Police in Colorado Springs, Colo., arrested two parents and their adult son for trespassing as they tried to enter Focus on the Family’s international headquarters to deliver a letter written to Christian author and radio personality James Dobson.
Jacob Reitan, youth director for Soulforce, was handcuffed, along with his mother, Randi, and father, Phil, after they crossed over onto Focus on the Family property in a staged protest, the interfaith gay-rights group said in a press release.
Soulforce originally planned to hand-deliver letters from hundreds of individuals describing their experiences to Dobson in what planners called a “family intervention” inside Focus on the Family building, but the ministry shut down its offices to keep protestors from entering.
The day before hundreds of gay-rights activists gathered outside Focus on the Family to declare the organization a “toxic religion zone” and Dobson “a danger” to America.
“Your anti-homosexual campaign was (and continues to be) a sin against millions of your sisters and brothers,” Soulforce founder Mel White wrote in his “personal letter” to Dobson.
Sunday’s event, billed as a “family picnic and protest” confronting what Soulforce called untruths Dobson tells his radio audience about homosexuality, was titled “Dear Dr. Dobson: Gay and Straight Families Across America Bringing the Truth to Focus on the Family.”
“James Dobson was a wonderful family counselor,” White told a crowd estimated at between 500 and 1,000 in various media reports. “Now he is a danger to himself and the nation.”
Dobson has been vocal in opposing homosexual marriage, endorsing President Bush’s election last fall and a week ago speaking at “Justice Sunday,” an event in a Kentucky Baptist church that described Democratic senators filibustering to block Bush’s most conservative judges as against people of faith
In addition to opposing gay marriage, Focus on the Family also sponsors a conference called “Love Won Out,” promoting “the truth that homosexuality is preventable and treatable—a message routinely silenced today.”
“There are thousands of people who have left homosexuality, including some on our staff,” Tom Minnery, the group’s director of public policy, told the Associated Press. “To say that one is born that way obviously flies in the face of facts.”
Another Focus on the Family spokesperson, Melissa Fryer, said she was gay for a decade before becoming a Christian and realizing her former lifestyle was incompatible with Christianity.
“Focus will not change its position, because the Bible hasn’t changed its position,” Fryer said, quoted in the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Dobson reportedly missed the protestors, traveling to Washington to prepare for National Day of Prayer activities later in the week. One staff member said Soulforce knew Dobson wouldn’t be available and called the protest a publicity stunt.
Members of Soulforce, however, said church teachings against homosexuality lead to hate crimes and increased suicide rates among gays.
Prior to their arrest, Randi Reitan read a letter she wrote to Dobson saying his anti-gay rhetoric had hurt families like hers.
“People are taught to hate. People are taught to be intolerant,” she said. “As Christians, we must teach God’s love for all his beloved children by our love and our actions.”
Other letters criticized Dobson for saying gay marriage is the biggest issue facing today’s families.
“As a pastoral counselor and a Christian raised in a Southern Baptist home, I share your concerns about the state of the family,” wrote Jeff Lutes of Soulforce Austin, author of the pamphlet, False Focus On My Family: Why every person of faith should be deeply troubled by Dr. James Dobson’s dangerous and misleading words about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
“The truth is that gay and lesbian families are not to be feared and we are no longer strangers to a growing number of straight Americans,” Lutes wrote to Dobson. “We are worshipping together at church, sitting together at PTA meetings, and breaking bread together at the neighborhood barbeque. We are trying to get our kids to eat their vegetables, worried about saving enough for their college fund, and making fools out of ourselves as we cheer them on at soccer games.”
White, who ghost wrote books for evangelicals including Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker and Jerry Falwell before founding Soulforce in 1993, told Dobson all he wants are civil rights, such as the right to be declared next-of-kin for his partner of 23 years, so he could visit him in an emergency room or determine where he will buried if he precedes him in death.
Granting those rights will not “destroy the traditional family, bring down Western Civilization or lead to chaos the world has never known,” White said in his letter to Dobson. “Even your friends and supporters must be wondering if Jim Dobson has gone over the deep end with these hysterical claims.”
Soulforce routinely stages protests at various religious gatherings that promote anti-gay teachings, including the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The group turned down an offer by Focus on the Family to attend a “panel discussion” on the Bible and homosexuality on April 26, just six days before the Soulforce May Day protest was to begin, proposing instead a private dialogue with Dobson and Jim Daly, new president of Focus on the Family. Focus on the Family official declined a private meeting and said they had no intention of letting protestors into their building.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.