Dr. James Dobson’s era at Focus on the Family comes to a close this week. The world-renowned (and politically controversial) child psychologist leaves the ministry at the end of this month. He stepped down as board chairman early last year but continued hosting the group’s half-hour radio show. Now, Dobson is gone for good — and some are assuming that he was forced out, or at least politely shown the door.
I can’t speculate on what happened, but it’s easy to conclude from media reports that Dobson’s successor, Jim Daly, will take a much different tact to the ministry. Part of Focus on the Family’s controversy — and virtue — is that Dobson isn’t afraid to tackle difficult social issues or side with politicians who support a conservative position. Daly wants to dial it back, moving toward the Rick Warren “kum by ya” ethic.
From The Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Daly said he preferred to build bridges with others. While Mr. Dobson blasted President Barack Obama for “fruitcake” ideas, Mr. Daly praised the president for his devotion to family and last summer attended a White House event celebrating fatherhood. On abortion, Mr. Daly said he wouldn’t spend much energy fighting for a ban—though that remained his ultimate goal—but would emphasize adoption.
The ministry’s political action budget is about $10 million, the same as in years past. Mr. Daly said he hasn’t yet decided what role the organization will play in this year’s elections.
Mr. Daly said he would reinvigorate the organization’s central mission—“helping marriages, helping parents”—which he said had been overshadowed by Mr. Dobson’s activism.
The WSJ article goes on to suggest that Focus’ fundraising could be hurt by this shift away from hot-button social issues like abortion and homosexual marriage. That’s definitely the case. More to the point, though, the shift could make Focus increasingly irrelevant. The American political landscape already is littered with lightweight Christian groups pushing liberal ideas. Very few are willing to take tough stands on traditional marriage and the sanctity of human life.
Those stands make Focus, and Dobson, unpopular with a large segment of the population. But they’ve also made Focus unique and an important part of the social conservative movement — and, as a byproduct, the conservative movement in general. Daly shouldn’t destroy that in the name of the ubiquitous “come together” approach, which leads to conservatives sacrificing everything and liberals nothing.
Update: Dobson is teaming up with his son to launch a new radio show in March.