Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Resisting the handmaiden of political seduction

I was going to write something about this article in the New York Times regarding James Dobson flexing his political muscles, and then I saw that Sean had mentioned it today.

According to the article:
In a letter his aides say is being sent to more than one million of his supporters, Dr. Dobson, the child psychologist and founder of the evangelical organization Focus on the Family, promises "a battle of enormous proportions from sea to shining sea" if President Bush fails to appoint "strict constructionist" jurists or if Democrats filibuster to block conservative nominees.

Dr. Dobson recalled the conservative efforts that helped in the November defeat of Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate minority leader who led Democrats in using the filibuster to block 10 of Mr. Bush's judicial nominees.

"Let his colleagues beware," Dr. Dobson warned, "especially those representing 'red' states. Many of them will be in the 'bull's-eye' the next time they seek re-election."

This makes me nervous. Right after the election I wrote a couple of entries on the issue of Christians believing they now have some sort of mandate because they helped President Bush get reelected:

Christians shouldn't get the impression that we are now power-players with the leverage to get favored legislation passed. We should continue to work as we've always worked: changing hearts and minds one by one.

Evangelicals may wish to believe the values vote myth because it makes them feel like they now have political capital to spend. And unlike the man who buried his talents, believe it's their duty to invest it. If this is true--if I'm wrong and this is now the time to act--then it's important to invest it wisely and not go on a spending spree.

I also liked what The Anchoress said here.

I am watching the right just as closely as the left, and wondering if some of the far-right aren't in danger of overplaying their hand by asserting themselves too aggressively, too quickly. We shall see.

President Bush has won with a mandate, but we still have to LIVE with the 53 million who voted against him, and that can't be done if extremists on either side are allowed too much power. Zealotry (I don't mean enthusiasm but REAL, closed-minded, obsessive zealotry) on either end won't serve the nation or our ideals.

Sean put it a bit more bluntly:

I wonder if he'll turn into a conservative Christian windbag like Jerry Fallwell. I also worry he'll turn Focus on the Family into a conservative version of the NAACP.

Well, I don't worry so much about the latter.

And then I discovered this very lengthy and thoughtful piece at the Rooftop Blog. James writes:

The only people who should be unnerved by this [news about Dobson] are evangelical Christians, for the only likely damage that will be to the church and its voice in a pluralistic culture. While I have not seen the Focus on the Family appeal letter, if the New York Times story is somewhat accurate, there are several concerns.

When the church presents its concerns as a laundry list of demands, we become a special interest group, and our price has been set. We lose our moral authority. Pay our price and we will be yours. Chuck Colson warned his brethren in "an open letter to the Christian church" last month against listing demands of the president or other elected officials. “To think that way demeans the Christian movement," Colson wrote. "We are not anybody's special interest group."

James also writes that Focus on the Family should be wary of losing its, er . . . focus:

Focus on the Family (which by the way is one of the great organization names, because the name states the mission) is a powerhouse advocate for the family. The radio program and Dobson’s books have helped millions of parents raise their families.

To the criticism that strong-arm politics demeans the church’s message, Dobson may claim that he is a psychologist and organizational leader, not a church leader. That’s not the way media portray Dobson, however. He’s seen as evangelical’s most influential leader. But if, indeed, he’s just speaking for his organization, then why has he become a political heavy? Is the American family in good shape? Have strong willed children been corralled? Are American marriages thriving? Is the nation saturated with biblical models of marriage and family?

If James Dobson wants to head another political action group, he should resign from Focus on the Family and allow the organization to return to its roots. He built his mailing list providing family counsel. To use it for political strong-arming is a bait and switch that hurts Focus, and the image of the Christian organizations generally.

I agree.

Now Dobson has certainly spoken out on political issues in the past, and typically they have been issues that affect the family. But by threatening specific Democratic politicians who are up for reelection should they filibuster judicial nominees . . . that's crossing a line.

Let's hope that when this newsletter is officially released, it will be shown that the New York Times distorted its intent, and that Dobson will continue to use his organization to build up the family, not the Republican party.


At 10:53 AM, Blogger The Anchoress said...

Drew, that is an excellent headline and an important post (and I'm not just saying that because you quoted me). :-) It's important that even as we enjoy our increasing majority, that we don't forget how easily a hand may be tipped. Good work.

At 12:12 PM, Blogger Drew said...

I suppose I should have put it in quotes, but the headline was a paraphrase from the Rooftop Blog article, and I never did end up quoting that section.

I'm still slightly skeptical about whether this is an accurate assessment of the content of Dobson's letter, so I'm going to be watching out for it.


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