Church-state watchdog greets Dobson resignation from Focus with a shrug

An icon depicting James Dobson on the Americans United for Separation of Church and State Web site. (Graphic/au.org)
An icon depicting James Dobson on the Americans United for Separation of Church and State Web site. (Graphic/au.org)

Focus on the Family figurehead James Dobson’s resignation as chairman of the evangelical empire he founded is “unlikely to make much of a difference” in the conservative organization’s operations, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said Friday. “Focus on the Family is merely rearranging the deck chairs on its big, intolerant ship,” the Rev. Barry W. Lynn said in a statement.

Dobson, 72, announced Friday morning he planned to step aside as Focus on the Family chairman but would continue as host of the Christian ministry’s popular radio program and continue to “speak out on moral issues,” a Focus spokesman said.

That’s not enough to suit Lynn, whose watchdog group regularly takes on religious figures who step into politics — and politicians who invoke religion while governing.

“Despite my differences with him, if Dobson were truly retiring, I would wish him well,” Lynn said. “But I know that Dobson and so many other leaders of the Religious Right intend to remain active, working to force their exclusionary worldview onto the rest of us.”

The Colorado Springs-based ministry has run into financial difficulty lately, laying off 20 percent of its employees last fall because of revenue shortfalls, shortly after pouring more than $750,000 into California’s Proposition 8 campaign to overturn gay marriage.

Focus on the Family officials said Dobson’s retirement is part of a transition to a new generation of leaders for the group, founded by Dobson in 1977.

According to a statement issued by the Focus board:

“One of Dr. Dobson’s objectives during the last decade has been to help identify the next generation of leadership for the ministry, and to see it established securely before he stepped away from administrative oversight. That purpose has now been fulfilled, and we applaud Dr. Dobson for this concern for the future of the ministry.”

Lynn is having none of that:

“I do not expect this change to mean we will see any moderation in the rhetoric of Focus on the Family or its arm in Washington, the Family Research Council. For years, FOF has been the leading voice of religious extremism and intolerance in America. It has led the attack on the legal rights of gay and lesbian Americans, worked assiduously to undermine reproductive rights, assaulted the religious neutrality of public schools and labored to replace science with far-right, fundamentalist dogma.

“James Dobson’s vision of America is of a divisive and narrow-minded nation, a country where an exceedingly limited version of Christianity – the type hewn to by Dobson and his followers – is welded to the raw power of the state. In his misguided quest for an officially ‘Christian America,’ Dobson would trample on the rights of millions. I am thankful that so many Americans reject Dobson’s disturbing vision.”

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