Child psychologist James C. Dobson formed Focus on the Family (FOF) in 1977. Dobson made his name by endorsing corporal punishment for children at a time when most experts on child rearing were moving away from it, views he outlined in his first book Dare to Discipline.
Dobson came to national prominence in the mid 1980s after serving on a presidential commission charged with studying the effects of pornography. He produced a number of other books, and FOF began publishing a variety of magazines. In 1988, FOF took control of a struggling Religious Right group in Washington, the Family Research Council (see below). Now technically separate, the groups today claim to be “spiritually one.”
Dobson began broadcasting on the radio in March of 1977, when his organization was based in Southern California. The broadcasts became popular, and FOF experienced rapid growth. Within a few years, the staff had climbed to over 1,000, and FOF branches were being opened overseas. Today, according to FOF’s Web site, the ministry’s broadcasts are heard on more than 5,000 stations in 155 countries, reaching 238 million people daily.
Many people view Dobson as a grandfatherly dispenser of homespun wisdom on how to raise kids and build strong marriages. In fact, his political views are quite extreme. He has attacked the concept of tolerance, asserting that it leads to the blurring of right and wrong. A fundamentalist raised in the strict Church of the Nazarene, Dobson embraces a literal interpretation of the Bible. He opposes legal abortion, often attacks public education, berates feminism – Dobson’s group has gone so far as to attack the Girl Scouts as a front for humanism and radical feminism – and, until recently, sponsored programs to “convert” gays to heterosexuality. In recent years, FOF has taken the lead in opposing same-sex marriage in the states.
Dobson frequently issues personal endorsements of political candidates and in 2004 formed an overtly political arm called Focus on the Family Action. With a budget of over $10.5 million, FOF Action produces materials on political issues and sponsors “citizenship rallies” that, it says, “spotlight the positions of candidates for key offices.” This allows FOF Action to effectively endorse office seekers while maintaining the façade of nonpartisanship.
FOF is also affiliated with “family policy councils” that lobby legislatures in 35 states. FOF’s CitizenLink magazine frequently comments on national and state issues. The FOF Web site says of CitizenLink, “Our experts grapple with contemporary social issues and provide a biblical perspective on national and local news.”
Dobson has begun stepping away from FOF and has announced he will cease doing daily radio broadcasts for the group. Its new president is Jim Daly.
Dobson’s wife, Shirley, plays a leadership role in the Religious Right as head of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The task force coordinates the majority of prayer-day activities across the country with an evangelical bent, insisting that only “Christians” be permitted to speak. With a budget of over $1 million, the organization’s mission is to “mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership.”
Dobson Quote: “The separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. No, it’s not. That is not in the Constitution.... It’s not in the Bill of Rights. It’s not anywhere in a foundational document. The only place where the so-called ‘wall of separation’ was mentioned was in a letter written by Jefferson to a friend. That’s the only place. It has been picked up and made to be something it was never intended to be.” (“Larry King Live,” Nov. 22, 2006)