Fundamentalist leader James Dobson reads from a small Bible, having shrunken the Christian moral agenda to the anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality issues.
Puffed up from President Bush’s election, Dobson now threatens to put six Democratic senators in “red states” in his “bull’s-eye” for defeat if they filibuster against conservative judicial nominees.
According to the New York Times, Dobson’s threatening letter listed Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bill Nelson of Florida, all of whom are up for re-election in 2006.
Both mainstream clergy and Democrats of faith need to push back against Dobson’s intimidation, albeit for different reasons.
For clergy, the driving reason to oppose Dobson is theological integrity. Dobson corrupts authentic Christian faith when he cuts down the Bible’s moral agenda to a few issues and then prioritizes those issues as the only ones by which to judge a public servant.
Based on the quantity of passages, the big Bible actually prioritizes different issues than Dobson does, such as caring for the poor, practicing integrity in the marketplace, treating strangers with hospitality, observing the Sabbath and telling the truth.
In addition to distorting the biblical witness, Dobson leads the nation into idolatry, making god-like something that is thoroughly secular. Dobson does this when he targets members of one political party, implying that GOP means God’s Only Party. Such idolatry represents the polar opposite of authentic faith.
For Democrats of faith, the motivating reason to challenge Dobson is political credibility. Dobson disrespects Democrats with bullying tactics that he thinks will cause them to retreat from their moral obligation to counterbalance power.
The balance of power is the best proven mechanism for creating a just and civil society, two of our society’s most precious values. The monopoly of power is the time-proven source of injustice and dishonesty, two things the biblical witness readily condemn.
Democrats of faith will advance their credibility by speaking for balanced political power and taking on religious extremists like Dobson.
Both Democrats and moderate Republicans of faith would do well to recall Dobson’s endorsement of two senatorial candidates in the 2002 Republican primaries.
Twelve days before the Tennessee primary, Dobson endorsed Ed Bryant, who was in a battle against Lamar Alexander.
“Alexander has failed to raise his voice to defend these helpless little ones, despite what he may be saying on the campaign trail,” Dobson wrote. “It has been politicians like Lamar Alexander, people who blow with the wind on the issues that matter, who have done our nation the greatest harm.”
Bryant lost the race, as did Dobson’s other endorsed candidate, Tony Perkins, a Louisiana state representative, who carried the religious right’s banner.
Dobson’s twin losses in 2002 speak to his weakness. Any strength he now has is derived from the marriage of the religious right and the Republican Party, not the inherent power of fundamentalist preachers and their congregations to win elections.
If Democrats of faith want to build a larger constituency, they must stand up to Dobson and the religious right, refusing to be pushed around. They must show strength and self-definition, as well as frame their agenda in terms of moral values.
If mainstream clergy want to restore theological integrity, they must challenge Dobson’s reading of the small Bible with their reading from the big Bible with its full moral agenda. They must show that moral values can be articulated in the public square without the idolatrous affiliation of authentic faith with a single political party.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.