Jim Wallis: James Dobson is full of beans…

Jim Wallis Criticizes James Dobson’s Distortion of Barack Obama’s Statements on Faith and Politics

Evangelical leader Jim Wallis, author of The Great Awakening and founder of Sojourners, the largest network of progressive Christians in the United States, today criticized James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, for distorting Barack Obama’s statements on faith and politics at the annual Pentecost Conference in 2006 held by Sojourners.

Full Text of Jim Wallis’ Statement:

James Dobson, of Focus on the Family Action, and his senior vice president of government and public policy, Tom Minnery, used their “CitizenLink” radio show today to criticize Barack Obama’s understanding of Christian faith. In the show, they describe Obama as “deliberately distorting the Bible,” “dragging biblical understanding through the gutter,” “willfully trying to confuse people,” and having a “fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution.”
Now that James Dobson is insinuating himself into this presidential campaign, his attacks against his fellow Christian, Barack Obama, should be seriously scrutinized. And because his basis for the attack on Obama is the speech the Senator from Illinois gave at our Call to Renewal/Sojourners event in 2006 (for the record, we also had Democrat Hillary Clinton, and Republicans Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback speak that year), I have decided to respond to Dobson’s attacks. In most every case they are themselves clear distortions of what Obama said in that speech. I was there for the speech, Dobson was not.
You can read Obama’s now two-year old speech, which was widely publicized at the time and will see that Dobson either didn’t understand it or is deliberately distorting it. There are two major problems with Dobson’s attack today on Barack Obama.
First, Dobson and Minnery’s language is simply inappropriate for religious leaders to use in an already divisive political environment. We can agree or disagree on both biblical and political viewpoints, but our language should be respectful and civil, not attacking motives and beliefs.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, is the role of religion in politics. Dobson alleges that Obama is saying:
“I [Dobson] can’t seek to pass legislation, for example, that bans partial-birth abortion because there are people in the culture who don’t see that as a moral issue. And if I can’t get everyone to agree with me, it is undemocratic to try to pass legislation that I find offensive to the Scripture. … What he’s trying to say here is unless everybody agrees; we have no right to fight for what we believe.”
Contrary to Dobson’s charge, Obama was very strong in defending the right and necessity of people of faith bringing their moral agenda to the public square, and was specifically critical of many on the left and in his own Democratic Party for being uncomfortable with religion in politics.
Obama said that religion is and has always been a fundamental and absolutely essential source of morality for the nation, but also said that “religion has no monopoly on morality,” which is a point that I often make. The United States is not the Christian theocracy that people like James Dobson seem to think it should be. Political appeals, even if rooted in religious convictions, must be argued on moral grounds rather than as sectarian religious demands—so that the people (citizens), whether religious or not, may have the capacity to hear and respond. Religious convictions must be translated into moral arguments, which must win the political debate if they are to be implemented. Religious people don’t get to win just because they are religious. They, like any other citizens, have to convince their fellow citizens that what they propose is best for the common good— for all of us and not just for the religious.
Instead of saying that Christians must accept the “the lowest common denominator of morality,” as Dobson accused Obama of suggesting, or that people of faith shouldn’t advocate for the things their convictions suggest, Obama was saying the exact opposite—that Christians should offer their best moral compass to the nation but then have to engage in the kind of democratic dialogue that religious pluralism demands. Martin Luther King Jr. perhaps did this best of all with his Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other.
In making abortion the single life issue in politics and elections, leaders from the Religious Right like Dobson have violated the “consistent ethic of life” that we find, for example, in Catholic social teaching. Dobson has also fought unsuccessfully to keep the issue of the environment and climate change, which many also now regard as a “life issue,” off the evangelical agenda. Older Religious Right leaders are now being passed by a new generation of young evangelicals who believe that poverty, “creation care” of the environment, human trafficking, human rights, pandemic diseases like HIV/AIDS, and the fundamental issues of war and peace are also “religious” and “moral” issues and now a part of a much wider and deeper agenda. That new evangelical agenda is a deep threat to James Dobson and the power wielded by the Religious Right for so long. Many evangelical votes are in play this election year, especially among a new generation, and are no longer captive to the Religious Right. Perhaps that is the real reason for James Dobson’s attack today on Barack Obama.

Updated: June 24, 2008 — 5:44 pm

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  1. Jim Wallis is exactly on target with his comments about Obama’s speech and Dobson’s misunderstanding, or deliberate distortion, of it.

    Dobson repeatedly manifests less competence at handling the Jewish and Christian Scriptures than does Wallis and/or Obama.

  2. James Dobson is a right wing religious nut, so what do you expect? These people are trying to slander Obama at every turn because they have nothing legitimate to accuse him of. Their first line of attack is his race. They’re too sophisticated to ever let any of these “anonymous” emails get back to them, but I’d bet Aunt Matilda’s bloomers that most of them originated with some right wing religious group. If they don’t write them, they certainly forward them; I don’t know how many I’ve gotten from otherwise “good” Christians.

    When that doesn’t work with most Americans outside the lunatic fringe, they begin lying about Obama’s religious beliefs. These people cannot stand the idea that a person can be a Christian and not believe everything they believe. So, they lie. Dobson needs to go back to hosting ten thousand dollar a round golf soirees with business executives; they’ll swallow his racist rhetoric a lot better than the general public, and generate some money for him, too. Republicans like money.

  3. And Democrats like to act like they don’t like money. They think it makes them look better…. ;-)

    Caleb, I agree with everything you said, up until you lumped all of us Republics in together, like we are all identical. You tend to do that with a lot of your arguments, my friend; create a good base and then blast your own credibility with a line like that last one.

  4. There was a time, David, when I would have agreed with you. My family was Republican from the organization of the party prior to the Civil War until the 1960s, and a number of my relatives served as Republican office holders. . The Republicans of that era were generally progressive, interested in civil rights, and not interested in the religious right. I mean, look at the religions of the pre-Reagan Republican presidents of the last century: McKinley was Methodist, TR was Dutch Reformed, though he generally attended Episcopal services, Herbert Hoover and Nixon were both Quaker (imagine a Quaker of either party being elected President today, and the Republicans had two), Calvin Coolidge was a New England Congregationalist of the same denomination as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama, and Taft was a Unitarian agnostic, of the same denomination as Adlai Stevenson. GHWBush and Ford were Episcopalians, and Reagan himself, while appealing to evangelicals, was a country club Presbyterian.

    After Reagan, the institutional party began pandering to the evangelicals and southern racists in a serious way, and I doubt that an Episcopalian could get arrested at a Republican convention today. So, David, if I paint with a broad brush, at least I do so with some experience with these folks, and if I paint them in a negative light, I do so only in contrast to the rich past that they’ve thrown away in order to pursue their current policies.

  5. The fundamental difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is the Democrats are for the many while the Republicans are for the few. Our economy sums that up pretty clearly these days.

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