Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I Don't Hate This Guy

...I'm just a little concerned that he's not thinking too clearly lately.

It was a little over 2 years ago when Barack Obama appeared as the keynote speaker at a Call to Renewal event in Washington, D.C. But it has not been until the past month that a number of his comments made at that Jim Wallis/Sojourner's get-together have come under attack by one of his chief political opponents.

And I'm actually not talking about John McCain.

Instead, Barack's 2-year-old comments are getting flak from a man who claims that he can't even vote for McCain in good conscience. He's a man who literally millions of Christians turn to for wisdom and guidance, who has gone from being a champion of preservation and redemption of the family to a political/social commentator on any issue he can get his hands on that so much as crosses the deep line drawn in the "conservative" sand, a man who actually believes that a nation can somehow be "Christian" (I believe only people can be Christians).

Dr. James Dobson spent a good deal of time in a radio address that aired two weeks ago attacking remarks Obama made in that speech two years ago. He accused the likely Democratic Presidential nominee of "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world-view, his own confused theology."
I ended up listening to Dobson and his political cohort Tom Minnery go on in their criticism of Obama, in their words a commentary that is "of incredible importance in understanding his (Obama's) world-view." I won't go on with more quotes because I'll provide links below where you can either listen for yourself, or look at some excerpts. Anyway...

The more I listened, the more angry I became. I wasn't angry because I necessarily disagreed with the principles for which Dobson stands: Biblical authority, understanding our politicians' world-views, the "religious" basis for morality (although I think he improperly labels this one; unless I'm mistaken, God is the basis for morality, not religion). I was mainly angry because I read that speech that Obama gave two years ago, and I loved it. It's one of the best speeches I've ever heard. Listening to it proved to me that Barack Obama is a thoughtful, informed, and devoted follower of Christ (that is, if he was truthful in all he said; I think he was). His understanding of the role faith plays in social and political matters is insightful and well-articulated. Moreover, it actually aligns fairly well with what people like James Dobson (on the right), Jim Wallis (on the left), and even Jerry Falwell (back when he was alive, he was so far to the right that he kept tipping over) have practiced for a long time: the insertion of issues of faith and morality into the political conversation.

But the thing that made me angry about Dobson's diatribe was his complete misrepresentation of Obama's words. He took quotes out of context, made inferences that were clearly inaccurate to anyone who read the entirety of the speech, responded defensively to what was not even close to an attack (but simply a reference) even when Dobson claimed not to be responding defensively to the "offensive" words from Obama, and COMPLETELY missed the point of the Senator's speech.

As I sat and pondered these things, already quite angry and fed-up with Focus on the Family (at least for the time being), I found a second wave of frustration as I considered the platform from which Dobson speaks, his influence, and therefore his responsibility to speak the truth (also to do so in love). There was so much in Obama's words which resonated as truth, and so little in Dobson's. I'm not accusing him of being intentionally deceptive, but rather warning him to take more care as one whose words travel so far to so many ears.

Luckily, I found this website: James Dobson Doesn't Speak For Me. Apparently I'm not alone as a Christian who is frustrated with Dobson's misuse of his platform as an Evangelical leader.

The Point: Barack Obama is actually a Christian. He believes that his faith needs to inform his politics, and not just on two or three issues approved by the Right. He believes that for some reason, God wants to be involved in all arenas of life, and that peoples' world-views cannot and should not be separated from the moral decisions and actions they take. I know, he sounds like a total idiot, doesn't he? Or does Dr. Dobson not believe these things as well? Faith and politics are an increasingly interesting area, not just to me, but to most Christians I know. I wonder how much longer people like Dobson can go on spouting partisan rhetoric before my fellow Christians start thinking for themselves.

Sorry if I sound angry. I've cooled down a bit from when I began this post, but I am still frustrated. Does anyone relate here or am I way off-base?

- Read Obama's Speech (Awesome)
You should really read this speech.

- AP Story about Dobson vs. Obama
The basic story.

- James Dobson Doesn't Speak For Me
Provides quotations from both Obama and Dobson shown in comparison. Very helpful.


Brian said...

God bless you :) Thanks for your honest opinions... I couldn't agree with you more...

Brent D. Maher said...

I'm in agreement as well. It's particularly troubling to me that the whole controversy seems to be a political tactic to generate fears and doubts of Obama among evangelicals. Obama is not completely compatible with evangelicalism, to be sure (but no candidate is). I am frustrated to hear Dobson speak as if his interpretation of the Bible is authoritative. Christians can interpret the Bible differently and arrive at different political conclusions and still be entirely orthodox.

Travis Whalen said...

Does Dobson have a response to "Dobson doesn't speak for me"?

The Dobson phenomenon has always worried me... I worked in a church that celebrated him as a saint, everytime a new study came out we reworked everything we did to alignh with it... I work at a church currently where his name comes up often when it comes to family and sadly political issues... I have overheard more than one conversation in which a person announces who they will vote for based on a comment of John Dobson. My fiances parents are big fans and will allow him to shape their vote as well... I find the whole thing deeply troublesome on all sides... for Dobson I worry he thinks he is doing a good work, out-casting men whom he feels don't get it right all the while developing a following of men who think he does. I hate that Obama will never get a fair shot at Presidency and I even see him wavering under criticism of late, I really respected his "no trash" policy of his early campaign, something that is slowly being abandon, in which he would not speak negatively about any candidate or non-candidate who believed they deserved a public voice.

Ultimetly I hate what this does to us, the collective body. We are forced, albeit quite willingly, to choose sides... sides that both contain faithful men, we divide and we argue... imagine an America, revise that, imagine a WORLD in which Christians united far more often than divide, where we put small (and they are all very small in respect to the greater calling) theological, political, socio-economic differences aside and focused on making the world a better place.

I cannot respect Dobson for his decision to handle Obama the way he has, he has a responsibility to set a very important example, this is a responsibility he accepted when he decided to make his ministry famous... he is feeding hillbilly theology and making American Christians exactly what the stereotypes say we are... he is also causing me to stumble, not that I am void of self control, through anger and frustration. All in all this is a sad situation that points to an even sadder reality of what this country has become. We need a generation to take seriously it's calling when following in the foot steps of todays key evangelicals... we cannot make the mistakes of our fathers.

ARBRA said...

Here's a really good site to listen to Obama's speech. I haven't heard this side of Obama before to be honest.


Lehr said...

Yoder and I read this article at CRAM. that wasn't a good combination when two cynical dudes get together and Focus on the Family weaves its way into the conversation. We vented a little, to say the least. Like you mentioned, it is nice to know that we're not alone. I just wish some Christians could understand that the Christian faith doesn't always work the same in each individual life and in the end, we all still call Christ our Savior.
Thanks for your thoughts.
I think my favorite part of Dobson's critque on Obama was the phrase "fruitcake interpretation". What a joke! He's quite literate sometimes, that Dobson.

Adam Lehman said...

great stuff.


ps. i love that you blog...

Canada said...

What is up man? I just found your blog and I had to jump in on this conversation.

There a couple things that I thought about when all of this went down, the first was my frustration with Dobson, not so much because I disagreed with him, but because the manner in which he discussed Obama was in no way, humble or loving.

However, also eats at me is this assertion that Dobson and Focus on the Family are synonymous. I think it is dangerous because in reality Focus on the Family does some wonderful things. However, the organization falls prey to the comments of James Dobson, (somewhat like Americans fall Prey to the actions a particular Presidents). I think this is partially the media’s fault, but also Dobson’s fault. He has had this desire to become a face and make a variety of statements that are more his than Focus of the Family’s. The way the media and Dobson portray Focus on the Family is a one man wrecking ball organization, which I do not believe it is. (I am not Dobson fan, though he has done some good things, which we cannot forget about).

The creation of a synonymous nature also contributes to websites like James Dobson Doesn’t Speak for Me – which I do not know if I like because it is pitting the two against each other and distorts Dobson by attaching his statements to direct comments of Obama, which are not the same ones Dobson actually commented on. I would take the risk to say that, when it comes down to what they believe, more people agree with Focus on the Family than with James Dobson or how he “represents” Focus on the Family (as soon as Dobson decided to step more and more into the political sphere, trying to gain power, the validity of focus on the Family dropped in my mind because his purpose was obviously to be made a powerful public figure rather than to actually promote change)
Another thing I thought of was about how Obama is using his Faith. I honestly, cannot say that I agree with Obama’s Biblical interpretation or the way that he seems to leverage scripture (much like the Evangelical/Christian Right). In some ways, I don’t think he is that different than George Bush (David Kuo – former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush and Deputy Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who also blasted Bush’s faith-based initiatives as really an empty ploy, resulting in little action, to court Evangelical support – has a short but interesting commentary on the similarities of Obama and Dobson and their use of faith in the political sphere). I do not think either Dobson or Obama is false in their acknowledgement of the Christian tradition, but I do think that the allure of Christians as a voting bloc has created an interesting twist in both of their political careers. I commented on this more in full a couple weeks ago in a response to the whole Dobson-Obama controversy.

One final thought. I know Obama is a Christian, but I wonder where is his courting of American Jews, Muslims, Catholic – Christians, etc. I am not opposed to having a president that supports unity, in fact in enthralls me, but I sometimes do not see that as a part of Obama’s agenda. He has visited several Churches, a couple of synagogues, but never a mosque.
Those are just some of my thoughts. Sorry, for the long reply (by the way, I prefer Obama over McCain).