Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Me and Jim Dobson.... A Love Affair

There's this Beastie Boys song from Licensed to Ill that I really like, called "She's Crafty." I was listening to it tonight, and it reminded me of an article about James Dobson in the latest issue of U.S. News. Because like Lucy in the song, Dr. Dobson is crafty like ice is cold.

I should tell you that I have a history with Jim. I grew up with him in a way. My parents read a couple of his books, so he helped raise me. They still get his Focus on the Family newsletter and magazine, and I'm pretty sure they give him money every year.

For the longest time, that was all we had. Then college happened. First off was my trip to the annual Evangelical Theological Society conference in the fall of 2002. ETS was a bit of a bummer, with not a few theologians bashing the crap out of John Sanders, who was one of my professors at the time. They seemed to have this unseemly condition where they failed to separate the man from his theology. Consequently, it became standard practice to question his faith and character every time they questioned Open Theism. (Read Christianity Today's coverage of the event here.) Strike one for evangelicalism if you're keeping score.

While attending the conference in Colorado Springs, another old professor of mine, Dr. Chris Leland, was kind enough to give myself and Jake Sikora a tour of the Focus on the Family headquarters. Dr. Leland has been there since the summer of 2002, and as far as I know, enjoys teaching at the Focus Institute quite nicely. The building was big and expensive and a foreshadowing of HC's own Science Building, albeit on a smaller scale. Suffice to say, I was both impressed and uncomfortable with it all. Let's call that half a strike.

The following spring of 2003, our relationship took another turn. The National Religious Broadcasters had recently appointed Wayne Pederson as president of their organization. (NRB is a sort of association of evangelicals in the television, radio and print industries.) Not long before he would have been introduced at their annual convention in Nashville, Dr. Pederson made some comments to the effect that perhaps the emphasis of NRB would be better spent on the Gospel than on politics. He was concerned that religious broadcasters were putting more and more of the their faith in policy battles than in the power of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Enter me and James Dobson.

We were both at that convention in Nashville. I was there to accept an award for an essay I wrote, ironically sponsored by Focus on the Family. They gave me a plaque and a $1,000 for school. I read my paper to a bunch of college students and their professors. I got two job offers and three personal sales pitches from graduate schools. (Where are they now?) Life was good.

I never saw Jim, except from afar. We may have nodded politely, but probably not. The man had no idea who I was, even though he had just given me 1,000 bucks. Dr. Dobson was there for one reason -- to make sure Pederson never become president of NRB. He took Pederson's comments personally, and wasn't about to allow someone who put the Gospel over politics to rise to such a prominent position in the evangelical community. In a closed door meeting in the Opryland Hotel, Dr. Dobson made his case that Pederson was not fit for the job -- that the evangelical church was a major force in American politics, and that we needed an NRB president who toed his party line.

There was no vote that I know of at the convention -- Pederson decided to resign before things got ugly. One professor of mine who was allowed in the meeting because of his standing in IRB (the college division of NRB) later confessed to me how sad the whole process had been. This from a man who usually had nothing but good to say about Dr. Dobson. Something about the whole process had left him disenfranchised. As far as I was concerned, that was strike two and a half. (CT covered this one, too; one of my favorite pieces they've done.)

Lately, Dr. Dobson's words would seem prophetic, as his organization's support of President Bush was enough to offset increased voter turnout among youngsters voting for John Kerry. The NRB affair was only a spring training game compared to the main event last November. His role in the Arlen Specter affair was even less subtle. Jim expects much, and "God drops" in policy speeches won't suffice. He wants action from Bush, and he's let our president know.

So does Jim own George? Not hardly. But he could raise one hell of a shitstorm should Bush move to the center in an effort to work with Democrats on the Hill. Meanwhile, due to the influence of Jim on myself, evangelicalism, the movement I grew up in, is half a strike away from falling to pieces. So that's my story. That's the tale of me and Jim Dobson. We go way back, and I have a feeling we're not done with each other yet.

Stay tuned.

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