Saturday, June 28, 2008

James Dobson Doesn't Speak for Me

Is Dobson's Obama Hit Backfiring?

By Amy Sullivan

After years of attacking Democrats with relative impunity for their supposed moral failings, Evangelical leader James Dobson surely didn't expect to suffer much of a backlash when he trained his sights on Barack Obama. Over the years, the party had practically cowered in fear and gone into radio silence when the head of Focus on the Family targeted one of its standard-bearers. So in a campaign that has already proved to be anything but predictable, the counterattack on Dobson this week epitomized the new, fraught political climate that Christian Right leaders like himself face.

Earlier this week, Dobson used his popular Christian radio program to denounce a 2006 speech the Illinois Senator gave about the place of religion in public life. He took personal offense at the fact that Obama had referred to him by name in the same breath as Al Sharpton, using the two to illustrate the range of differences that exist within Christianity. But he also expressed outrage at Obama's assertion that individuals can be moral without being religious. "He oughta read the Bible," said Dobson. Obama, he charged, was "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview."

But less than 24 hours after Dobson's radio broadcast, was up and running on the Web. The site displays both Dobson's charges against Obama and Obama's own quotes from the 2006 speech. It also features a statement condemning Dobson that reads in part: "James Dobson doesn't speak for me when he uses religion as a wedge to divide; he doesn't speak for me when he speaks as the final arbiter on the meaning of the Bible."
The website was the handiwork of a coalition of Christian leaders headed by [the Rev.] Kirbyjon Caldwell, the Texas pastor and Bush family friend who led the benediction at George W. Bush's first Inauguration. The group came up with the idea for the site a while ago, and figured it was just a matter of time before the good Dr. Dobson would give them an opportunity to unveil it. And they're not the only ones pushing back against the Christian Right leader's broadsides. The Matthew 25 Network is a political action committee formed in early June by Mara Vanderslice, a Democratic strategist who oversaw religious outreach on the 2004 Kerry campaign and remembers well the perils of remaining silent in the face of attacks on that candidate's Catholic faith. Within hours of Dobson's program, the PAC had raised $4,000 for radio ads that will run next week in the Colorado Springs market, Dobson's home turf. Vanderslice and her co-producers at the Eleison Group, a new Democratic consulting firm founded by Hillary Clinton's former religion adviser, Burns Strider, plan to expand to other stations that carry Dobson's Focus program.
It's hard out there for a Christian Right leader. Last December came and went with barely a peep about a grinchy liberal "War on Christmas." The Republican nominee, John McCain, has refused to make the pilgrimage to Colorado Springs, telling the Focus on the Family leader to come to him instead. But the biggest problem is that Democrats — and Barack Obama in particular — are determined to make a play for a bloc of voters over whom Dobson and his colleagues have traditionally maintained exclusive control. And those voters seem willing to listen.

Obama's willingness to talk about his faith, including his decision to become a Christian as an adult, has resonated even with religious conservatives who disagree with him politically. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals was part of a gathering of Christian leaders Obama convened earlier this month, and he says, "There was no way I could leave that room not knowing this was a fellow brother in Christ." The Democratic candidate has also been an outspoken critic of what could be termed "certainty" theology — the idea that real Christians have no doubts about their rightness.

This language, combined with the Obama campaign's aggressive efforts to reach out to religious voters, has made it hard for the Christian Right to paint Obama as a secular bogeyman. His opponents have numerous lines of attack — is he a secret Muslim? A black nationalist Christian? A wishy-washy liberal Protestant? — but all seem to accept the basic premise that Obama is religious, which is key in a country where 70% of voters say they want their President to be a person of faith, according to Pew Research polls.

Obama's theological beliefs are clearly more liberal than those on the Christian right. But it's the beliefs of the latter that are fast becoming a minority. A new Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey of 35,000 Americans reports that 70% agree with the statement "Many religions can lead to eternal life," including 57% of Evangelicals. No less a figure than George W. Bush responded "no" when asked in 1999 if he believed heaven is open only to Christians. Those evolving, more relatively open-minded attitudes are one reason Dobson's organization has steadily lost members and revenue over the past five years.

Dobson and his colleagues have also been stymied by a new generation of Evangelical leaders who stubbornly refuse to join the political fray. When Saddleback pastor Rick Warren welcomes Obama to his church with open arms or Mike Huckabee declares that Obama's religion and his former pastor should be irrelevant issues in the campaign, they undercut the criticisms made by their elders in the Christian Right. In 2004, there was near-universal agreement by religious conservatives that their "non-negotiable" issues were limited to abortion, stem-cell research and gay marriage. But Warren and others now insist that the environment and poverty and health care reform are legitimate concerns as well, and the people in the pews increasingly agree with them.

So it's no surprise that the old lions of the Christian Right are suddenly sputtering. "This is raising my blood pressure," admitted the normally calm, Mr. Rogers-sounding Dobson at the end of his radio show on Tuesday. Just a few weeks earlier, the conservative columnist and former Moral Majority vice president Cal Thomas wrote an essay calling Obama a "false prophet." Placing Obama's "Christianity" in quotes, Thomas charged that the candidate's statements about religion — including his belief that non-Christians can get to heaven — prove that he does not understand what it means to be a Christian.

But if the grassroots reaction is any indication, the attacks on Obama have been largely self-defeating. After Thomas' column ran, dozens of regional papers that carry it were flooded with letters to the editor — and they were hardly in liberal bastions. In places like Augusta, Georgia, and Lubbock, Texas, people wrote in to criticize Thomas' attack on Obama. "To suggest that anyone is not a Christian because they do not adhere to Cal Thomas' narrow interpretation of what a Christian should believe," wrote one Texan, "is extremely intolerant, ignorant, and downright insulting." Barack Obama couldn't have said it any better himself, and this election year he may not have to.


Rustler45 said...

"Obama's theological beliefs are clearly more liberal than...."

OH Really??? Somewhat in line with Marx?

"But it's the beliefs of the latter that are fast becoming a minority."

So there you have it folks. Truth depends on who believes and who doesn't.

That's nice. Just go along with the crowd and you'll be happy.

Sean said...

James Dobson doesn't speak for me. Thanks, Katherine, for the link.

betty said...

Dobson Does Not Speak For Me.

Rustler45 said...

"To suggest that anyone is not a Christian because they do not adhere to Cal Thomas' narrow interpretation of what a Christian should believe," wrote one Texan, "is extremely intolerant, ignorant, and downright insulting."

So I suppose that includes, "No salvation outside the Catholic Church?"

Rustler45 said...

And I am willing to say that the Pope doesn't speak for any you either.

Am I right Betty Katherine?

Burr Deming said...

Thank you for your thought provoking commentary. Our site takes a somewhat more forgiving tone, I think, but we join you in rejecting the intolerant literalism that our Brother-in-Christ James Dobson projects.

Kurt said...

I join the chours. Dobson does not speak for me.

gina said...

I'm in. He doesn't speak for me.

Max said...

"Father" Pfleger and Doug Kmiec don't speak for me.

As far as Dobson goes, I think he has slightly more influence than than the individuals attacking him. Again, unless you read "Catholics For Obama" wouldn't even know they exist.

Rustler45 said...

MAX SAID: As far as Dobson goes, I think he has slightly more influence than than the individuals attacking him. Again, unless you read "Catholics For Obama" wouldn't even know they exist.

Max, you are right. Besides there aren't that many people in here reading anything. You, me, Milehi, Bob and one or two others.

There's not really that many Obama supporters in here. We can't be sure that most of the probama postings aren't done by Katherine herself. We already know she does that after a little slip that Betty did showing she was really Katherine.

There are probably only about 3 regular dunces, Sean, DemoCatholic (who seems to have fled), and Shylow the Dumbo. Kurt??? Maybe maybe not.

Anyway, it's not a great multitude who frequent this dung hole.

bob said...

Dr. James Dobson is fine Christian. Better than your liberal altar-boy chasing priests or your archbishop, Katherine, who gives communion to pro-abortion politicans.

Anyway, Barack Hussein Obama is no a liberal Christian. He is a radical muslim with THREE muslim names.

THREE, you old biddy. THREE muslim names.

Rustler45 said...

Bob, you are correct. The Muslims have an objective of taking over the world. One of their goals is to get one of their own into the presidency of every country. They know that we would never elect a Muslim so they have to recruit and groom a fake Christian to the position. Once he is elected he is theirs.

Count on it. Only a dummy can't see what's going on.

bob said...

Obama is the Muslim sleeper cell. As a teenager, he was trained in terrorism at an Al-Quada training school in Indonesia.

Robot Mouth said...

[With a whinney voice.]

James Dobson doesn't speak for me.

Katherine, what a wonderful blog.

Such intellectuals you spawn here.

Max said...

robot mouth said,[With a whinney voice.].....Such intellectuals you spawn here.

I bow to your superior intellect.

Rustler45 said...

Hey Max, that was me.

I was making fun of all the lockstepping in here.

They are like robots.

Rustler45 said...

Anytime I want to know what to do, I just call Dobson's help line.

Last time I called he said follow the Pope!


shiloh said...

Rustler45 said...

Anyway, it's not a great multitude who frequent this dung hole.

but you are here every day, w/by far & away the most posts ...

of course, you being here makes it a dung hole for all concerned, very sad!

take care

Rustler45 said...

Hey Shyster, you need to go have your mama change your diaper. It's full, like you.

Rustler45 said...