Focus on the Family founding president James Dobson’s post-election reflection was quite the lament. He took the loss by the incumbent president very personally.
For Dobson and other religious-right attention-seekers – often courted by conservative politicians to rally voters and offer religious justifications for their self-serving ideology – this was indeed a loss of privilege and influence.
Dobson expressed such grief –with “heaviness within my spirit” – in his tear-stained letter to supporters. He recalled touring the White House private residence, along with Paula White, Franklin Graham and other charlatans, at the president’s invitation.
Of most importance to Dobson, however, the president had allowed a sectarian National Day of Prayer observance to take place in the White House Rose Garden “all four years of his presidency.”
While other praise followed for the president who lost his reelection bid, one can understand much about the priorities and purposes of Christian nationalists like Dobson when noting the repeated references to their own personal and political power.
The National Day of Prayer has an interesting and troubling history. For those who want to know more, read this Nurturing Faith Journal article and this Americans United for the Separation of Church and State FAQ.
In brief, Christian nationalists seized the nonsectarian observance for their own exclusive purposes – with Dobson’s wife, Shirley, as a long-serving head of the organization that was formed to capitalize on the National Day of Prayer.
While in recent decades all presidents have marked the annual observance each May with various proclamations and gatherings, Dobson and other religious right leaders have but one measuring stick: Whether they personally are permitted to hold an exclusive Christian nationalist event in the Rose Garden.
Anything else is considered an affront to them and their little partisan god. In other words, personal access to power was and remains their primary goal.
To mangle a borrowed line from Lynn Anderson: “I beg your pardon, but nobody – especially God – promised you a Rose Garden.”
Yet personal privilege – along with a short list of pet issues – is how Dobson and other high-profile nationalists judge the “Christianity” of American politicians. Such soul-selling access to power, of course, is precisely what Jesus rejected.
But then Jesus has long been cast aside from politicized religious fundamentalism. As my late Old Testament professor, Max Gray Rogers, used to tell us, “The nearest thing to a rose garden we were ever promised was a crown of thorns.”
Dobson’s Rose Garden variety of Christianity, which seeks a worldly kingdom with religious adornments, is particularly thorny and highly transactional.
Politicians cater to these celebrity religionists in exchange for them telling their followers that the accommodating president is a “good Christian” – or, when that is clearly not the case, at least “good for Christians.” (Even if they are mocked in private after leaving the White House grounds having been sufficiently swooned.)
Such transactions fit naturally with those whose misunderstanding of salvation is more transactional than relational. This horse-trading allows for giving and getting those things desired while ignoring the moral character, values and justice that Jesus and the larger biblical revelation require.
More than any other segment of the American population, white Christian nationalists (well branded as evangelicals) have fostered an era of disinformation, self-service and fear. All the while polluting the Christian witness.
Dobson and other high-profile evangelicals specialize in helping Americanized Christians justify injustices in favor of influence. He lets off the hook those, like himself, who claim a primary commitment to following Jesus but give their energy and influence to carrying out a political agenda often at odds with the values of Jesus.
Therefore, Dobson’s letter – beyond lamenting personal losses – referenced the fundamentalist favorites of abortion fallacies, fear of immigrants and, of course, alarm over potential gun ownership restrictions that might result from the incoming “godless administration.”
Of course, Dobson expressed no concerns about racial injustice, rampant lying, mistreatment of women and children at the border, authoritarianism and other issues that might be of concern to Jesus and his followers.
Why? Because none of those has anything to do with what Dobson means by pro-life or pro-family. His agenda is really pro-favoritism and pro-discrimination.
The idea of living out the ways of Jesus in a world of need is as fearful and foreign to him as those of differing hues who might seek refuge in this purported land of the free.
Any perceptive reader can see Dobson’s clear, self-serving objectives. Yet so many good and gullible people fall for this nonsense as if it has anything to do with what it means to be Christian.
White Christian nationalists’ major role in redefining faith apart from following Jesus is one reason Americanized Christianity has lost its witness, relevance and intended focus.
Despite his organizational misnomer, Dobson has never focused on families in the fuller sense – and certainly not on what Jesus called his followers to be and do. And Christianity in America is paying a high price for this disservice.
That’s not the rosiest assessment you’ll read today, but it is an accurate one and a needed warning.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.