The Revamped Focus on the Family July 2, 2011

The Revamped Focus on the Family

It’s not everyday I get to say this, but I was quoted in the cover story for July’s issue of Christianity Today. It involves the future of the Christian group Focus on the Family now that James Dobson has stepped down.

A bit of background:

Jen McCreight and I attended a Focus event last August. This is what I wrote then:

We were there for over two hours. You know what? There wasn’t a single mention of Prop 8 or gay marriage all night.

I felt cheated. That’s like going to a Jimmy Buffett concert and not hearing “Margaritaville.”

That was the event when I saw Jim Daly for the first time. He’s the new head of the organization and he’s taking a step back from the overly political, gay-hating image that Dobson spearheaded.

In a recent interview with World magazine, Daly made headlines when he admitted the Christian Right was losing the battle on same-sex marriage:

We’re winning the younger generation on abortion, at least in theory. What about same-sex marriage?

We’re losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don’t know if that’s going to change with a little more age — demographers would say probably not. We’ve probably lost that. I don’t want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.

He later said they weren’t surrendering… and then backtracked to say it’s probably a lost cause.

All the while, Focus is still one of the leaders in the fight against gay marriage. They still don’t support it, and I doubt they ever will. So while the rhetoric may have toned down since Dobson left, they really aren’t any more enlightened.

Back to Christianity Today.

Here’s my contribution:

Even non-Christians have noted a shift at Focus. “Friendly atheist” blogger Hemant Mehta wrote about how surprised he was when he attended a Wheaton College event where Daly spoke and did not mention gay marriage. A Focus spokesperson e-mailed Mehta and said he appreciated the feedback. “I wasn’t expecting that type of outreach.” Still, Mehta says, he and his friends see Focus on the Family as an obstacle when it comes to issues like same-sex marriage.

“I assure you no gay people are saying, ‘Focus on the Family is a great organization now that James Dobson has left!'” Mehta says. “The group may have a more affable public face in Jim Daly, but its positions haven’t changed, so Daly has a very uphill battle ahead of him if he wants to build bridges to the non-Christian community.”

Speaking of building bridges… A little over a month ago, I tried getting in touch with Daly for an email interview for this site. It was unrelated to the CT article.
One of Daly’s goals is to spread the gospel, so who better to speak to than a blog read by a whole bunch of atheists? I promised to print his answers in their entirety so that nothing would be taken out of context, and if he felt any question was out of line, he didn’t have to answer it.

I know Focus received the interview request because a staffer acknowledged it.

And then I never heard back.

So, I’ll make a more public plea to Jim Daly:

Come answer my questions. They’re good ones, I promise. Most aren’t even combative. You want to reach out to those of us who aren’t Christians? Here we are. We want to listen to you. Please talk to us. You know how to reach me.

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  • Yes, I wish he would do it!

  • Jim

    Maybe more sociable to invite him to a barbecue. BYOB – bring your own baby!


  • JD

    I know it’s an aside, but the World interview question suggests they’re winning abortion, since when?

  • JD – You may not have noticed, but a majority of Americans now want abortion outlawed, and there are anti-abortion laws being passed in nearly every state today. As a woman, my freedom to control my own body is under threat. Ohio is in the process of banning abortion after five weeks (yes, five WEEKS), Indiana just cut funding to planned parenthood for birth control, Georgia flirted with criminalizing miscarriage several months ago, and South Dakota requires women to visit a pro-life clinic before having an abortion. Things are NOT going well on the reproductive front!

  • Pickle

    JD- Also, Texas just passed a bill that requires women to have a sonogram before having an abortion.

  • John locke

    I hope the evangelical community is a whole takes this direction. As a college student, I have notice the Christian groups focus on sex trafficking and poverty while rarely going after gay marriage or abortion.

  • Charles Black

    All Christians aren’t interested in building bridges with gay people, they are two-faced liars who are not to be believed.

  • Lisa

    Everyone should forward this blog post to his people, they won’t be able to ignore it then.

    Why can’t they accept that they’re just wrong? Why can’t they accept they have to change how they think? Or even, just think. For like, five minutes. That’s what I did.

  • Heidi

    They’re not surrendering even though it’s a lost cause? So they’re going to keep wasting their money trying to make people’s lives miserable, rather than letting the issue go and using their funds to help people? I am so not surprised.

  • Liberty:

    Indiana just cut funding to planned parenthood for birth control

    They did, but the courts overturned it! I think there was around a 6-week period or so that Medicare etc. recipients couldn’t go to PP, but from my understanding it’s no longer that way.

    I think the local politics can be just as damaging, though. In Lafayette, IN, the local PP used to be located downtown (the central point where the public transit busses met), but due to some bogus legislation of some sort (hallways were too narrow? something of that flavor) the facility was moved out.

    Now, some of my friends that still live there say they have to take a 45 minute bus ride and then walk three blocks just to GET to the facility. All of my friends that go to PP are able-bodied or have a car, but I can’t imagine how difficult that would be without either of those luxuries!

  • Surgoshan

    I guess they’ve decided to focus on their core message: true love means hitting someone until he does what you want.

  • Chuck

    I’m intrigued by this statement, “I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.” What does this mean? Is the evidence for an activist focus amongst FoF based on the polling popularity that their message engenders? It’s sad that they don’t wear their convictions on the surface if those convictions are unpopular. I found this type of passive-aggressive tactic common amongst Christianity and it is one of the main reasons I came to doubt my faith (my revelation was in the passionate anti-evolution stance that existed under the surface as church policy). It seems very manipulative and dishonest and all too common for Christians. I don’t think that Christians who practice this kind of sleight-of-hand believe they are being dishonest as long as they can win one for Christ but, in hind-sight, now that I am an apostate and atheist, I understand that my discomfort while in the fold stemmed from this type of epistemic drift.

  • wright1

    If Daly is sincere in his desire to at least try to reach across the fence, he’ll take Hemant up on the offer. If it’s ignored or rebuffed, then those atheists (like myself) who frequent this site will have additional reason to discount Focus and its supporters.

  • The Captain

    He is right about them winning on the abortion front. And it’s one of the things that absolutely infuriates me. Mostly because they are wining, simply because the pro-choice crowed refuses to have the same debate as them. It’s not “pro-life” versus “pro-choice”, it’s “pro-life” vrs “It’s not a “life” and you have no right to force that ridiculous belief on me”.

    The anti-abortionist have been arguing for decades that a group of cells is a fully formed baby, and the pro-choice crowed never argues against that. They just use the nebulous term “choice” that they never really define as a counter argument. Well sorry, but if you convince someone a zygote is the same as a “baby”, then in that persons mind there really is no “choice” in the matter.

    I have seen way to many kids today get pregnant at a really young age, not want a kid, yet still has them only because they never considered abortion to be an option because as they said “it’s a baby”. These where not religious people either, and they had no idea “why” it was a “baby” to them. Thats loosing the debate!

    Personally I think the reason this is happening is that on a national level, Pro-choice advocates do not want to “offend” the religious right (or anybody) so they shy away from criticizing the belief that a zygote is a baby, to be “respectful”. Well the other side is not respecting us and frankly it’s working.

  • Well, the more money they spend on Gay Marriage (wasting their money on a lost cause) the less money they spend trying to restrict reproductive rights, that isn’t too bad.

  • JD

    I really hadn’t heard about a broad anti-abortion push, but I guess it’s not really a surprise. Unfortunately, our system is most conducive to a two-party government, to vote for someone of one party generally means you’re voting in favor of a laundry list of agendas. People might have voted for Republicans because of rampant deficits, despite the fact that Republicans are guilty too, and that also brought in people with a theocratic agenda.

  • Raven

    Do you live outside of the USA, JD?

    In the first three months of 2011, legislators in 49 states introduced 916 measures related to reproductive issues, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York nonprofit research organization that supports abortion rights but is viewed by both sides of the debate as providing reliable statistics on the issue.

    More than half of the measures — 56% — seek to restrict abortion access…

    I do think that “gay rights” is winning… but women are most certainly losing against the dominionist tactics of groups like “Focus on the Family”

  • Demonhype

    It’s true! They brainwashed me as a kid to be against abortion, with all the most Christ-tastic lies in their book, and it wasn’t until I grew up and actually found out the facts that I changed my mind and became pro-choice!

    Why is it that all the people on the left who are actually right just let themselves (and by extension, the rest of society including many innocent people) lose these arguments for fear of “offending” someone, while the Liars for Christ and other Right Wing Agendas just push on not caring who they hurt much less who they offend–and yet the latter gets to see themselves as the “morally superior” group? It’s like getting in a fight with my brother’s damn wife, wherein she doesn’t know shit, is willing to just pull “facts” out of her ass and scream down your rebuttals, but somehow I’m the bad guy if I don’t let myself be bullied. Playing nice only works if both sides are playing nice, as the Dems still don’t seem to understand.

    The facts need to be heard, they will change minds–they changed mine! If we’re losing this front, it’s because we’re not pushing to counteract the lies of the anti-choice crowd and millions of kids are being indoctrinated in those lies, just as I was. But the people who have the facts are too timid to speak them out loud. The only reason I encountered the facts about abortion was because I started following atheist sites, where evidence holds more weight than feelings or the dictates of some imaginary being, and I came in contact with far too much evidence to maintain an anti-choice view, but I know not everyone is going to subject themselves to other views like that (when I first started lurking atheist sites, I was a kind of New Agey god-believer as well as being anti-choice, and that’s another view that didn’t last long in the face of evidence–or, more accurately, lack thereof!). I think we need to tap into some of that axe-wielding anger our opposition is using to keep themselves on top of this (minus the axe part, but as Greta Christina said, anger is the best tool you have to keep going sometimes, why dedicate yourself to a wishy-washy “well, maybe we can compromise” when the other side has come to kill or die–literally, need I remind you of all those bombed-out women’s health clinics? These people have committed murder to force women to adhere to their religious beliefs, they ruin the lives of millions of young girls and women with their shameless lying, they are in the process of condemning millions of women to death and lifelong health problems–a kind of indirect mass-murder, if you will–and we are just too good, on too much of a supposed “moral high ground” to simply get pissed? We have a lot to be pissed about!)

    And if we don’t get pissed now and we just let these guys win, I wonder how many women and young girls will have to die for the fundies’ Holy Vision of Proper Womanhood before we finally stop worrying about hurting someone’s feelings with the truth?

  • SumWulf

    As the bumper sticker says: ‘Focus On Your Own Damn Family’. =)

    I loathe FotF. They are a nasty little busybody organization who thinks they have some authority and right to dictate to others.

  • Leah

    I think you all should know that not every Christian is a fundamentalist and not every fundamentalist is a Christian. As a liberal, Democratic-voting, pro-choice, feminist, pro-gay-rights (I’m a bisexual female), evolution-believing (and dinosaur-loving!), Obama-loving, friends-mostly-with-Jews-Muslims-Pagans-gays-feminists Christian *gasp! could it really be true? Can a Christian be all these things?* (to paraphrase Obama–“Yes I can!”)who is in a long term relationship with a lifelong atheist (who is extremely supportive and understanding, does not judge me for my beliefs, while I do not try to change or convert him), and who has unfortunately has family members who are fundamental atheists and Goddess worshippers (my mother thinks that “Christian woman=unliberated baby making machine” in spite of the fact that she raised me with the same level of stupid rules, emotional manipulation, harsh rigidity and abuse that the dominionists support), I can assure you…religion is not the answer, but it really shouldn’t be the scapegoat either. Trust me I hate the dominionists/reconstructionists as much as anyone else…but if you are going to judge me for being “unliberated” simply because I want to be a stay at home wife (because frankly, a] I’m a DAMN good cook, b] if I don’t keep me and my fiance’s house/apartment clean it won’t stay clean, c] I know what colors/patterns/motifs/etc look good and which ones do not, and finally because d] dammit I enjoy all those girly domestic things, they’re way more fun than doing some lame ass desk job) then really, you’re no better than the fundies. True equality means making your own choices for yourself, based on your talents, abilities, skills, and interests, rather than listening to what others want you to do. No offense, but it’s how I stand. Thank you for being understanding (I hope).
    (BTW, I do hate FOTF, for the record; anyone who tells me how to live my life, raise my future kids, where/when/why/how to have sex, or what to wear can kiss my ass. ^_^)

  • A.Roddy

    It isnt just Christians against abortion or gay marriagebut also agnostics and atheists. Most arent against saving the life of the mother or in cases where the girl is so young or victims of rape/incest. They are against like I am abortion for convenience like two irresponsible adults who don’t have sense enough to use birth control. In agreement with the above poster, if you cant see other solutions you are no different than the Dominionists. As far as gay rights goes,as long as they stay on their side of the fence whatever. Don’t bully me for disagrreing But I guess FOF won’t be handing out condoms anytime soon or building fences..

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