James Dobson

Yesterday I heard the news that Dr James Dobson stepped down from his role as chairman of the Focus on the Family ministry. I have mixed emotions about Dr Dobson and his ministry and wasn't sure if I would say anything about this transition. Then I read a blog post from my cyber-friend Julie that said it all for me. Here are two excerpts from her post:
For ten years, I listened to Dobson's daily program and got much support and help in my tasks as a stay-at-home mom. I heard programs on homeschooling, Creative Memories photo albums, how to handle toddlers, ways to find joy in ordinary life, tips for keeping your marriage healthy, how to live on one income, decorating for Christmas on a budget, dealing with in-laws, recovering from an abusive childhood. I heard lectures given by some of the biggest Christian writers and speakers all without having to leave home to go to a big conference in another city. I felt encouraged in my daily life: I could do this, it wasn't too hard, I could be close to my children and keep my family together.
Dobson became enamored of the political process and the possibility of shaping policy through the muscle he'd developed in the family ministry. I was on board for the anti-abortion agenda, but I've never supported his position on gay marriage or prayer in the schools. Yet the courting of morally questionable Republicans (whose own families were hardly models of the kind of health and spirituality Focus intended to cultivate) and his increasingly shrill reaction to those in opposition made me withdraw support from Focus on the Family.
I recommend the reading of Julie's entire post. I so echo Julie's thoughts - Focus on the Family is such a mixed bag. So much of Dr Dobson's ministry has helped so many young families.. I can still remember his great video series back in the late 1970s.. he helped me to become a better husband and father. Yet the ministry of Focus has become mired down in politics and known predominantly for their anti-gay political positions.

I think that it is sad when someone so successful like Dr Dobson.. with a call to minister to families.. is diverted from that call and gets sucked into politics. What do you think?


  1. I never felt much kinship with Dobson or his media empire, even when my kids were young, I was happily ensconced within evangelicalism and his parenting advice was being promoted to me by people I admired and trusted. His brand of schmaltz and sentimentality in "supporting the family" didn't ring true to me - it seemed more about providing a cover for parental authoritarianism and pressing men and women into conformist roles in their marriages and families rather than consideration for the unique needs of individuals. My own work with youth in residential treatment also exposed the flaws in his presuppositions about kids, even though he did weave some worthwhile child developmental psychology into the mix. And I thought all that BEFORE the political entanglements became so obvious.

    Seeing step down from his corporate CEO (or whatever) role means less to me than the day when he gives up his radio program. So there are no mixed feelings about him on my part. I won't miss him at all.

  2. I wish to heaven we didn't have to depend on preachers to teach morality.... I want godly politians that will stand up for what is right, and let the preachers stay in the pulpit!

  3. Thanks Wanda.. guess there has always been this tension.. always seems to have been religious people who are involved in the process.. I am thinking about Carrie Nation, Martin Luther King Jr and others. Sometimes their influence is felt for many years.

    I think that Dr Dobson got tired of dealing with the after affects of things like pornography (he was on Reagan's task force) and decided to jump into politics to try to change the culture.

    For me, I just wish that our governmental leaders would do something about the immoral debt that they have created and are still creating.

  4. I have a unique perspective on Dr. Dobson, due to my time working for a fellow para-church in Colorado Springs about 10 years ago. This was during the Gender-Neutral Bible controversy, a controversy in which Dobson was heavily involved.

    My feelings toward him are very sour as a result of some of the things he did during that. (He damaged a hurt some very good friends along the way, and he burned some well-built bridges he shouldn't have) I've said to many people regarding his political involvement: it is very intentional on his part. And I don't think that's okay.

    I also know many mothers and fathers that feel like failure because Dr. Dobson's methods on parenting didn't work for their kids. It makes me very sad to know that people see his methods as gospel. Or put so much pressure on themselves because they think any method, not just Dobson's, is a sure-fire way to bring up a good kid who follows the Lord.

  5. Thanks Stephanie.. your comment provoked a memory of my friend telling me of the cult of the perfect Christian family.

    I so resonate with that because I experienced a family meltdown when my first wife died.. we were falling apart.. kid doing drugs.. and other family members reacting to his pain and behavior while we were dealing with our own.

    The quazi-cult-induced shame of this situation drove me underground and caused me to live a secret life in church. Fortunately I eventually (it took me years) escaped the family cult environment and began to heal.

    Recently a friend told me of the way that church folks ostracized them because their son's girlfriend had a baby out of wedlock. Simply sad.

  6. When talking about the bias with which we approach scripture, I have often used James Dobson as one extreme, contrasting him with Jim Wallis.

    Several years ago one of the right-wing talk radio stations in our area aired a short daily broadcast from Dobson. I was channel surfing on my radio on the way to work when I stumbled onto that station, just as Dobson was saying something like, "We need to take back our country, electing Christians to every public office. Then we can return to the moral sanity we had in the 1950s and 1960s. Then we can pass laws to restore morality in our country."

    I was stunned to hear that. Ask an African-American who lived in Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, etc. in 1955 if that was a time of moral sanity in our country. Ask any single mom who was told she couldn't consider a whole range of occupations because of her gender. And in those jobs she could have, she would have to endure sexual discrimination or sometimes outright sexual abuse with no legal recourse. If, as a result of that sexual assault she became pregnant, she would either have to quit her job or have an unsafe, illegal abortion, putting her life at risk.

    There was also the societal refusal to deal with the issues of alcoholism, child abuse, etc. And smoking was so pervasive. Doctors were even used to advertise certain brands.

    And the average church in our country had such a distorted view of scripture. Bill Gothard is a prime example of that old school. Dobson would love for us to return to a repressive, openly racist, misogynistic society.

    The whole idea of passing laws to enforce morality--what a slippery slope. Where does it stop? Public nudity is illegal, but in some Christian colleges, any public display of affection (PDA), even holding hands, is deemed immoral. Would Dobsonites try to criminalize PDA?

    I am not saying that I applaud the morality of our society. Not at all. It's just that there's a price to freedom. As Chuck Swindoll said, "If grace isn't being abused by some people in your church, you aren't preaching grace enough."

  7. Thx Gary.. good perspectives on the extremes of Dobson and Wallis.. and I loved that Swindoll quote!

  8. Passing laws to enforce morality...I always cringe when I hear people mock the idea. All laws enforce morality. Tried to murder anyone lately? It's against the law. It is against the law because it is wrong. All laws either encourage or condemn a certain behavior. It's not a matter of enforcing morality or not enforcing morality. It's whose morality are we going to enforce?

  9. preach it, gary!

    KB, thank you for your always thoughtful comments.

  10. I used to listen to Dobson a few years ago, but I was always bothered by his political views.
    I hope that he will find the grace that none of us deserve.
    I also hope that he will learn to extend that grace to people who are different from him.

  11. As a single working mom I would listen to him when my son was a toddler as I drove to work. Many days I would arrive at my office in tears because of his lack of understanding that some of us just don't have the option of staying home with our kids....believe me I would have loved to.

    I stopped listening long before he got all political.

  12. I don't mind so much his involvement in politics as how he is in involved in politics.

    The phrase "sucked into politics" isn't very charitable. For some God is calling them to do that and I believe it is a legitimate expression of being salt.

    I think it would have been better if they were able to separate Focus from the political activity more.

    I personally agree with most of his political positions, but do disagree with the way he has communicated those positions on occasion.

    I think his stepping down is a good thing for Focus, and not so much for political reasons. After his stroke he realized he needed to think about what Focus would look like after he was gone.

    Also Barbara - I've heard some excellent Focus programs on single parenting so I don't think he's coming down. I know he understands that single parents are in a tough situation.

    Anyway, I'm thankful for his work. I haven't always agreed with him, but I believe he is a servant of Christ.

  13. I agree with you Shane..

    "I think it would have been better if they were able to separate Focus from the political activity more."

    ..I think the lack of separation is what concerns many of us.. it is similar to preachers preaching politics from the pulpit. That is why I think that it is charitable to describe his involvement as something he got sucked into.. he obviously didn't plan to preach politics from his radio pulpit.. to mix political rhetoric with the gospel.. saying he planned it that way would be a bit uncharitable :)

  14. I agree with his helpfulness in the old days. When I was getting divorced, I was very grateful for his show, which came in my drive time.

    I stopped listening to him long before he got as political as you describe, but it's a shame, his show taught me a lot about Christian approaches to work, life, stress, conflict, etc.


I love to get comments and usually respond. So come back to see my reply. You can click here to see my comment policy.