Doctor Dobson Turns Peevish
by Michael Patrick Leahy
Dr. James Dobson
Doctor James Dobson, the highly respected Evangelical Christian leader and founder of Focus on the Family, inexplicably turned peevish last month when he launched a mean spirited attack on former Tennessee Senator and Republican Presidential candidate Fred Thompson. The unexpected unpleasantness emanating from Colorado Springs left many Evangelical Christians in Tennesee, myself included, wondering why Doctor Dobson chose to tear into a man that all Tennesseans hold in high regard.
The attacks on Thompson began earlier this year when Dobson questioned publicly whether Thompson really was a Christian. Apparently, Doctor Dobson has the ability to look into Mr. Thompson's heart and discern that his baptism as a young man into the Church of Christ in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee was not genuine. Then last month, a Dobson supporter leaked an email of Dobson's assessment of Thompson to the Dallas Morning News. The email, as reported, quoted Doctor Dobson as saying:
"Isn't Thompson the candidate that is opposed to a constitutional amendment to protect marriage, believes there should be 50 different definitions of marriage in the U.S., favors McCain-Feingold, won't talk at all about what he believes, can't speak his way out of a paper bag on the campaign trail? He has no passion, no zeal, no apparent 'want to', yet he is apparently the great hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers, not for me."
This critique was followed by a New York Times op-ed piece in which Dobson disavowed Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney.
What's going on here ?
What happened to the friendly, avuncular Doctor Dobson whose wise advice on child rearing and family life is such a welcome respite to the avalanche of bad influences in the popular culture ?
Articulating a different point of view on a specific issue from a candidate with whom you generally agree is understandable. In fact, I would be inclined to agree with Doctor Dobson, for instance, that Senator Thompson's support of McCain Feingold was ill advised. But that issue is far from central to the Evangelical Christian view of the world. Evangelical Christians can disagree on McCain Feingold and it is completely inconsequential to their solidarity in matters that are of the most significance.
A disagreement among friends is one thing. But a complete skewering of an appealling candidate who represents 90 percent of your views is quite another.
Honing in on Senator Thompson's preference to allow each state to define marriage, rather than embrace a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage throughout the nation, seems less a matter of different theological perspectives on the issue than differing views of Federalism. And that, friends, is not a standard a reasonable person would use to disqualify an otherwise very well qualified candidate who shares conservative and Evangelical Christian values.
Doctor Dobson's criticisms of Senator Thompson are disappointing to Evangelical Christians throughout the country, and especially those of us who are Evangelical Christians in Tennessee. It's hard to understand the source of Dobson's antipathy to Thompson, and observers are left wondering if there is not some highly personal element that gives rise to Doctor Dobson's ill advised vehemence. That's an odd thought to contemplate, however, as the two men have never met.
We Tennessee Evangelical Christians find this mystery hard to understand. We can only hope that Senator Dobson will revert to form, and provide the example of Christian leadership that characterized his illustrious career. Peevishness and judgementalism do not fit him well.
On that, almost every Evangelical Christian in Tennessee agrees.
Michael Patrick Leahy is the Managing Editor of Christian Faith and Reason, and the author of Letter to an Atheist.
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