God’s Politics – Dobson and Obama: Who is ‘Deliberately Distorting’?

27 Jun

This entry, and a few YouTubes posted on the same blog since, is quite fascinating, even to an outlander like me here in Australia. Just over a year ago I asked Who on earth is James Dobson? I quoted there the US blog Daddy, Papa and Me:

I have harped on this over and over and over again. These groups (American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and the ilk) are hate groups. The take a group of citizens (GLBT) and demonize them as diseased and worse.

Many in the religious right object when their speech is called ‘bigotry’ and even close to ‘nazi propaganda’ in its ferocity. The main argument they use is basically that we are ‘reducing the level of disourse’. I find it a strange argument. These groups and people affiliated with these groups will demonize me and other GBLT in some of the most hateful language, but then call ’shill’ those who would call them on it.

The fact is, these groups demonize gays in nearly identical terms and ways anti-semitic groups and early Nazi propoganda did. These groups and their spokespeople use use hate speech not far removed from the KKK might say about blacks.

These are hate groups. There is no argument.

Socially aware evangelical Jim Wallis is somewhat more circumspect in his language, but only somewhat.

James Dobson, of Focus on the Family Action, and his senior vice president of government and public policy, Tom Minnery, used their “Focus on the Family” radio show 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.”

The clear purpose of the show was to attack Barack Obama. On the show, Dobson says of himself, “I’m not a reverend. I’m not a minister. I’m not a theologian. I’m not an evangelist. I’m a psychologist. I have a Ph.D. in child development.” Child psychologists don’t insert themselves into partisan politics in the regular way that James Dobson does and has over many years as one of the premier leaders of the Religious Right. He has spoken about how often he talked to Republican leaders — Karl Rove, administration strategists, and even President Bush himself. This year he tried to influence the outcome of the Republican primary by saying he would never vote for John McCain or the Republicans if they nominated him, then reversed himself and said he would vote after all but didn’t say for whom. But why should America care about how a child psychologist votes?

James Dobson is insinuating himself into this presidential campaign, and his attacks against his fellow Christian, Barack Obama, should be seriously scrutinized. And because the basis for his attack on Obama is the speech the Illinois senator gave at our Sojourners/Call to Renewal 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…

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 engage in the kind of democratic dialogue that religious pluralism demands. Martin Luther King Jr. perhaps did this best, with his Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other.

One more note. I personally disagree with how both the Democrats and Republicans have treated the moral issue of abortion and am hopeful that the movement toward a serious commitment for dramatic abortion reduction will re-shape both parties’ language and positions. But that is the only “bloody notion” that Dobson mentions. What about the horrible bloody war in Iraq that Dobson apparently supports, or the 30,000 children who die each day globally of poverty and disease that Dobson never mentions, or the genocides in Darfur and other places? 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 such as 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 Dobson and the power wielded by the Religious Right for so long. It puts many evangelical votes in play this election year, especially among a new generation who are no longer captive to the Religious Right. Perhaps that is the real reason for Dobson’s attack on Barack Obama.

You will note that Wallis is not comfortable with the pro-abortion argument either, but I really don’t want to get into that too much, except to say that I too cannot regard abortion lightly, though I am in favour of its being legal as the consequences of outlawing it are, as we know from what it was like when it was illegal, far worse all round. What I would like people to register is the idea that people of faith like Wallis, or indeed people of no faith, can bring their views into the political arena without threatening “the kind of democratic dialogue that religious pluralism demands.” All it requires is a sufficiently humble mind-set and a willingness to conceive the possibility that no matter how convinced of one’s views one might be one might be wrong, and there are other views that deserve a hearing. One should also concede that public policy, while inevitably involving ethical choices, must also be evidence based and logically argued — in that sense at least secular, or non-partisan.

Last night’s Q&A on ABC raised this issue with regard to Kevin Rudd’s faith; I thought Bill Shorten’s answer was good on that. I also found last night that Tim Blair doesn’t look much like his photo!

And speaking of non-partisan, I commend Jim Belshaw’s recent posts on Rudd, NSW, and public policy. I suspect Jim really is onto something here.

But on the subject of distortion: naturally Tim Blair was introduced last night as a journalist, blogger, and climate change iconoclast. Fair enough; aside from a few one-liners he kept his more feral self under wraps last night, being in fact far more reasonable and low key on some issues than I expected. An audience member, however, did raise in the course of a discussion of the costs of climate change policy the Oregon Petition, citing it as somehow clinching evidence. On that see Oregon Institute of Science and Malarkey. I think I will go with people like Lord May of Oxford on this one. (SBHS old boy too…)

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