In the mid to late 1980’s I was going through a spiritual journey that would take me from the insular world of hyper-fundamentalist Christianity with its certainties, quick and easy answers, and lack of ambiguity to a place where I had to walk by faith and not by the myth of certainty. I traveled the back roads of Florida, where I was a sales rep and kept my radio tuned to AM Christian stations. One of the programs I listened to regularly was Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. Dr. Dobson offered me plenty of advice on rearing my young children, and caring for my family relationships. It was important advice: my wife was an addict and her addiction was destroying our marriage and affecting the ability of our children to succeed in school. Try as I might, the downward spiral was too much for us to bear, and we ended up divorced. My (ex-)wife later died, a tragic victim of the disease that destroys many other families like ours.
Years later, I was serving at a United Way in Florida. I had been ordained in the Episcopal Church and viewed my sojourn through fundamentalism and out the other side as a necessary part of my spiritual formation. I now longer considered myself an “evangelical” but I still had a special place in my heart for Jim Dobson. Those lonely, tear-filled afternoons were part of who I am, and Jim Dobson helped to form me. So I was distressed to learn that Dr. Dobson seemed to have some very wrong information about United Way. And that he was encouraging his listeners to stop supporting their local United Ways, since he said, they were driven by a pro-abortion and pro-gay-rights agenda. One afternoon, a co-worker (an evangelical) buzzed me on the intercom. “Turn on the radio. Dobson’s back on us.” I did, and he was. I figured that if I called in, identified myself as both a Christian minister and a United Way official, I could surely correct him. After all, he said he was only interested in the truth.
I dialed the toll-free number and heard a friendly voice on the other end. “Focus on the Family. How may I help you?”
I identified myself. “I believe that Dr. Dobson has some incorrect information about United Way, and I’d like to speak with him to set the record straight.”
The voice on the other end was suddenly cold. “You are off topic.”
And the line went dead.
Jim Dobson went on for the rest of the program lying through his teeth about the organization I worked for. I never again tuned into his program.
So, when Barack Obama said yesterday that Dr. Dobson was “making stuff up,” I can testify that Obama is telling the truth. Jim Dobson makes stuff up about people who disagree with him. “I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused theology,” Dobson said, adding ominously, Obama is “dragging biblical understanding through the gutter.”
Why? Because Obama suggested that some Biblical laws were time and culture-bound, and that taking Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount seriously would mean an understanding so radical “that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application.”
That’s not “dragging biblical understanding through the gutter,” that’s having the guts to say that real Christianity is not some American, middle-class, white-bread civil religion, but the claim that Jesus is Lord, and therefore Caesar (or the United States of America) is not. I don’t know if Obama really is serious about trying to take Jesus seriously or not.
But I do know that Jim Dobson makes stuff up.