Who is James Dobson?
James Dobson (1936-present) is an American evangelical Christian author, psychologist, and founder in 1977 of Focus on the Family (FOTF), which he led until 2003. In the 1980s he was ranked as one of the most influential spokesmen for conservative social positions in American public life. Although never an ordained minister, he was called "the nation's most influential evangelical leader" by Time while Slate portrayed him as a successor to evangelical leaders Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson.
He is no longer affiliated with Focus on the Family. Dobson founded Family Talk as a non-profit organization in 2010 and launched a new radio broadcast, "Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson", that began May 3, 2010 on over 300 stations nationwide. As part of his former role in the organization, he produced Focus on the Family, a daily radio program which according to the organization was broadcast in more than a dozen languages and on over 7,000 stations worldwide, and reportedly heard daily by more than 220 million people in 164 countries. Focus on the Family was also carried by about sixty U.S. television stations daily. He founded the Family Research Council in 1981.
Dobson was born to Myrtle Georgia (née Dillingham) and James C. Dobson, Sr. in Shreveport, Louisiana, and from his earliest childhood, religion was a central part of his life. He once told a reporter that he learned to pray before he learned to talk. In fact, he says he gave his life to Jesus at the age of three, in response to an altar call by his father. He is the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Church of the Nazarene ministers, although he does not speak for the denomination in any capacity.
His father, James Dobson Sr. (1911–1977) never went to college. He was a traveling evangelist, chiefly in the southwest. The parents took their young son along to watch his father preach. Like most Nazarenes, they forbade dancing and going to movies. Young "Jimmie Lee" (as he was called) concentrated on his studies. Dobson studied academic psychology, which in the 1950s and 1960s was not looked upon favorably by most evangelical Christians. He came to believe that he was being called to become a Christian counselor or perhaps a Christian psychologist.
He attended Pasadena College (now Point Loma Nazarene University) as an undergraduate and was captain of the school's tennis team. In 1967, Dobson received his doctorate in psychology from the University of Southern California and served in the faculty of the university's Keck School of Medicine for 14 years. For a time, Dobson worked as an assistant to Paul Popenoe at the Institute of Family Relations, a marriage-counseling center, in Los Angeles.
Dobson first became well-known with the publication of Dare to Discipline (1970), which encouraged parents to use corporal punishment in disciplining their children. Dobson's social and political opinions are widely read among many evangelical church congregations in the United States. Dobson publishes monthly bulletins also called Focus on the Family, which are dispensed as inserts in some Sunday church service bulletins.
Dobson interviewed serial killer Ted Bundy on camera the day before he was executed, in January 1989. The interview was controversial as Bundy was given an opportunity to attempt to explain his actions (the rape and murder of 30 young women). Bundy blamed his crimes on violent pornography, something he had never mentioned in police and psychological interviews. In May 1989, during an interview with John Tanner, a Republican Florida prosecutor, Dobson called for Bundy to be forgiven. The Bundy tapes gave Focus on the Family revenues of over $1 million, most of which was donated to anti-pornography groups.
Dobson stepped down as President and CEO of Focus on the Family in 2003, and resigned from the position of chairman of the board in February 2009. Currently, Dobson is the Founder and President of Family Talk, a non-profit organization that produces his radio program, “Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk.”
Dobson married his wife, Shirley, on August 26, 1960; they have two children, Danae and Ryan. Ryan Dobson (born in California in 1970), who graduated from Biola University in La Mirada, California, is a public speaker, specializing on issues relating to youth and the pro-life movement. He was adopted by the Dobsons and is an ardent supporter of adoption, especially adoption of troubled children.
Views on marriage
James Dobson is a strong proponent of traditional marriage, which he defines as "one where husband and wife are lawfully married, are committed to each other for life," and have a homemaker mother and breadwinner father. According to his view, women are not deemed inferior to men because both are created in God's image, but each gender has biblically-mandated roles. He recommends that married women with children under the age of 18 focus on mothering, rather than work outside the home.
In the 2004 book Marriage Under Fire, Dobson suggests that heterosexual marriage rates in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have been falling, and that this is due to the recognition of same-sex relationships by those countries during the 1990s. He remarks that the "institution of marriage in those countries is rapidly dying" as a result, with most young people cohabiting or choosing to remain single (living alone) and illegitimacy rates rising in some Norwegian counties up to 80%.
Dobson writes that "every civilization in the world" has been built upon marriage. He also believes that homosexuality is neither a choice nor genetic, but is caused by external factors during early childhood. He anecdotally cites as evidence the life of actress Anne Heche, who was previously in a relationship with Ellen deGeneres. Criticizing "the realities of judicial tyranny," Dobson has written that "[t]here is no issue today that is more significant to our culture than the defense of the family. Not even the war on terror eclipses it."
Critics have stated that Dobson's views on homosexuality do not represent the mainstream views of the mental health community, with Dan Gilgoff noting the positions of the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association on homosexuality.
Views on schooling
Focus on the Family supports private school vouchers and tax credits for religious schools. According to Focus on the Family website, Dobson believes that parents are ultimately responsible for their children's education, and encourages parents to visit their children's schools to ask questions and to join the PTA so that they may voice their opinions. Dobson opposes sex education curricula that are not abstinence-only. According to People for the American Way, Focus on the Family material has been used to challenge a book or curriculum taught in public schools. Critics, such as People for the American Way, allege that Focus on the Family encourages Christian teachers to establish prayer groups in public schools.
Dobson supports student-led prayer in public schools, and believes that allowing student-led Christian prayer in schools does not violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Views on discipline within the family
In his book Dare to Discipline, Dobson advocated the spanking of children up to eight years old when they misbehave, but warns that "corporal punishment should not be a frequent occurrence" and that "discipline must not be harsh and destructive to the child's spirit." He warns against "harsh spanking" because "It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely."
Dobson has called disciplining children to be a necessary but unpleasant part of raising children that should only be carried out by qualified parents: Anyone who has ever abused a child — or has ever felt himself losing control during a spanking — should not expose the child to that tragedy. Anyone who has a violent temper that at times becomes unmanageable should not use that approach. Anyone who secretly 'enjoys' the administration of corporal punishment should not be the one to implement it.
In his book The Strong-Willed Child, Dobson suggests that if authority is portrayed correctly to a child, the child will understand how to interact with other authority figures: By learning to yield to the loving authority... of his parents, a child learns to submit to other forms of authority which will confront him later in his life — his teachers, school principal, police, neighbors and employers. In Dobson's opinion, parents must uphold their authority and do so consistently; he compares the relationship between parents and disobedient children to a battle: "When you are defiantly challenged, win decisively.”
Views on homosexuality
Dobson believes that God defines marriage as between one man and one woman only and describes this as the central stabilizing institution of society. Dobson believes that any sexual activity outside of such a union — including homosexuality — cannot be approved by God. In Dobson's view, homosexuality is a choice that is made through influences in a child's environment rather than an inborn trait. He states that homosexual behavior, specifically "unwanted same-sex attraction", has been and can be "overcome" through understanding developmental models for homosexuality and choosing to heal the complex developmental issues which led to same-sex attraction.
Focus on the Family ministry sponsors the monthly conference Love Won Out, where participants hear "powerful stories of ex-gay men and women." Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG) has protested against the conference in Orlando, questioning both its methodology and supposed success. In regards to the conference, Dobson has stated that "Gay activists come with preconceived notions about who we are and what we believe and about the hate that boils from within, which is simply not true. Regardless of what the media might say, Focus on the Family has no interest in promoting hatred toward homosexuals or anyone else. We also don't wish to deprive them of their basic constitutional rights... The Constitution applies to all of us."
Dobson strongly opposes the movement to legitimize same-sex relationships. In his book Bringing Up Boys, Dobson states that "The second thing we know is that the disorder is not typically "chosen." Homosexuals deeply resent being told that they selected this same-sex inclination in pursuit of sexual excitement or some other motive. It is unfair, and I don't blame them for being irritated by that assumption. Who among us would knowingly choose a path that would result in alienation from family, rejection by friends, disdain from the heterosexual world, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis, and even a shorter lifespan?"
Sociologist Judith Stacey criticized Dobson for claiming that sociological studies show that gay couples do not make good parents. She stated that Dobson's claim "is a direct misrepresentation of my research." In response to Dobson's claim that "there have been more than ten thousand studies that have showed that children do best when they are raised with a mother and a father who are committed to each other," Stacey replied that "[a]ll of those studies that Dobson is referring to are studies that did not include gay or lesbian parents as part of the research base."
Dobson objected to a bill expanding the prohibition of sexual orientation-based discrimination in the areas of "public accommodation, housing practices, family planning services and twenty other areas." He said that, were such a bill passed, public businesses could no longer separate locker rooms and bathrooms by gender, which he claimed would lead to a situation where, "every woman and little girl will have to fear that a predator, bisexual, cross-dresser or even a homosexual or heterosexual male might walk in and relieve himself in their presence."
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