Focusing on US evangelicals

by Bene Diction on March 29, 2007

We aren’t Christians.
Who knew!

This is rather funny/pathetic.
Think of Dr. James Dobson as a self made archbishop of US evangelicals - the US evangelical pope- only preaching to a way smaller crowd. A guy with a lot of money, mailing lists and his own media bully pulpit.

Dr. James Dobson decided to phone Dan Gilgoff of US News and World Report to chat about presidential candidates. Gilgoff is one of the few reporters that has managed to score an interview or two with Dobson, and Gilgoff got a book out of them.

Dr. Dobson was eager to talk about Republican presidential candidates and possible candidates. He made this comment about maybe candidate Fred Thompson, a former senator known for his portrayal of a DA on NBC’s Law & Order. Dobson:

“Everyone knows he’s conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for,” Dobson said of Thompson. “[But] I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression,”

Didn’t take long.
React sir?

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Thompson, took issue with Dobson’s characterization of the former Tennessee senator. “Thompson is indeed a Christian,” he said. “He was baptized into the Church of Christ.”

Gilgoff calls Focus on the Family for a clarification. (This guy is an experienced religion reporter and understands religious people babble in different sub texts)

In a follow-up phone conversation, Focus on the Family spokesman Gary Schneeberger stood by Dobson’s claim. He said that, while Dobson didn’t believe Thompson to be a member of a non-Christian faith, Dobson nevertheless “has never known Thompson to be a committed Christian—someone who talks openly about his faith.”

“We use that word—Christian—to refer to people who are evangelical Christians,” Schneeberger added. “Dr. Dobson wasn’t expressing a personal opinion about his reaction to a Thompson candidacy; he was trying to ‘read the tea leaves’ about such a possibility.”

If you want to be a literalist y’all, reading tea leaves is forbidden in the bible, we are now in the basement of sub-texts.

You can’t make this stuff up. Next…

Kudos to Christianity Today weblog for catching this little sideshow.

Lisa Miller writes that Dr. James Dobson exhibited “Lear-like fury” in a letter he and other leaders sent to the board of the National Association of Evangelicals about its employee Richard Cizik. She quoted part of that “furious” letter: “If [Cizik] cannot be trusted … then we respectfully suggest that he be encouraged to resign his post.” Fury? Hardly. What’s more, although most in the media failed to note it, the board reiterated its support for a broader social agenda than just the single issue of global warming Cizik has been emphasizing. We applaud that decision. In fact, we assisted the NAE in writing its well-rounded call to civic responsibility two years ago. It’s a shame—almost worthy of Lear-like fury—that Miller didn’t see fit to report that fact.
Tom Minnery
Senior Vice President, Government and Public Policy
Focus on the Family
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Minnery is responding to Lisa Millers story at MSNBC, Beliefwatch: Treehugger.

We had a post up here at connexions about the letter and a wee chat about the US National Association of Evangelicals board meeting, Dr. James Dobson, his friends, climate change, Rev. Richard Cizik, and so on and so on.
US political evangelicalism. Drama, drama, drama.

CT weblog is correct. This is the pot calling the kettle black. It’s hard not to notice some dripping sarcasm.

Uh, or is it possible that there’s a phenomenon known as pack journalism, wherein reporters tend to quote each others’ sources, follow up on each others’ stories, and feed the same narrative? And it’s also possible, as George Gerbner postulated, that mass media coverage cultivates attitudes about people that do not correspond to reality. That media outlets keep covering Cizik’s environmental views means that reporters find those views interesting. It doesn’t mean that Cizik talks about the environment 37 percent of the time. And that reporters seldom quote Cizik on same-sex marriage and abortion may simply mean that they have others in their Rolodexes that they prefer to call on those subjects.

Focus on the Family executives often complain that reporters distort how much effort they devote to politics and give short shrift to all of the organization’s efforts in parental advice, counseling, and other areas where it “focuses on the family.” It’s a bit ironic, then, that Minnery thinks Cizik is Johnny One-Note.

Who knew!

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }


Mark Woods 03.29.07 at 11:38 am

I have this pet theory about Yankee Evangelicalism, that a group neurosis prevails among them. I call this neurosis ‘Externally-Referential Compulsive Disorder’ or ERCD.

ERCD, as a neurotic disturbance, emerges after years of systemic abuse at the hands of parents and ministers, who through a process of emotional incest, destroy the self-esteem of American Evangelical Christians. This psychosis is further agrravated by SUV-ownership, suburban obesity, junk food and tv game show addictions, with which it shows a frequent co-morbidity.

Dobson himself was also a victim of ERCD, and when he feels agitated and cannot find the ‘centre’ of himself, which was long ago destroyed by his religious practice, he must refer externally and get attention, to feel as if he actually ‘exists.’

He is compulsively driven to seek media attention, and to also assuage his fears of fleeing the angry God of his childhood nightmares, which he has never psychologically or emotionally actualized or processed.

I’m not a licensed psychotherapist, but someday I hope to play one on TV, so don’t judge me for my pop-psychology — it’s all in fun! Besides, I just might be correct . . .


dh 03.29.07 at 3:02 pm

If you read Dr. Dobson. He never sais that he “knew for sure” that “he wasn’t a Christian”. He said “he didn’t know”. I guess the question remains is “by their fruit you shall know them” can give an idea (not definitive but an idea) of who is a Christian or not. Tea leaves? I wouldn’t use those terms because that is a little more definitive than what Dr. Dobson was actually saying. I will say in defense of Richard that I would be hard-pressed to see that Dr. Dobson would able to see all of the “fruit or lack thereof in Thompson by not knowing him as close as he is letting on. However, these statements should make us “throw the baby out with the bathwater” when it comes to Dr. Dobson. I have problems with what he said but anybody can mess up now and then, get taken out-of-context, (refering to Dr. Dobson and any of us) misphrase statements from what was intended, etc.

If he said without a shadow of a doubt that Thompson wasn’t a Christian I would take issue with it.


Steve 03.29.07 at 3:34 pm

All I have to say about Dr. Dobson is that for the past several years, the only fruit I’ve seen from him has been bad fruit.

Fortunately, the vital center of U.S. evangelicalism is moving on from the narrow agenda of Dobson and his compatriots and embracing a more holistic gospel (Wallis, Campolo, Cizik, Mclaren and Warren represent this new strain). It’s a small-e evangelicalism which realizes that the Bible compels us to address more issues than just abortion and gay marriage - and to do so without applying harsh, judgmental labels to others. I suspect that in the next decade, he, Falwell, and others of their ilk will become but a footnote in the history of American evangelical Christianity.


BruceA 03.29.07 at 5:54 pm

Fortunately, the vital center of U.S. evangelicalism is moving on from the narrow agenda of Dobson and his compatriots and embracing a more holistic gospel

And I think Dr. Dobson is starting to realize that. His attempts to influence both the NAE and the Republican Party are falling flat.

Sadly, I think it took George W. Bush’s misguided invasion of Iraq to wake up American Evangelicals, but I’m grateful that they are waking up.


Mark Woods 03.29.07 at 6:28 pm

Well, I actually attend American Evangelical (big E) churches, and Wallis is not respected among them as any ‘vital center.’ This simply isn’t true.

Most Evangelicals have gone into an ‘I don’t want to hear about it’ mode with politics — or like Dobson, they are threatening to tkae their toys and go home, when things don’t go their merry Maranatha way.

It’s circle the wagons time with most congregations that I visit. American churches have the same historical tendency to go in cycles of expansion and retraction (which parallel U.S. isolation/foreign interference).

The delusion most Evangelicals have about Bush continues for most — they are quick to blame his neocons, but not him. Even after Ralph Reed (the Wunderkind of Evangelicals) got caught with Abramoff, they still beleive Reed was ‘framed.’

Evangelicals in American have a long tradition of blaming and cliaming victim status, and that’s their next trick. Some will follow Wallis, but most will not do anything which actually involves the sacrifice that Jesus demanded — I know, I have been an Evangelical church member for almost 50 years in the states.

A good way to get booted out quick in most U.S. churches is to preach the true gospel of Christ. Sojourners in D.C. will always be fringe to the real ‘vital center.’


Bene D 03.29.07 at 6:40 pm

I think there is some core shifting and waking up going on too, and it’s been a long time coming.

Dobson still gets millions listening to his show, he comes across as folksy and listeners bond with him, trusting his style while iqnoring his messes in politics.

And in politics he is very powerful along with his friends, especially at state levels. His federal temper tantrums just tend to get noticed more.

He is 71, has survived a stroke and heart attack, I’m not going to slam the guy, his behavior or fruit as DH says, speaks for itself.
The average evangelical may be starting to notice he is as outrageous as Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or Tim LaHaye. He’s been politically in bed with them and the players behind the scenes for years.
I think people are starting to notice he has surrounded himself with people and built his business willing to do what they have to do to get their political agenda through.

A British writer after 9/11 said the US was in another silly season, keep praying God leads our US evangelical friends into maturity and grace and shakes them from their slumber.


Bene D 03.29.07 at 7:09 pm

Mark, you are making a great deal of sense, thank you.


dh 03.29.07 at 8:48 pm

I still don’t understand all of the attack on Dr. Dobson. I do disagree with him on the environment, but beyond that I see nothing else wrong with what he says. Someone brought up Campolo, etc. and in light of what Scripture says with regard to homosexuality, marriage, abortion, etc. I see that the “little e” Evangelical is actually coming close to “going against Scripture”. I agree more needs to be done for the poor but this attacking “Evangelicals” is uncalled for with regard to these issues. ALL Evangelicals believe in helping and serving the poor it is all in the WAY that is done. I agree with Wallis but I don’t agree with government MANDATING help for the poor when it should come from our hearts. I agree with Wallis in promoting our “hearts” to help the poor and the praxis therein. However, it is the form of praxis that is the issue.

I believe strongly that the overall fruit of Dr. Dobson IS good. It is the “bad fruit” of condoning behavior that God says is sin that is “bad fruit”. That is not to say we know for sure for God only knows the heart but we sure can get an idea from the fruit.

I think there is incorrect false and ungodly discernment when it comes to Steve, Richard, BEneD “judgemental behavior” towards Dr. Dobson.

The true “delusion” when it comes to peoples view of Bush is that they have an attitude of “isolationism” and false ideology that “negotiating with terrorists” will work. People here feel that others under an evil regime should remain under an evil regime rather than have other nations come to their assistance and remove the cancer of that partiucalr nation so that “freedom and liberty” (which at time requires “death” like is going on now in Iraq and Afghanistan) can be achieved. I could see if the American Revolution happened now we would forever be under British rule in that it took many years of fighting the oppression of the British at that time before achieving the eventual reality. So it is with Iraq it is taking years and it is tough but it is better to fight for freedom than to never fight for freedom at all. Otherwise, one is really shortsighted by in affect accepting the bribes of terrorists or evil dictators. Keep promoting the accepting of terrorist and evil dictaor bribes as opposed to fighting them. (sarcasm)


Steve 03.29.07 at 9:24 pm

Wow, I thought we were talking about James Dobson and his political agenda, not George W. Bush and Iraq.

DH - Dobson says that it is wrong for any evangelical to focus on issues other than abortion and gay marriage because they are “divisive” (that was his criticism of Rick Cizik). That means he is condemning you as well, since you said you disagree with him on the environment.

He also claims that anyone who is not an “evangelical Christian” is not a Christian at all. But by his definition, anyone who pursues any issues other than abortion and gay marriage is not an evangelical Christian (see above). Therefore, DH, according to Dobson himself, you are not a Christian and are therefore going to hell.

You don’t see anything just a teensy, tiny, bit wrong with his theology that might cause us to be concerned?


dh 03.29.07 at 9:38 pm

Steve, I think you are WAY WAY overgeneralizing about Dodson. He is criticizing Cizik because he has NEVER mentioned anything with regard to abortion and gay marriage. So one could say that Cizik is overboard on the other end by not addressing at all important issues. For me environment, abortion being wrong, homosexuality, gay marriage, being a drunk, adultry, not taking care of the poor, etc. are all equal. Therefore I’m not placing “other issues besides abortion and gay marriage” over but equal to abortion and gay marriage. So you see it is a problem of those who focus on things other than gay marriage and abortion to not say it is wrong just as much as it is wrong to not address the other issues. However, I have read Dr. Dobson’s books for over 20 years and he HAS made statements just as strong as his statements with regard to abortion and gay marriage supporting helping the poor and all of the other things you all have mentioned. So to say he focuses ONLY on the “two issues” is a gross overgeneralization.

It is isn’t the “focus” (no pun intended) that Cizik has on other issues other than abortion and gay marriage but the “lack of any stance” and probably “a stance outside of Scripture” on those two issues that “begs the question” not that he isn’t a “Christian”.

I think I might have over stated my “disagreement” with Dobson. I disagree to a point.

You also need to reread my previous post and see ALL of the other issues and how Wallis, Campolo and other truly have it wrong by overreacting.

The problem is that sometimes the reaction to a so-called problem can be so much an overreaction that the overreaction is just as bad as the problem one is reacting from. I see that with Wallis and Campolo they support in a reaction way a support for the poor and the like but do not reject things that are sin like homosexuality and abortion. One CAN and SHOULD support ALL Scripture says which requires being against abortion, against homosexuality, for the environment, for support of the poor and all in equal focus. It isn’t either/or. I have no idea why this either/or view so previlent.


Steve 03.29.07 at 11:04 pm

DH - FYI, Wallis has a pretty traditional view of marriage and is opposed to abortion. He just thinks there are better ways to resolve these issues than to demonize those who hold different views as Dobson, Falwell, Tony Perkins, et al do.

And don’t even get me started about whose stance is truly outside of scripture…


Kim 03.30.07 at 7:32 am

From the UK, one looks at Dobson and company with the baffled curiosity of an anthropologist observing the witchdoctor and his acolytes from a bazarre neolithic tribe. It’s guys like these that keep Richard Dawkins in the money.


dh 03.30.07 at 1:52 pm

“outside of Scripture in light of Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6? Also, saying homosexuality is sin is not “demonizing people”. All I was saying is that equal focus we can address the wrongs of abortion, homosexuality, not caring for the poor, not caring for the environment, adultry, being drunk, etc. It doesn’t have to be a “zero-sum game” when Scripture is clear on these issues in both the NT AND OT.

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