The New York Times: James Dobson takes off the gloves
For years, Focus on the Family head Jim Dobson has been careful to distinguish speaking out on ethical and moral issues from "politics," by which he meant direct electoral politics. Focus on the Family engages in education and information for the benefit of the family, the organization said, not political advocacy.
As Dobson said in a 1995 letter (which he repeated verbatim in 1998), "My concerns—and the concerns of millions of evangelical Christians—are not political in nature. They are profoundly moral and ethical, and we are determined to defend them with our very lives, if necessary."
Things have changed. Now Focus on the Family will still be careful to avoid electoral politics (to do otherwise would risk its not-for-profit status), but Dobson has entered the political fray with, if it can be said, reluctant gusto.
"This year, amid the debate over same-sex marriage and the presidential election, he is throwing himself into the fray, creating a political organization, stumping for candidates, drawing a crowd of 20,000 to a rally against same-sex marriage and backing a drive to register conservative Christian voters," New York Times conservative beat reporter David D. Kirkpatrick writes today. He continues:
Dobson has never kept his views on what he calls moral issues to himself. He has worried aloud for 30 years about abortion, divorce, gay rights, and contraception. Every few years, he has publicly warned Republicans not to take conservative Christian votes for granted, and two decades ago he set up a separate organization, the Family Research Council, to press social conservative causes in Washington. But until now Dr. Dobson has held back his most potent asset, his own public persona and the reputation of his organization.
It's the gay marriage issue that has forced his hand, Dobson told the paper. "There are dangers [to endorsing candidates and engaging in other electoral politics], and that is why I have never done it before," he said. "But the attack and assault on marriage is so distressing that I just feel like I can't remain silent."
Dobson's new political organization is called Focus on the Family Action (Weblog can't find a web site for it), and some think it may be confused with the original group.
"We are definitely going to try to crank up our communications capacity about what Focus on the Family really is," Focus CEO Don Hodel told the paper. "We are going to try to make the point that Dr. Dobson is going out into the political arena not because that is what he wants to do; it is because that is what he feels he has to do. From where I am coming from, we want to emphasize repeatedly that our brand is still evangelical outreach through the family."
More Christian organizations respond to Abu Ghraib scandal
Several organizations named in Tuesday's Weblog as having not commented on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners have done so in the last few days.
Concerned Women for America has in fact issued two pieces on the abuse, both of which blame American pornography for the soldiers' actions.
The pornography industry "cannot be allowed to hide behind the First Amendment and 'art imitating life,'" says CWA chief counsel Jan LaRue.
This is an industry making billions by creating degrading images that "imitate" a reality that is rightly condemned. Tragically, many who join in expressing condemnation and outrage at the Abu Ghraib photos find no harm in the imitation. Pornography is named by our enemies to 'justify' their hatred of America and our military. There is little doubt that regularly viewing pornography desensitizes and makes viewers more likely to imitate "art." Porn-viewing doesn't excuse the conduct—it helps to explain it. Pornographers call it "turn-ons." … We don't need any more "turn-ons" like Abu Ghraib. War is Hell enough.
Robert Knight, director of CWA's Culture and Family Institute, also blames pornography, which he says gave the soldiers "the idea to engage in sadomasochistic activity and to videotape it in voyeuristic fashion." But he doesn't stop there. Knight also blames "putting women into combat areas," "'gay' publications," homosexuals, gay marriage, "violators of [broadcast] decency rules," school "recruitment schemes into early sex and homosexuality," liberals (whom Knight says are "systematically aiding and abetting the cultural depravity that produced the Iraq scandal"), opponents of courtroom displays of the Ten Commandments, and politicians who have "pressed for higher and higher taxes."
That's quite a list, but it seems that Knight really means it. The abuse of prisoners didn't happen by accident, he says. "It is directly due to cultural depravity advanced in the name of progress and amplified by a sensation-hungry media."
Concerned Women for America has also reposted Gary Bauer's piece where he describes the abused prisoners as "murderers and thugs [having] a bad time of it in prison." A summary of the Bauer article has also been posted on the American Family Association's web site, where it is so far the only article about Abu Ghraib.
The Family Research Council also in part blames pornography for the prisoner abuse, adding MTV to the list of culprits. "The photos coming out of Iraq cannot be ignored," says FRC president Tony Perkins.
But it is ridiculous to suggest that the Bush Administration or military boot camps are responsible for teaching our young soldiers this behavior. We must be willing to look deeper — we must be willing to look our culture in the mirror and ask some hard questions about what kind of society our children are growing up in.
As a former police officer who spent time working inside the prison system, I am saddened but not surprised at some of the abuse I've seen in these photos. But what is surprising and what should shock our nation's conscience is that these U.S. soldiers took photos and home-made pornography of the abuse as 'trophies' for their actions.
As Chuck Colson pointed out at FRC's inaugural Pastors' Briefing yesterday, when you mix young people who grew up on a steady diet of MTV and pornography with a prison environment, you get the abuse at Abu Ghraib.
America is in a perilous situation. In the eyes of these Muslims we are the enemy because we are Christian, but in many areas of our culture, our conduct as a nation is anything but Christian.
Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has his own theory. "This is not a breakdown in the system. This reflects a breakdown in society," he told the Associated Press. "These people's moral compass didn't work for some reason. My guess is because they've been infected with relativism."
Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reflects earlier Christian commentary on scandal when he blames the fallen human heart. "While others speculate about the cause of such manifestly evil actions, Christians know that the human heart is capable of almost limitless evil," he wrote in his daily commentary today. "The tragic photos from Abu Ghraib prison remind us that even a war with noble goals can bring out the very worst in those who fight. This lesson is too expensive to waste."
Meanwhile, Roman Catholic Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican's foreign minister, has further comment, saying the torture at Abu Ghraib is "a more serious blow to the United States than September 11."
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Suggest links and stories by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out Books & Culture's weekly weblog, Content & Context.
See our past Weblog updates:
and more, back to November 1999