuality. Dobson believes that homosexuality is a choice that can be "broken free from", and claims that gays "deeply resent" being told the truth of their plight- that is, they selected their inclination "in pursuit of sexual excitement or some other motive".

Perhaps, as Dobson suggests, that motive was to destroy the public schools. He believes that children's symbols are being used as homosexual propaganda in public education. As fas as sex education is concerned, Dobson would like it limited to abstinence-only programming. He would also like to see Christian teachers introduce Christian prayer groups. But he is not in favor of teacher-led prayer in the public schools because he fears that teachers would encourage students β€œto pray to Allah, Buddha, or the goddess Sophia against the wishes of the parents and/or students.” Obviously it would corrupt their young minds to petition fake gods. Dobson promotes a simple solution to the challenge of educating our vulnerable and suggestible youth- private school vouchers and tax credits for religious schools.

Luckily for Dobson's minions, he has not limited himself to involvement in spiritual or moral matters. In 1981 he formed the Family Research Council, with the aim of increasing his own political influence. His speaking fee certainly benefitted- he began to receive $35K for a single weekend seminar. He spent some of those early, heady days railing against porn, visiting Times Square hot spots to experience its evil decadence firsthand. He took time out of his schedule to hang out with fellow Republican Ted Bundy on death row. Through an extended effort his organization was able to stymie US support for the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child. But it took years before other Christian leaders like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell stepped aside for him.

However, by 2004 Slate magazine was calling him "America's most influential evangelical leader". They credited him with the Bush victories in Florida and Ohio in 2000 and 2004, respectively. Dobson is also known to have provided a high level of support for conservative Supreme Court nominees Roberts and Alito. But apparently the Republicans have not adequately advanced his anti-gay, anti-abortion agenda. Dobson has threatened to bring the entire Republican party down if they fail the mission. He even briefly threatened non-involvement in the 2006 midterm elections (though his eventual participation didn't end up being a large factor in an indirect referendum against Christian-Right-Golden-Boy, George W. Bush). Several senators and representatives near and dear to the heart of the Evangelical Christian Movement were replaced.

Dobson's future in politics?

So who will Dobson and the Christian Right select to be their representative in the next presidential campaign? A recent council meeting of high-profile Christian Right leaders resulted in a substantial level of dissatisfaction with the presidential prospects of 2008. The three front-running Republican candidates all have the merest hints of social liberalism, and none of them seem to be natural successors to the Bush mantle. Both John McCain and Rudy Giuliani support embryonic stem cell research, and oppose a federal marriage amendment. Perhaps Dobson will embrace Mitt Romney (past governor of Massachusetts) , despite the fact that Romney only recently converted to the anti-abortion camp. Could Dobson find it within himself to back a Mormon?

Or maybe Dobson will form a coalition with other Christian evangelical leaders to back a "dark horse" with a more socially conservative bent. Mike Huckabee, former governor of the state of Arkansas, seems to meet those requirements. He's a former pastor and served as president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. He's rabidly pro-life, against same-sex marriage, and an ardent supporter of creationism. To his detriment, the Cato Institute gave him a grade of "F" for his spending and tax policy (he increased state spending by over 65% during his ten years as governmental head of Arkansas). That's not going to help his appeal with fiscally conservative Christians.


Anonymous Ricjunette said...

Keep up the good work.

6:20 AM  

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