The Dope on Dobson

"I was angry at the profiteers who have nurtured violence in our society."
James Dobson, The Strong-Willed Child, p. 166

The following excerpt is from David H. Bennett's PARTY OF FEAR: The American Far Right from Nativism to the Militia Movement, New York: Vintage Books, Second Edition, 1995 (Dr.. Bennett is professor of history in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University)

Focus on The Family (FOF), is among the wealthiest and most successful evangelical organizations concerned with reshaping public policy in America. Founded and led (since 1977) by Dr. James C. Dobson, a Ph.D. in child development whom Jerry Falwell once predicted would emerge as the religious Right's leading figure in the nineties, FOF's annual budget was $101 million in 1995. The money is used to produce its ten radio programs, and to publish eleven magazines, as well as its vastly popular family advice books, films and video tapes. Dobson's syndicated daily half-hour radio program is broadcast on 1,600 radio stations (and hundreds of stations in other countries). His book on child rearing, Dare to Discipline, sold more than two million copies.

Dobson told the Religious Broadcasters Convention: "We are engaged at this time in an enormous civil war of values" in which "the Judeo-Christian, biblical prescriptions we trust" battle "the humanistic, avant-garde point of view that there are no absolutes." To take this struggle into the national political arena, his FOF bought The Family Research Council, which would grow into the leading religious Right lobbying enterprise under its leader, Gary L. Bauer. "We will be legally separate, but spiritually one," Dobson said of the two groups.

The FOF organization, moving its headquarters from Southern California to Colorado Springs, formed numerous offiliated political training sessions, known as "Community Impact Seminars." The FOF training handbook for these seminars, the "Community Impact Curriculum," warned against "moral decay in our society," and an early version argued that "This really was a Christian try separating Christianity from government is virtually impossible and would result in unthinkable damage."

Dobson, who has likened abortion to the Holocaust, has hosted Randall Terry on his radio program. Terry is the founder and former leader of Operation Rescue, whose "direct action" effort includes abortion clinic blockades, as well as the stalking and harassing of doctors and clinic staffs. Dobson has endorsed the youth training program of Summit Ministries, established in the sixties by Billy James Hargis; Summit has been directed since the 1970's by David A. Noebel, a former Hargis associate and longtime activist in the John Birch Society, who focuses particular attention on the perils of homosexuality.

Still, Dobson seems less threatening than the televangelists of the eighties, when they took on the dangers of secular humanism. One observer noted that "he has such a rapport with average people that he doesn't scare them." Instead, he offers a "safe haven" in the world of change and flux, a message that endorses the biblical lessons of his listeners' youth.

His vast audience is intensely loyal; a supporter insists that "he commands armies of people...he is a heavy hitter in the conservative Christian movement." which made it political news when, in the spring of 1995, Dobson cautioned Republican leaders against a "big tent" strategy that avoids embracing a conservative social agenda; "I think you should warn Republican presidential hopefuls that it would be impossible to skirt the moral issues in 1996.27 "

27. Gustuv Neibuhr, "Advice for Parents and for Politicians: Religious Group Speaks to Family Issues and to the Right," New York Times, 15 May 1995; "The Heavy Hitter: James Dobson Speaks for a 'Parallel Culture' Washington has Ignored," U.S. News & World Report (29 Apr. 1995): 38-39.

Return to Subject Index
Return to Table of Contents