On Dobson’s Retirement by Jim Bennett

     Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family ministries and host of its radio program, is leaving the airwaves. For three decades, he has been the scourge of liberals and a trusted resource for conservative Christians; indeed, it seems people view him as either one extreme or the other. I’m that rare case who is ambivalent about him, so if you’re hoping to read either a hagiography or a broadside, you’re about to be disappointed.

     1.5 million people listen to Dr. Dobson’s program every weekday, and most Christian stations broadcast it. I cut my ministry teeth on Christian radio and I never worked anywhere that didn’t carry the show. Even a decade ago, when I was just starting, Dobson’s influence could not be overestimated. He has come to be viewed as something of a “kingmaker,” and politicians vie for a nod from him on his program; such a gesture could translate into hundreds of thousands of votes. Because he’s so respected by his listeners, he can marshal that enormous audience to bombard Congress with letters and phone calls. And he can organize a boycott quicker than an ACORN staffer can cook the books for a bordello.

     I and my fellow social conservatives owe a great debt to this man. We who grieve over the American holocaust of abortion have a great friend in Jim Dobson. We who view marriage as God’s sacred union of one man and one woman for life – a picture of Christ and the church – have a valued and effective ally in him. We who choose to educate our children at home rather than in public or private schools have found him to be one of our staunchest defenders against NEA propagandists and the paternalistic, intrusive regulatory presence of bureaucratic busybodies.

     Other groups would be quick to thank him as well: For example, those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions are given no hope from establishment psychiatry, and homosexual activists only tell them that the change they seek is mythical; however, Focus’s Love Won Out conferences have helped thousands see that “myth” become a reality. And he has been an outspoken advocate for parents who feel that ADHD diagnoses and mood-altering medications are being foisted on their sons, boys who were guilty of nothing more than the sometimes-inconvenient-but-altogether-normal behaviors of boyhood.

     But just like the rest of us, Dobson has his problems too, one of which is his skin: It’s just far too thin for the path he has chosen. His response to criticism is usually pouty, petty defensiveness. Not a good look for a man in his seventies. I’m just sayin’.

     And there’s something disturbing about his tendency to be star-struck by any celebrity remotely connected to Christianity. When Mel Gibson was plugging The Passion of the Christ, Dobson brought him on and practically canonized him as the apostle to Hollywood. Not long after, Gibson was caught driving drunk and during his arrest, he delivered his now-infamous anti-Semitic conspiracy rant.

     Just this year, Dobson gave 2009 Miss USA 1st runner-up Carrie Prejean the same treatment: To her credit, she had spoken out against same-sex marriage during the pageant, yet she seemed to have no moral dilemma when it came to posing for some prurient photographs. Dobson praised her for the former and had little to say about the latter, holding her out as a fine example of Christian womanhood who had been martyred by the media. I was still program director at a Christian station at that time, and we were given a choice between airing the Prejean interview or using an alternate show. We aired the alternate, and I’m glad.

     But my deepest conflict is over the times that, in my estimation, his patriotic fervor and his ardor for conservative political activism – which are both fine ideals in my book – have appeared almost to rival his zeal for the Gospel. This should never be, and I don’t think it helps the cause of Christ or the cause of conservatism.  My few complaints aside, however, James Dobson has advanced both causes in lots of other ways.

     Over the past few months, the mainstream media types haven’t hidden their celebratory glee over indications that evangelicals, especially Dobson, are becoming less politically and culturally influential. I personally feel that the celebration is premature; I believe this “trend” that they’re celebrating probably results from the combination of their own wishful thinking and their lack of connection to the America that exists outside of N.Y., L.A., and D.C.

     Nevertheless, the celebration is going to continue. Big-time scribblers and talking heads won’t allow reality to interfere with their conclusions. Certainly, the announcement that Dobson will step down in February of 2010 has made the gala even more festive for them, but one thing is for sure: Come March, the media party is going to need a new piñata.

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  • Jim Bennett  On November 5, 2009 at 19:00

    Now comes the news today that Carrie Prejean dropped her lawsuit against the Miss USA people because they discovered she had made a homemade pornographic tape. Brothers and Sisters, we have got to end this trend of getting all worked up over “Christian celebrities.” Having a high public profile does not make one a spiritual colossus, but it does mean that when/if they are caught up in a moral compromise, it’s a much longer fall and a much louder crash.

  • Deborah Armstrong  On November 13, 2009 at 15:28

    This is a balanced account of both Dr. Dobson and Prejean. There is much to like about Dr. Dobson, but I was very much turned off when he and others like him did seem to put celebrity and power above the Bible. I thought Prejean was trouble the first time the media showed her prancing across the screen in the pageant. She screams unstable and I’ll do anything for attention. Good your station had the foresight not to run her interview by Dobson. Some Christians will not question a high profile Christian like Dr. Dobson, but that in itself is not Biblical. By the way, I live conservatively and vote progressive. I don’t want to live in a world created by people like Dobson who cannot recognize their own faults but want to crucify others for theirs.

  • SE  On November 14, 2009 at 22:45

    I overlooked alot of Dobson’s general curmudgeonliness as a good evangelical but he lost me completely when he aired a program probably 10 yrs ago with a few of his board and tearfully repented and renounced his political attachments to focus purely on the gospel of JC. Less than a month later something flashy caught his eye and he was off on another “conservative Christian” rant. I lost much respect for him in that and began to see the hypocrisy in this religio/political marketing engine that the Republican party has built. He became one of the mouthpieces for the “3 defining wedge issues” that have somehow convinced a large mass of the middle and lower middle class that Republican=Christian.
    How amazing that Jesus’ primary issue was with the politically motivated religiosity of the Jewish leaders. It’s just crazy that most people don’t see this for what it is. Deception and hypocrisy. We change this world not be exalting ourselves and our “religion” above those who disagree with us but I believe the word is “humble” ourselves before God first and humbly loving those who disagree with us. Then will we see our land healed…

  • Ray Simard  On November 15, 2009 at 19:37

    I’ve followed the Prejean saga very closely for some time and am a little surprised at how little attention is given to the nature and extent of these “scandals.”

    What these photos and video are in the eyes of God are for her to work out with Him. It’s in the past, for one thing. For what wrong there was, if she has confessed and been forgiven in his eyes, and if her statements about it are sincere, Christians should be the first to embrace her, and rightly.

    But–and here I am rather a maverick–I question the seriousness of the two main issues. These photos are about as pornographic as the SI Swimsuit Edition. If they are immoral, they can’t be terribly so, at least by the world’s standards, and everything else is for her and God to work out.

    Now, would a married Christian couple making a video just like this be immoral? No. A recording is as wrong or as write as what is recorded. If the sex is blessed, the video is no less so, if kept for personal use.

    Carrie was not married, and that’s significant. How it stacks up in God’s eyes is, again, no business of yours or mine. But beyond that, the video is precisely as wrong as the sex–and she deserves no more flak over it than any other young Christian adults who are not adhering to the principles of premarital Chastity. and, right or wrong, that’s a lot of them

    A hypocrite is one who professes one moral code and lives a lower one–AT THE SAME TIME. Those photos and video are in the past. If she has cleared her soul with God and her life and words are consistent, she is no hypocrite.

    She lied when she signed off on the morals clause of the contract; that cannot be denied. It’s no excuse, but I wonder how many others of the ladies in these things would have the same problem if their own closets were opened.

    Let’s give her a break.

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