For the past eight years, James Dobson’s brand of Christianity has been normative in the land. Dobson has preached a Christ acceptable to the present Bush administration. When George W. Bush and company get down on their knees, they pray to the same Christ to whom Dobson turns for guidance in making moral decisions.
Not surprisingly, Dobson has never–to the best of my knowledge–criticized Bush’s policies, legislation or actions as being unchristian. And why should he? For both share a brotherhood in worshiping the same Christ.
This is a Christ who has remained silent in the face of human-right violations, atrocities and institutional violence. The Christ whom Dobson and Bush believe in is a Christ that has nothing to say about water boarding; torture of prisoners in United States; care or transporting them to nations for more extensive torture; bearing false witness to start a war; Christians dying in the desert, because they happen to be undocumented immigrants; or the poor, who since 2000 has gotten poorer.
The Christ they bear witness to resembles and justifies their power, privileges, biases and status. It is a Christ that may be affirming to a certain elite in America, but one that brings literal death to those residing on the margins of Bush and Dobson’s privileged spaces.
Comments aired last Tuesday on Dobson’s popular “Focus on the Family” radio program attacked the presumed presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. Specifically, Dobson was lambasting the religious faith of Barack Obama. Apparently Obama was sharing the difficulty of reading the Bible literally to serve as a blueprint for how we govern ourselves.
“Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy?” Obama asked. “Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount?”
As a seminary professor I would hope that my students enter their graduate education asking such questions. If not, they do not belong in ministry. And if they do their job right as spiritual leaders, they will demonstrate to their parishioners how to wrestle with God’s word as the path to spiritual maturity
Obama ends with the lamentation that, “Folks haven’t been reading their Bible.” A true statement whose unfortunate consequence has historically been the manipulation of believers by spiritual demagogues of both the right and the left, who misquote God’s word to justify the political power of whatever regime they align themselves with.
Ironically, Dobson said, “I think [Obama] is deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology,” adding that Obama is “dragging biblical understanding through the gutter.”
Yet when we look at the Christ in which Dobson believes–a Christ of empire, capitalist triumphalism, militarism and consumerism–Dobson believes in a Christ that brings death: death to prisoners of war, death to the poor and disenfranchised, death to the undocumented crossing deserts. Such a Christ contradicts the Christ of the Gospel who assured his followers that he came to bring life, and life abundantly (Jn 10:10).
Throughout Christian history there have arisen self-proclaimed prophets and guardians of the public’s morals. The early apostles foresaw this threat and provided guidance to the early church on how to test the spirits. The apostle Peter warned us that we can spot the Evil One because he brings death. “Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Pt 5:8).
For this reason we must consistently test those who claim to speak for Christ or to be doing Christ’s work in the public sphere. Christians must examine the trail of corpses littering the past eight years and ask themselves if Dobson and Bush’s Christ has proved itself to be “like roaring lions seeking the disenfranchised to devour.” If so, then for the sake of our own souls, we must not only reject this Christ but also unmask his followers for what they are and who they follow.
To be a Christian who follows the teaching of the Gospel is to wage war against the Christ offered to us by Dobson and Bush. For their Christ has legitimized and normalized the social, economic and physical genocide of the world’s disenfranchised. To be a Christian is to wage this war against all the forces of Satan, who have traded the liberating message of the gospel for 40 pieces of silver, and all the power, recognition and privilege that silver can buy.
Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.