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Family feud.

Last March Religious Right radio broadcaster James Dobson traveled from his sprawling Focus on the Family empire in Colorado Springs to Washington, D.C., to meet with top leaders of the Republican Party.

Both sides had hoped to smooth over recent differences, but things did not work out exactly as planned. During a closed-door meeting with Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-Texas), Dobson found himself and his colleague Gary Bauer of the FOF-related Family Research Council under fire.

A source close to DeLay told The Washington Post that the Texas congressman, known for his blunt style, "let them have it." DeLay chastised Bauer for running strident anti-abortion television ads in a recent special-election House race in California, where Democrat Lois Capps defeated social conservative Tom Bordonaro. Polls showed that most voters in the district support legal abortion and the ads, DeLay asserted, were not helpful.

"Thanks but no thanks, if you guys are going to do things that are counter-productive," fumed DeLay.

Dobson was livid. Before coming to Washington he had been increasingly critical of the GOP leadership for failing to act on issues of concern to what he calls the "pro-moral community." He had planned to continue his attack on the Republicans in interviews with The Washington Post and The New York Times. Religious Right members of Congress persuaded him to cancel the interviews, and they hoped to find a way to neutralize further broadsides. Instead, Dobson left angrier than ever.

In a letter he later circulated to 25 ultra-conservative GOP congressional allies, Dobson vented his anger about the March 19 meeting. Delay, he wrote, "was argumentative, defensive and accusatory. Instead of grappling with Republican failures ... he denied that a paralysis has occurred and trumpeted meager accomplishments. Then he attacked Gary Bauer for causing the loss of a seat in the Bordonaro race. It is also my understanding that after we left, Delay was highly critical of us and said, 'They just don't get it.'"

Dobson wrote that he wished he had gone through with his plan to attack the GOP in The Post and The Times and added, "There is still time to do that."

Although Dobson and Delay later claimed to have patched up their differences, Dobson has pledged to keep the heat on the GOP. In an April 3 letter he circulated to supporters, Dobson said it is time for the Republicans to "fish or cut bait" and added, "They have to understand that we will abandon them if they continue to ignore the most important issues. The threat must be real for us to have integrity, and I am determined to deliver on the promises to campaign against them if nothing changes. But I'm praying that won't be necessary."

The Dobson foray into Washington and its aftermath are telling for a number of reasons. It underscores the increasingly contentious relationship between Religious Right conservatives and the Republican Party and the GOP leadership's uncertainty over how to deal with them. But perhaps more importantly, it demonstrates the growing influence and power of Dobson, a radio psychologist with phenomenal popularity in Religious Right circles and a growing "take no prisoners" attitude when it comes to dealing with the GOP.

Just who are Dobson and Bauer, and what do they want?

Dobson and his Washington sidekick Bauer represent a different breed of Religious Right strategist. Unlike former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed, who eagerly sought "insider" status in the Republican Party and relished his role in the halls of power, Dobson and Bauer have little desire to join the party establishment if that means giving even an inch on the far-right, hyper-moralistic agenda they champion. They want action and they want it now.

Recently Dobson has unleashed a string of threats against the Republican Party that represent the type of political hardball Reed never dared to play. Dobson has publicly threatened to leave the GOP and take as many of his 5 million daily listeners with him as he can. He has even announced that in 1996 he did not vote for Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole, saying he cast a "protest vote" for Howard Phillips, the candidate of the extreme,militantly fundamentalist U.S. Taxpayers Party.

Bauer, meanwhile, is threatening to seek the Republican Party nomination for president himself Remarking on his plans to set up an exploratory committee in anticipation of a run in 2000, Bauer told conservative activists last month, "I'm sure I will be causing some indigestion if I continue to move down this road."

Dobson and Bauer have been causing more than their share of indigestion lately -- and not just for the Republican Party. In fact, the growing Religious Right empire the two preside over hopes to assert more influence over the lives of all Americans in the years to come.

Although closely linked, Dobson and Bauer are not equal partners. Bauer's Family Research Council, headquartered in Washington, was once an arm of Focus on the Family. Bauer, a former undersecretary of education in the Reagan administration, founded the Family Research Council in 1983, but Dobson assumed control of the organization, which had been struggling, in 1988.

In October of 1992, Dobson cut the official ties between the two organizations over concerns that FRC's political activity would endanger Focus on the Family's tax-exempt status. But Bauer remains subservient to Dobson, and at the time the ties were severed Dobson remarked, "We will be legally separate, but spiritually one."

With Bauer acting as FOF's eyes and ears in the nation's capital, Dobson is free to preside over Focus' 47-acre campus in north Colorado Springs. There he manages a growing Religious Right empire that is becoming increasingly political, even though it holds a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status similar to a church. Focus on the Family, with an annual budget of $114 million -- nearly seven times the size of the Christian Coalition -- and a network of 33 state affiliates, is as much a threat to church-state separation and American diversity as anything put together by Pat Robertson, a figure much more familiar to Americans.

What does Dobson believe? His rhetoric in most ways is the same as other politically active fundamentalist leaders. Dobson has unleashed impertinent attacks on church-state separation, and attendees at local political action seminars the group runs have been taught that the concept is non-historical. He calls for religious worship in public schools, supports tax aid to sectarian education through vouchers and other schemes, rails against legal abortion and encourages censorship at libraries. (FOF publications frequently laud the work of Family Friendly Libraries, a Virginia-based group that advocates censorship.)

Like other Religious Right groups, Dobson, Bauer and FOF frequently launch attacks on gay people. Dobson's views on homosexuality have become increasingly strident. In his 1987 book Parenting Isn't for Cowards, he pines for the days of his childhood when homosexuals were considered "very weird and unusual people." In the wake of the Supreme Court's 1996 decision striking down an anti-gay law in Colorado, Dobson endorsed a call by Religious Right strategist Paul Weyrich to impeach members of the Supreme Court.

But Dobson's rhetoric is all the more dangerous because it is often cloaked in subterfuge and because many people continue to view him as a warm-hearted family counselor, not a hardball right-wing political operative.

Dobson's dissembling over the issue of religion in public schools is a good example. One of FOF's many publications is called Teachers in Focus, a magazine that routinely recommends ways teachers can inject religion into the curriculum.

The suggestions are put forth as legitimate instruction in "teaching about religion," when in fact they are of dubious constitutionality. A "curriculum folder" distributed by FOF in 1996, for example, was rife with inaccurate Religious Right "Christian nation" propaganda and recommended that such material be introduced into history lessons. A folder on creationism from the same series was likewise slanted and designed to introduce religious concepts into science classes.

FOF promotes itself as a family ministry, not a political group, and much of the material the organization distributes deals with issues like child rearing and strengthening marriages, albeit from a conservative perspective. (Dobson, a psychologist, is known for his controversial endorsement of physical punishment in his best-selling 1970 book, Dare to Discipline.) Once brought in by these channels, however, listeners to Dobson daily radio broadcast are bombarded with a variety of materials that promote shopworn Religious Right themes.

Gil Alexander-Moegerle, who helped Dobson found Focus on the Family in March of 1977 but has since broken with him, remains astonished at Dobson's ability to downplay his obvious political agenda.

"It's an amazing phenomenon," Alexander-Moegerle told Church & State. "I think one answer is that there has always been a most unfortunate feature about Dobson. He does his politics in a deceptive way. It's a straight-on strategy, a hit and run, punch and duck, and then he essentially lies when he has to about the formidable political agenda he has and how a large portion of what Focus does is political. His spin is simply, 'We're not political.'"

Author of the book James Dobson's War on America, Alexander-Moegerle worked at FOF co-hosting radio broadcasts with Dobson in the late 1970s when the ministry first started to become political. He remembers that Dobson got his first taste of power when he asked listeners to call the White House and demand that he be invited to an upcoming conference on the family. Sixty thousand listeners did, and Dobson got his invitation.

Later, says Alexander-Moegerle, Dobson learned the art of using his listeners to create meltdown in congressional offices to block legislation. The first few times this happened, says Alexander-Moegerle, Dobson "was giddy like a schoolkid with excitement over how much influence he could wield."

Alexander-Moegerle says Dobson compared FOF's activists to "guerilla forces camped in the woods around Capitol Hill." His listeners would hit congressional offices with "mortar shells," and the representatives would rush outside to figure out where the fire was coming from. Dobson reportedly remarked, "I love that they can't find me."

Alexander-Moegerle notes that a good chunk of Dobson's daily radio broadcast is political in nature, as is the monthly Focus on the Family magazine. A separate broadcast, "Family News in Focus," often promotes right-wing politics. In addition, FOF publishes Citizen, which is totally devoted to politics, and every week issues a fax briefing, again with near 100 percent political content.

In addition, Dobson's monthly letters to supporters are increasingly little more than far-right political rants. Every January, for instance, Dobson mails a letter to supporters reviewing the past year. The 1998 letter hits all of the Religious Right's favorite targets.

In the letter, Dobson celebrates private school "choice" legislation in the states, writing, "School choice is an idea whose time has come, and parents who agree should be working to achieve it." He goes on to bemoan the fact that state courts in Wisconsin and Ohio declared voucher laws unconstitutional, noting, "Again, the phantom 'separation of church and state' clause was cited as the justification."

Elsewhere in the letter, Dobson calls for the display of the Ten Commandments and other sectarian symbols in courthouses and other government buildings, demands curbs on abortion, blasts a federal judge in Alabama who ruled that public schools must stop promoting religion and assails efforts to in several states to extend legal protections to gays.

Dobson asserts that God will judge America for tolerating legal abortion and sexual improprieties. "The overriding question for believers now concerns how a God of justice can bless and preserve a nation in which murder is its centerpiece -- and sexual immorality its pastime," he wrote. "History teaches that the Holy One of Israel can not -- and He will not -- withhold judgment from those who flaunt the moral law of the universe. I don't know how or when His wrath will befall those who wallow in evil, but Scripture assures us that it will come."

As much as Dobson enjoys bashing church-state separation and public education, it is legal abortion that really puts him a state of frenzy. To mark the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, FOF issued a copy of its Focus on the Family magazine with a cover story titled, "25 years, 35 million dead."

Inside, Dobson explained why abortion should almost never be legal, even in cases of rape or incest. (The only exception Dobson would make is in the case of a grave threat to the mother's life, which he calls very rare.)

"Of special concern," writes Dobson, "is the woman who is carrying a baby conceived during a rape. Her pain and agony are beyond expression. I am convinced, however, that such a mother, if she carries the baby to term and either keeps her baby or places it up for adoption, will never regret her decision. What is right and moral for the unborn child is ultimately best for the mother and father, too. I know this statement will be inflammatory to some, but it is what I sincerely believe."

Dobson's fundamentalist worldview of literal interpretation of the Bible and strict adherence to narrow doctrinal policies leads him to see issues like abortion in black and white, with no room for subtle nuances or special circumstances. Similarly, he sees an ongoing struggle for the soul of America with clearly delineated sides: God-fearing, moral "Christians" (by which Dobson means only those fundamentalist Christians who agree with his interpretation of the Bible) vs. "Secular Humanists."

A Dobson letter mailed last February asserts that "Secular Humanism, the sexual revolution and the New Age movement" have taken a heavy toll on America. Despite the fact that public opinion polls show that the United States is overwhelmingly religious and that nearly 90 percent of the population identifies itself as Christian, Dobson concludes that the country is now "post-Christian" and says "spiritual confusion" reigns. Like many Religious Right leaders, Dobson believes that Christians who do not hew to his literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible are not really Christians.

Such sentiments shouldn't surprise anyone, considering Dobson's views on tolerance. Tolerance, according to Dobson, is overrated. On Nov. 4, 1996, FOF aired a speech by Luci Swindoll, sister of popular evangelist Chuck Swindoll. During her remarks, Luci Swindoll recalled her father urging her to be tolerant after she was angered by learning that he had been married previously and divorced.

Following the address, Dobson praised Swindoll's remarks -- up to a point. He urged listeners to be careful because "the word tolerance has a double meaning in our society."

Tolerance, said Dobson, is a "kind of watchword of those who reject the concepts of right and wrong....It's a kind of a desensitization to evil of all varieties. Everything has become acceptable to those who are tolerant....But the Scripture teaches that we are to discriminate between right and wrong, good and evil. And that we are to be intolerant of evil. Romans 12:9 says, 'Learn to be sincere. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good.' Now that's not tolerant. You know, that's intolerance of evil....Tolerance is not the greatest good in all contexts as it's being taught in the world of political correctness today."

Aside from tolerance, Dobson's chief enemies are "secular humanism," "radical feminism" "the liberals" and other similarly vague forces. According to Dobson, these groups, joined by other "anti-family" forces, have banded together to destroy religion in America and bring ruin to the American family.

Dobson, like many Religious Right leaders these days, is prone to see conspiracies in mundane events. Because most American Christians do not embrace his ultra-fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity, Dobson is convinced that an irreligious force -- secular humanism - has taken control of the country.

In his 1990 book, Children At Risk: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Our Kids, co-authored with Bauer, Dobson writes, "I indicated earlier that the secular humanists hold sway in every American center of power and influence except two, the church and the family." These last two institutions, Dobson and Bauer posit, may not be able to hold out against the secular humanist onslaught much longer.

Nods toward inclusiveness or even mere recognition of the changing face of America's religious landscape draw hostility from Dobson. In 1994 after the Girl Scouts dropped a mandatory religious oath for membership, FOF's Citizen magazine ran a scathing attack on the group. Although the Girl Scouts are best known for building character and organizing outdoor activities for girls, Citizen saw a more sinister agenda.

The magazine accused them of pushing a philosophy -- a philosophy that includes humanism and radical feminism." Other than making the oath optional, what had the Girl Scouts done to deserve such antipathy? The group issued a directive pointing out that membership is open to all girls, including Buddhists, Hindus and Baha'is.

Dobson has also warned parents not to let their daughters take women's studies programs in college. These classes, Dobson asserts, can persuade women to become lesbians.

Dobson's extreme views on these and other subjects have alarmed many Republican Party leaders, eager to hold together a shaky coalition of Religious Right conservatives, moderates and free market advocates. Dobson seems unfazed. In Alexander-Moegerle's view, Dobson's goal is to create a "Christian Republican Party," and if that fails, he is ready to walk away from the GOP.

Dobson's aggressive style and willingness to criticize the Republican Party leadership are already shaking up the Religious Right. Perhaps concerned over Dobson and Bauer's new prominence, the Christian Coalition's leadership is stepping up its own criticism of the GOP, indicating a move to shed its "team player" image.

Robertson recently issued a fund-raising letter attacking the Republican-led Congress in harsh terms. His newfound willingness to bash GOP allies may stem in part from the close ties Don Hodel, the new president of the Christian Coalition, has to Focus on the Family.

Hodel has served on FOF's board of directors and is close to Dobson -- he once worked as an unpaid "executive vice president" at FOF. Under Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition's relations with Focus on the Family were cool at best. That may be changing.

But Hodel may also have his work cut out for him. Dobson and Robertson are often perceived as rivals for donors and power, and reportedly, a great deal of personal animosity exists between the two. It stems in part from an incident early in Dobson's broadcasting career where he appeared on Robertson's "700 Club." Dobson felt he was snubbed by Robertson and was miffed when the Virginia TV preacher referred to him on the air as "James Dobson."

In addition, significant theological differences separate the two men. Dobson was raised in the Church of the Nazarene, a strict fundamentalist group. Robertson was raised as a Baptist but now practices a Pentecostal theology marked by speaking in tongues and direct "words of knowledge" from God, practices deemed heretical by many fundamentalists.

Nevertheless, Alexander-Moegerle sees signs of a thaw in Dobson-Robertson relations. He notes that Dobson recently interviewed Hodel on the air, the first time a Christian Coalition official has been on Dobson's program and that FOF's website ( has begun mentioning Coalition activities for the first time. Hodel, he said, may serve as a "bridge" between Robertson and Dobson.

"I think we're going to see them more closely aligned," Alexander-Moegerle says. "The bottom line is that the challenge to the principles we care about is all the more formidable. The number one organization and the number two organization of the Religious Right are now united."

Observers watching the evolution of the Religious Right as a political force have tended to assert that Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition represent competing visions. The Christian Coalition plays the role of insider and cooperates with GOP leaders in the hopes of getting what it wants in the long run. FOF, weary of standing by loyally while waiting for action, hopes to bring change by a type of political blackmail. The Christian Coalition's declining budget and stagnant membership may foster a growing detente with FOF, making the more strident Focus approach the dominant Religious Right strategy by default.

What does this mean for the country? Alexander-Moegerle, who these days works as a marketing executive for a Southern California power company, is convinced that Dobson's threats against the GOP are not mere sabre rattling, and he believes that the Colorado religious broadcaster could assemble a powerful political machine. Dobson, he concludes, wants America to become a fundamentalist Christian theocracy.

"I believe it is accurate and justified and reasonable to say that Jim wants theocracy," he said. "I believe it's really true. I'm not just trying to scare people about Dobson. His perfect president would be someone with a law book in one hand and a Bible in the other, someone who defers to the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. Jim really believes that until that happens, America is on its last legs and is gasping its last breaths. Jim is desperate and fearful. And he really believes that only a theocracy can save us."

For Americans who believe in church-state separation, that's a frightening scenario.


James Dobson's Focus on the Family is more than just a radio ministry. Although broadcasting makes up large percentage of the group's work. Focus also includes a publishing arm and other activities. Here is a summary:

Radio Broadcasts

FOF produces 11 radio programs. They are:

"Focus on the Family": The flagship, 30-minute broadcast hosted by Dobson. It is heard on 4,000 stations worldwide, including 1,500 in the United States and Canada.

"Family News in Focus": A daily news briefing of current events from a Religious Right perspective.

"Focus on the Family Commentary": A 90-second feature of Religious Right-style commentary and family advice produced chiefly for non-religious stations.

"Focus on the Family Radio Magazine": A weekly, hour-long advice program hosted by Dobson aimed at non-religious stations.

"James Dobson Family Commentary": A 90-second spot featuring commentary about families.

"Adventures in Odyssey": A 30-minute weekly radio drama aimed at children that promotes fundamentalist dogma.

"Focus on the Family Radio Theatre": Adaptations of classic works of fiction and Bible stories geared toward adults.

"Living Well": A one-minute daily feature on nutrition, hosted by Pamela Smith.

"Organized Living": A one-minute daily feature on how to organize your life and reduce household clutter, hosted by Sandra Felton, founder of a group called Messies Anonymous.

"Weekend": An hour-long, magazine format show that summarizes material from the previous week's broadcasts.

"Armed Forces Radio and Television Services Broadcast": A 30-minute, weekly "variation" of the "Focus on the Family" broadcast that is produced for military installations and ships at sea.


FOF publishes the following magazines:

Focus on the Family: FOF's flagship publication. with a monthly circulation of 2.2 million. A mix of advice columns and articles about Christianity, child rearing and marriage. Often contains political content.

Citizen: Focus' most political journal. Analyzes legislation and court rulings promotes work of Family Research Council 105,000 circulation.

Breakaway: Designed for teenage boys contains articles about sports, celebrities and "spiritual guidance" from a fundamentalist perspective. 90,000 circulation.

Brio: Articles on "fashion, food, fitness an faith" for teenage girls. 173,000 circulation.

Clubhouse: Aimed at children aged 8-12. Contains stories, games and "biblical tales." 106,000 circulation.

Clubhouse Jr.: A junior version of Clubhouse written for children aged 4-8. 81,000 circulation.

Pastor's Family: FOF's newest publication. A bimonthly designed for fundamentalist Christian clergy. 27,000 circulation.

Physician: A bimonthly aimed at doctors and others working in the medical profession. 47,000 circulation.

Plugged In: Reviews of music, movies and pop culture for teenagers. 49,000 circulation.

Single-Parent Family,: A monthly designed to help single parents "create healthy, stable, godly home lives." 50,000 circulation.

Teachers in Focus: Designed for public and private school teachers. Has recently adopted a harder tone, encouraging public school teachers to introduce religious material into the classroom under the guise of "teaching, about" religion. 35,000 circulation.

Films and Videos

Focus on the Family produces a variety of videos aimed at children and adults. They include cartoons, dramatizations and non-fictional titles. Popular titles include the "McGee and Me!" series, which mixes animation and live action with a fundamentalist Christian message, and "Sex, Lies &...The Truth," an attack on sex education aimed at teenagers and young adults.

The group produces supposedly "secularized" versions of its videos for use in public schools. FOF claims that its products are used in 26,000 public schools, reaching millions of students.


Allies of Focus on the Family also operate at the state level. Like their parent organization, these groups have positive sounding names, but in fact they push the same Religious Right agenda. Although these groups are legally separate from FOF, they are certain to reflect Dobson's hostility to church-state separation. Affiliates exist in 33 states:

Alabama Alabama Family Alliance Arizona Center For Arizona Policy Arkansas Arkansas Family Council California Capitol Resource Institute Colorado Rocky Mountain Family Council Florida Florida Family Council Georgia Georgia Family Council Idaho Idaho Family Forum Illinois Illinois Family Institute Indiana Indiana Family Institute Iowa Iowa Family Policy Center Kansas Kansas Family Research Institute Kentucky The Family Foundation Maine Christian Civic League Massachusetts Massachusetts Family Institute Minnesota Minnesota Family Council Michigan Michigan Family Forum Mississippi Mississippi Family Council Missouri Family Policy Center Nebraska Family First New Jersey New Jersey Family Policy Council North Carolina North Carolina Family Policy Council Ohio Ohio Roundtable Oklahoma Oklahoma Family Policy Council Oregon Center For Family Policy pennsylvania Pennsylvania Family Institute South Carolina Palmetto Family Council South Dakota South Dakota Family Policy Council Tennessee Family Institute Texas Free Market Foundation Virginia The Family Foundation Washington Washington Family Council Wisconsin Family Research Of Wisconsin

In addition, FOF has international affiliates in Canada, Australia, the Philippines, South Africa, England and New Zealand.
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Title Annotation:Religious Right radio broadcaster James Dobson continues to attack GOP; includes related article on Focus of the Family empire
Author:Boston, Rob
Publication:Church & State
Date:May 1, 1998
Previous Article:Back room deal.
Next Article:Religious Right forces form new group to consummate marriage with the GOP.

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