James Dobson

While Pat Robertson is probably the most famous televangelist, many would argue he is not the most influential. At least not anymore. That title they would give to Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, a group based out of Colorado Springs that purports to tout "traditional family values". (Personally, I don't know what's so traditional or valuable about hatred, bigotry, intolerance and arrogance, but hey, that's just me.)

While Robertson's face may be more well known, Dr. Dobson's voice is probably even more widely recognized. With syndicated radio programs heard on about 4000 US stations and another 3000+ stations in 116 different countries (and 20 different languages), Dobson's "traditional" viewpoint is heard by about 200 million people each day. Dr. Dobson is a licensed psychologist in the state of California and has been a staunch "defender" of the family for more than two decades. The only problem is that Dobson's definition of "family" doesn't fit about half the families in America.

Ironically, despite being heard by so many every day, few people realize just how powerful Dr. James Dobson is. And he seems to prefer it that way, closely guarding his paradoxical anonymity, especially when it comes to how much power he wields in the political arena. The Family Research Council, headed by Gary Bauer, was founded by Dobson and is the main lobbying group for Focus on the Family. Dobson, like Robertson, wants to return this country to the era of the 1950s, when white, Christian, heterosexual males held all the power and their wishes were seen as commands by their wives and children. Back to a time when blacks stayed on their half of the bus and drank from their own water fountains. A time when there was no competition for jobs except from other white heterosexual Christian males. After all, losing out to an equal is not as humiliating as losing out to a woman or a black. [Note: the statement immediately prior to this was heavily laced with sarcasm.]

While Dobson wants many to believe that the advice given on his shows and in the magazines put out by Focus on the Family is purely psychologically based, in truth, much of his advice comes from a Christian foundation— and a very conservative and literal translation of the Bible is at the core of that foundation. This is rather ironic since Dobson is formally trained in psychology but, according to Time magazine, he has no real formal training in religion. Yes, you read that right: the man who seems to think he is (or at least wants to be) the moral compass of this country is relying on his own understanding of Biblical teachings. Granted, that is the way it should be for everyone. The problem is that Dobson, like Robertson, wants the entire country to live according to his understanding.

Dobson's power is undeniable. In 1998, Dobson was angered by the fact that the Republican party did not have strong enough language in their party platform dealing with abortion and homosexuality and other volatile subjects. Dobson uncharacteristically turned to the secular media and essentially threatened the Republican party: either they adopt a more conservative (and religious) stance or he would lead a mass exodus of Christians from the party. Such an exodus would have been devastating to the Republican party. Apparently, the Republicans took him seriously. Can anyone today deny that the Republican party is much more in line with the ultra-conservative philosophies of James Dobson than it was in 1998?

Republicans are not the only ones over whom Dobson seeks to exert his control. Many say Sandy Rios, former president of Concerned Women for America (a conservative women's group promoting "traditional values"), was forced to step down by Dr. Dobson. Apparently, Ms. Rios did not agree with the FMA (Federal Marriage Amendment) that Dr. Dobson was pushing because it allowed for civil unions. [Author's note: In other words, it wasn't discriminatory enough for Ms. Rios.] That Dobson has the power to influence the leadership of independent, private groups outside of his own should scare you— a lot.

Yet James Dobson is still so very popular. His appeal is that he does, in fact, consistently advocate that people in this country need to slow down. To not be so concerned about that job promotion or a new car and to invest time and energy into strengthening family bonds: to get to really know their children and spend quality time with them. This is something that most of us probably wish we could do and it makes a lot of sense. The problem is that Dobson not only wants you to do this, but he wants to tell you how to do it, what kind of family you should have, what ideals and goals that family should hold, what beliefs to follow, etc. Ironically, Dobson is so busy with his own schedule that he rarely has time for his own family.

Dobson, like most of the "big names" in the radical religious right, uses fear to get listeners to do anything from donate money to call their local represenatives regarding an upcoming piece of legislation. Playing on the fear of the unknown and reminding the listener that one's eternal soul is at stake, Dobson gets his listeners regurgitating the soundbites that then become the bait for future discussions and actions, all of which are based on emotions (ie, fear) rather than reason— or even facts in some cases.

Mention the "homosexual agenda" and you have the ear of millions of Christians across the nation. Or "activist judges". Or "liberal media". In truth, there is no "homosexual agenda" (other than to receive equal rights), "activist judges" are simply those judges who toss out laws that violate the US Constitution (which is exactly what they're not only paid to do but duty bound to do) and the "liberal media" is actually owned by a handful of very conservative conglomerates. Dobson applies his understanding of the workings of the human mind, garnered from his psychological training, to subtly influence the thinking of millions of people. His approach is hugely successful as witnessed by the recent election. Dobson is the "power behind the throne" (compared to Pat Robertson who wants to be the power on the throne) and that is how he seems to prefer it.

Another of Dobson's "tricks" is to speak the truth, but not the whole truth. For example, in an interview with Stan Guthrie of Christianity Today (July 2004), Dobson speaks of the need to pass the FMA (Federal Marriage Amendment that would define marriage as one man and one woman.) Dobson states:

"A mother and a father form the bedrock of the nuclear family. This has been true in every culture, throughout history, since the beginning of time. No society in human history has ever defined marriage as anything other than between men and women."

The very term "nuclear" family is a rather new one and the truth of the matter is that in all societies up until relatively recent times, the extended family was the most common form of living arrangement. Even today, remnants of the extended family are seen all over our country. A couple years ago, when I drove one of my son's friends home after a scout meeting, he pointed out where all his aunts and uncles and grandparents lived— all along the same street that his house was on. The grandfather had once farmed a huge farm and as time went on, and his kids got married, he gave them portions of the land. The entire family now resides on what was formerly the family homestead. Additionally, in ancient cultures, men had more than one wife and those wives and their children all lived together in the same home. Oftentimes, this home would also include parents and sometimes even siblings and their families. So to suggest that a nuclear family consisting of one mother and one father has always been the ideal is misleading if not intentionally deceptive.

It also ignores the fact that other cultures have recognized and affirmed non-heterosexual unions and individuals. For many aboriginal tribes, bisexuals were called "two-spirits" and were often esteemed as the shaman/priest(ess) of the tribe. And finally, it ignores plain old common sense. In ancient societies, there was much more emphasis on producing children because of the high infant mortality rates. While they may not have understood how it worked, they did know that it took a man and a woman and sex to create a baby. It was only when societies began to have "leisure" time and the emphasis was more on the relationship between the two individuals that they began exploring other forms of relationships. But there can be no doubt that history shows the recognition of and celebration of gay relationships. So while there is some truth to Dobson's statements, there is also some false information and lots of incomplete information.

In another interview with Sean Hannity and Alan Colmbes, Dobson responds to Mr. Hannity's regarding Sen. Kerry's discussion of Mary Cheney. In part, he says:

"There was something that Senator Kerry said that bothers me even more than outing Vice President Cheney's daughter, which I thought was terrible. It wasn't fair. It was an invasion of her privacy. I don't even know if she's outed herself."

Remember that this interview was conducted on October 14, 2004. Mary Cheney's orientation was an "issue" in the 2000 elections, but she was out of the closet long before that. Ms. Cheney worked for Coors as a liaison on GLBT issues and policies after the GLBT community boycotted Coors for their unfriendly policies towards gays. During the vice-presidential debates on October 5, 2004— a little more than a week before Dobson's comments— the moderator, Senator Edwards and Mr. Cheney himself all refer to his daughter being gay! And Cheney even thanks Senator Edwards for his kind words regarding his daughter. How then can Mr. Kerry mentioning Ms. Cheney's orientation be "an invasion of her privacy"? Again, Dr. Dobson is appealing to emotions by suggesting that a Democratic candidate has no respect for an individual's privacy. [A complete transcript of the vice presidential debates can be found here.] In all fairness, Mr. Colmbes later corrects Dr. Dobson's misstatements regarding the "outing" of Mary Cheney and even asks why it should be an embarrassment, but Dobson spins it back and says that it was a "cheap shot" and Mr. Hannity backs him up by saying that Senator Kerry did it for "political points". And then the interview is over. No chance for any further rebuttal.

Dr. Dobson's statement may, however, not be as "innocently ignorant" as it appears. On February 24, 2004, CNN's "Newsnight with Aaron Brown" dealt with the issue of gay marriage. Dr. Dobson was a guest on that show, and earlier in the program, Mr. Brown was discussing the dearmary.com website, started by John Aravosis, and refers to Mary Cheney as "the openly gay daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney." This author finds it hard to believe that someone as shrewd and learned as Dr. Dobson was not aware that Mary Cheney is an openly gay woman. I believe that the charges Dr. Dobson leveled against Senator Kerry were intentionally meant to anger conservative Christians as well as those who are concerned with the right to privacy— something that crosses all party lines. It was he, not Senator Kerry, who was going for "political points."

It is sometimes difficult to understand exactly what Dobson is advocating and why. For example, his opposition to the UN Conventions of the Rights of the Child has been discussed in depth in at least two issues of the Focus on the Family magazine— January, 1993 and July, 1994. He calls it a "threat" and a "dangerous document." Yet at the same time, Dobson lobbied AGAINST a bill that would have added password protection to phone sex lines and other "900" numbers because to accept it would mean that he had to tacitly condone the continued existence of pornography, something he would not do. Was Dobson more concerned with pushing through his own agenda (ie, banning porn altogether) rather than protecting children from having easy access to dial-a-porn sites?

One of Dobson's main detractors is Gil Alexander-Moegerle, who helped to found Focus on the Family and was Dobson's right hand man for more than 10 years. Mr. Alexander-Moegerle wrote a book entitled "James Dobson's War On America", which reveals a side of Dobson that, it's my guess, he doesn't want a whole lot of people to see. [You can view some excerpts here.] Like Robertson, Dobson has what some would call questionable business practices. According to Mr. Alexander-Moegerle, "Most Focus on the Family broadcasts give the appearance of a half-hour talk show but are actually thirty-minute infomercials for a Focus product." (p. 50) Mr. Alexander-Moegerle also discusses in his book how Dobson uses his tax exempt status to his advantage when competing in the publishing world for the dollars of conservative Christian readers.

Dobson himself seems to see nothing wrong with this because, according to his belief in the doctrine called "the second work of Grace" (or alternately "entire sanctification"), he can no longer sin. He has experienced not only his original born again moment, but a second moment of crisis which has "morally perfected" him and he is no longer able to consciously or deliberately sin. Think on that for a moment and let the idea really sink in. In the meantime, let me share a story with you.

I received an email— if someone knows the source, please let me know so I can give credit where credit is due. It tells of an English professor who, nearing the end of class, wrote six words on the blackboard:

woman without her man is nothing

He didn't capitalize, punctuate or otherwise distinguish between the words so as not to give his students any preconceived ideas as to what the sentence meant. He told his students to make those words into a sentence. The only stipulation being that the words had to appear in the order given.

The next day, the professor asked his students for their answers. The majority of women in the class had come up with:

Woman: without her, man is nothing.

The majority of men had come up with:

Woman, without her man, is nothing.

The same six words. Two totally different meanings.

I use this story to illustrate the real danger of men like Dr. Dobson. By taking the words of Jesus, and changing the punctuation and emphasis, they have taken a message of Love and turned it into one of discrimination, intolerance, bigotry and hatred. But because of Dr. Dobson's belief in "entire sanctification", he does not believe he can be wrong.1 He is on what he truly believes is a mission from God and that belief makes him utterly persevere. Dobson is out to make sure that this becomes a nation governed by HIS understanding of God's message and desire and if he has to make you live according to beliefs you do not hold, so be it. If he is allowed, he will make this into a nation wherein those of differing faiths have a say in politics only so far as it does not violate his Christian vision. Will you allow him to do that? How can we stop him? For answers to that question, please read my thoughts on the topic.

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1The doctrine of "second work of Grace" teaches that once this gift has been received, the receiver is unable— even willfully (by choice)— to commit a sin. Let me reiterate that because this is a very important point. James Dobson believes that he has received the "second work of Grace". That means that he believes it is utterly impossible for him ever again in his lifetime to commit a sin, do something that is immoral, do something that is wrong or do something that is ungodly. Therefore, if he can do it, it is not a sin, it is moral, it is right and it is godly. He can do WHATEVER he wants and, in his mind, it is the moral, right and godly thing to do because he is not capable of doing anything differently. And this man reaches 200,000,000 million people EVERY DAY. Now do you see the danger James Dobson presents to the US Constitution?

Click on any of the links below to read more articles about Dr. Dobson.
James Dobson: Flaming Liberal? James Dobson: Flaming Liberal?
Synopsis: An article, written by a conservative Christian, that illustrates the hypocrisy of people like Dobson who decry the actions they themselves engage in.
Advice from Dr. Dobson Advice from Dr. Dobson
Synopsis: A satirical Christian site which says that its purpose is to act as a "a conduit for imaginative writers, humorists and cartoonists to keep evangelical church organizations, institutions, traditions, leaders and followers true to their New Testament focus."
Lots of Articles Lots of Articles
Synopsis: Lots of articles not only on Dr. Dobson but on Focus on the Family as well. This site appears to have been last updated in 1998, but the articles are still as valid today as they were then.
Dobson on Corporal Punishment Dobson on Corporal Punishment
Synopsis: From the Religious Tolerance folks. While you're there, search their site for more articles about Dr. Dobson, both pro and con.
Archive of Gil Alexander-Moegerle's Website Archive of Gil Alexander-Moegerle's Website
Synopsis: This is an archive of the old website of Gil Alexander-Moegerle. Sometimes the links don't work, so copy the URL and paste it in your location bar and it should come up. If you only read the first several pages, which I know work properly, it will give you an idea of what kind of man James Dobson is.
Complaint Asks IRS to Probe Conservative Christian Group Complaint Asks IRS to Probe Conservative Christian Group
Synopsis: A group called "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington" has asked the IRS to investigate James Dobson and the organization he founded, alleging they both engaged in campaigning either for or against specific candidates for office, something a non-profit organization or any of its official representatives are not permitted to do.

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