If you’ve not yet had the occasion to read Dr. James Dobson’s fantastic October 2008 “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America,” you’ll not be aware that
in mid-2010, Iran launched a nuclear bomb that exploded in the middle of Tel Aviv, destroying much of that city. They then demanded that Israel cede huge amounts of territory to the Palestinians, and after an anguished all-night Cabinet meeting, Israel’s prime minister agreed.
I deploy fantastic in its archaic sense, to indicate the fantasy-based right-wing Christian paranoia with which anyone who has followed Focus on the Family over its thirty-three-year career, as I have, will be familiar. No, that’s not quite accurate: I did stop paying attention, for a time. However, with the recent suicides of young gay men in the news, the dirty and dishonest work of a Dobson/Focus on the Family creation called “True Tolerance” has got my attention. Apparently, what we must not do in these days of anti-gay bullying is promote the idea that anti-gay bullying is wrong.
“Focus on the Family” is a Colorado Springs-based, American Christian evangelical organization founded by psychologist James Dobson, in 1977, to propagate conservative views on marriage, sex, and abortion. The principal tools of this outfit are radio programs and printed materials, whereas a more explicitly political adjunct, called the Family Research Council, was established by Dobson to promote (or impede) political candidates. In the promote category have been Mike Huckabee, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin, and in the impede, Arlen Specter and Barack Obama. A rather poor track record, to be sure, suggesting that Dobson is about as effective in the picking of his horse as he is at prognostication. Even so, Dobson is regarded influential and a leading figure in Christian political activism.
In the interest of fairness, I’ll note that an armed Iran was a reasonable source of fear in 2008, and is now. That’s as far as I need go, however. Our Doctor of Psychology fails to comprehend the true significance of an Iranian nuclear weapon, which is its blackmail value — something quite diminished by its use (which, does anyone doubt, would bring about an immediate Israeli retaliation?: all of which assumes, improbably, that Israel had not made a pre-emptive strike). There’s a good deal more of this off-the-mark stuff, and on a wide variety of topics, for anyone who wishes to read the Letter. My interest in the present case is the hypocritical and dishonest battle of Dobson, True Tolerance, and the de-gaying conference series called “Love Won Out” against the “radical homosexual agenda.”
Hypocritical and dishonest? Well, consider that True Tolerance makes frequent use of two tropes. The first is that anti-bullying policies which mention homosexuality, “diversity,” or “tolerance” (always in quotation marks: theirs, not mine) “politicize and sexualize the school environment,” thereby sneaking in a hidden agenda to encourage gay sex:
This one-sided agenda is also irresponsible, and even dangerous, from a psychological and emotional perspective. For instance, we know from scientific data that many children, starting at age 12, are unsure about their sexual identity. Many of them don’t even solidify their sexual identity until age 17 or 18. Clearly, the middle and high school years are a crucial and vulnerable time for children who are developing in many ways. So schools certainly shouldn’t be opening their doors to messages that push children into prematurely embracing a sexual identity based on the demands of outside advocacy groups.
The second trope is that “taxpaying parents” have more of a stake and vested interest in what happens in their schools than “outside advocacy” and “special interest groups.”
The first set of ideas, to be credible, requires us to believe that there ought to be such a thing as a “non-political” social environment, that is, an environment where people do not talk about controversial things. Here’s one: gay children don’t “solidify” their sexual identity because they fear the reaction of people like James Dobson. Discuss. Notice that in this environment, the work of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and True Tolerance is not political. Prejudice against gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and trans-gendered persons is not political. The teaching of religious dogma in school is not political. The issue of bullying and the attitudes which inform it are not political. Only the effort to identify and understand anti-GLBT attitudes is political, and must be prevented. This I think is hypocrisy.
All the Dobson-created organizations I have mentioned are tax-exempt and taxpayer subsidized special interest advocacy groups, a fact which renders hypocritical the fear-based charges against outsiders. Taxpaying parents do indeed have a stake and an interest, and therefore the right to tell Focus on the Family, as much as any other special interest, where to go. Parents can also challenge, and should challenge, the tax exemption of political advocacy organizations whose benefits derive only from the fact that they are Christian. Nor does Dobson even represent Christians in America, but instead a minority sect. A very much politicized minority, one might say.
Dr. Dobson has the right to express his opinions, just as I have and will exercise my right duly to shame them. I don’t believe the work of his niche media empire should be underwritten by the Government, however. His stubborn bigotry can be bought entirely on his own dime, as may the obstinate intolerance of his organizations. Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council exist for a few simple purposes. Chief among them is preventing the flowering of an idea, that people in the natural course of things come in more than one variety, hetero, where sexual orientation is concerned. It is a simple idea that has no hidden agenda, does not threaten the rights and freedoms of others, will not disturb civilization, and is not a prelude to conversion. Based upon what I have observed, it is only the ideas of certain religious folk which today pose such dangers.