After four months on the sidelines since endorsing Mike Huckabee for president in February, Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson came out swinging in a special radio broadcast accusing presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama of distorting the Bible and possessing a “fruitcake” understanding of what the Constitution says about the separation of church and state.
In a first-of-its-kind program paid for by Focus on the Family Action–a part of Dobson’s empire not funded by tax-exempt donations and therefore exempt from IRS rules that prohibit charities from endorsing or opposing candidates in an election–the venerable Religious Right leader critiqued a two-year-old speech that Obama gave at a progressive evangelical rally that just resurfaced on the Internet.
Obama mentioned Dobson in a June 28, 2006, speech to Call to Renewal, a sister organization to Jim Wallis’ Sojourners, in a point about America’s religious diversity.
“Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation,” Obama said. “We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”
“And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?” he continued. “Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount–a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles.”
Dobson took exception being compared to Sharpton, of whom co-host Tom Minnery, head of Focus on the Family Action, pointed out, “Many people have called him a black racist.”
Dobson and Minnery also accused Obama of misusing the Bible by equating dietary laws in the Old Testament that many Christians believe apply only to Jews with the Sermon on the Mount from the New Testament.
“I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology,” Dobson opined.
“Well that’s exactly what he’s doing,” Minnery agreed.
Dobson reserved his strongest criticism for Obama’s view of the role of faith in a pluralistic society.
“Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values,” Obama said. “It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”
Dobson termed that comment by Obama of “incredible importance in understanding his worldview.”
“What the senator is saying there in essence is that I can’t seek to pass legislation, for example, that bans partial-birth abortion, because there are people in the culture who don’t see that as a moral issue,” Dobson said. “And if I can’t get everyone to agree with me, it is undemocratic to try to pass legislation that I find offensive to the Scripture.”
“That is a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution,” Dobson protested. “This is why we have elections, to support what we believe to be wise and moral. We don’t have to go to the lowest common denominator of morality, which is what he is suggesting.”
In his original speech, Obama continued with an explanation not included in the excerpts pulled out by Focus on the Family.
“Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do,” Obama said. “But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what’s possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.”
While devoting most of the broadcast to criticism of Obama, Dobson also drew a line in the sand for Republican candidate John McCain, whom Dobson once said he could not support under any circumstances.
Dobson criticized the Arizona senator for failure to intervene on behalf of a marriage amendment in his home state being held up by Senate Republicans. “He has said on numerous occasions ‘I believe marriage can be and should be protected at the state level,'” Dobson said of McCain.
“The senator has not said a word about it,” Dobson lamented. “That is very disappointing. So this is a year when we have a lot of frustration with both political parties.”
Dobson concluded the program by inviting listeners to tell him what they thought about the special program.
“Do you want to know what the presidential candidates think about the moral issues, the religious issues, the pro-life issues, the pro-family issues that are out there?” he asked. “To my knowledge none of the political candidates, speaking also of Hillary Clinton, has said a word about the importance of preserving the family. Not a word. It has no significance at all. They talk about insignificant things so much of the time, and yet it’s as though the family does not matter. I’ve used a phrase in the past. I will use it again. They don’t give a hoot about the family.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.