As a “small-D” democrat, I think James Dobson’s input is as important as anyone else’s, AND I think he is dead wrong when he starts talking politics. I don’t think he should shut up, but if he is in retreat, it is probably good news for everybody. I hope it means the political movement he has helped to lead will break up and that his former followers will begin to approach politics from a different perspective. To some extent, I think that exactly what’s happening with younger evangelicals.
After the last post, the question was raised about whether I'm guilty of a double standard for calling Dobson a “Republican soldier” while not calling out folks like Jim Wallis or Rick Warren for their political activism. My first reaction is, Hey, if you give me enough time, I’ll probably write inflammatory posts about everybody!
--Rick Warren’s political views are less clear to me than Dobson’s. And he doesn’t say crazy things, as far as I know. He also seems to have a sort of thoughtful uncertainty going on, which I like and respect.
--As for Jim Wallis, I generally agree with what he says about politics and with his actions (Call to Renewal, Consistent Ethic of Life, Mobilization to End Poverty, etc). He’s definitely a leftie. But I don’t think he compromises anything about his faith in order to be an activist.
Politics—especially electoral politics—is all about alliances and coalitions. When we’re a member of a coalition, such as a political party, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I ignoring anything I believe in in order to go along with the group?”
I think Dobson and the religious right are compromising most of the "social gospel" in their alliance with big business within the Republican Party. I think folks like Dobson went in with good intentions, but over the years the alliance shaped their faith into a stripped-down, finger-pointing Christianity that is pleasantly convenient for big business. Ask yourself this:
Would Fox News, the Chamber of Commerce, or Halliburton’s Board of Directors be uncomfortable with anything that Dobson preaches?
If the answer is no, then it must be a very narrow and selective Christianity he's preaching.
And what do you know, that's exactly what we find! From what I gather, Dobson is pretty orthodox about what I would call the supernatural parts of the faith (the identify of Jesus, the Resurrection, etc). All good. But in Dobson's view, how does this radical, blow-your-mind, faith affect how we should interact with the rest of the world? Well, he's really heavy on sexual issues and abortion and light on everything else. Kind of a weird take on following Jesus in today's world, if you ask me.
To illustrate Dobson's narrow view of the social implications of Christian belief, let's look at two things.
1. "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America" Focus on the Family released this 16-page fantasy in October 2008 to mobilize evangelical support for Republican candidates in the run-up to the election. (Thanks to Mason for linking to it in a previous comment!)
First of all, I'll admit I couldn't read all of it. When I got to page six and he was still talking about gay sex, I gave up. So then I decided to look at the frequency of certain words in the letter. (You can do this by pressing CTRL or Apple key + F and then typing in a word.) Here's what I found:
- "Sex" (or some derivative of the word) appears 54 times.
- "Abortion" appears 13 times.
- "Pornography" appears 7 times.
- "War" or "Peace" appears 7 times. Combined.
- "Poor" or "Poverty" appears 5 times. Combined. And two of those are used mockingly to attack an imagined response by Obama to future terrorist attacks.
- "Disease" appears 2 times. Both in footnotes.
Alright...so he wrote this letter trying to describe how bad things could get under Democratic Party dominance. He wanted to stir fellow Christians to political action. And he cast homosexuality as the great scourge of 2012. Not cancer, AIDS, water scarcity, war, poverty, hunger, climate change, or authoritarianism. But homosexuality. Why in the world should that be the major focus of Christian activism, Dr. Dobson?
2. Focus On The Family's website At FOTF's website, if you click on the "Social Issues" tab to see what they're focused on, you'll find these issues:
- "Bioethics and Sanctity of Life" -- subtopics are Abortion, Euthanasia, and Stem Cell Research
- "Education" -- First sentence says, "American public schools have become a frontline in efforts by gay activists to indoctrinate our children to believe dangerous and misleading messages about homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender identify issues." That's apparently the most important issue with education right now.
- "Gambling" -- The only completely nonsexual social issue they list!
- "Law and the Courts" -- largely about gay marriage and abortion
- "Marriage and Family" -- largely about gay marriage
- "Sexual Identity"Sexual morality is tremendously important, but not so important that it should be Christians' main focus in society and our face to the world. To make it so is to be, I think, intentionally narrow.
So why have Dobson and the religious right so narrowed their social focus? In part, it's because they've become reliable "Republican soldiers," as I said before. They've been playing on big business' team for so long that they've adopted big business positions. They've had to adjust their faith accordingly to remove the cognitive dissonance of being Christians who--for example--campaign against minimum wage increases and nuclear arms reductions. As I heard a pastor say on the Sunday before the 2004 elections, "You know, the economy, foreign policy, all that stuff, God's not real interested in that." He then delivered a sermon about abortion and homosexuality that quoted recent Republican talking points, but he said he couldn't tell us who to vote for. Wink, wink.