For those who are still actually engaged with the political opinions of James Dobson, the former head of “Focus on the Family“, his statement to Pennsylvania pastor, Michael Anthony, about Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump becoming a born-again Christian has drawn a mild amount of curiosity and, in some quarters, ridicule.
Michael Anthony interviewed James Dobson where the assertion that Donald Trump converted to Christianity made its way into the public conversation. The New York Times picked up the story. Politico also followed suit reporting: “However, Dobson, a Christian psychologist and founder of the Focus on the Family group, said he knows ‘the person who led [Trump] to Christ. And that’s fairly recent…I don’t know when it was, but it has not been long,’ Dobson… ‘I believe he really made a commitment, but he’s a baby Christian.'”
Everyone should note the incredibly vague assertions: “don’t know when it was, but it has not been long.” There was no name given of the person who led the Donald to Christ. (After I wrote this, news came out that allegedly Paula White led Trump to Christ.) Does this smack of Dobson being profoundly naïve (another duped by a TV reality show host) or politically-driven cynical pandering? Perhaps next on the campaign trail, we will have the media-saturated Donald getting baptized in the Potomac by Eric Metaxes (an Evangelical and vocal Trump supporter) live on cable news in an attempt to influence more Evangelical voters to cast their lots for alleged billionaire.
Being a Christian, I hope that all people would come to know Christ (of course, by their own free volition to do so). This applies to the Donald as well. However, with a long history of so-called Evangelical leaders trying to deliver the votes of our community for the GOP, there is reason to be skeptical of Dobson’s claims regarding a Trumpian salvation.
Dobson is a part of the old-time religious right who arose to significant political power in the 1970s under the banner of “The Moral Majority”. Widely, they are credited with helping elect Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. One of the wedge issues that was used to persuade Evangelicals (and Christians who are generally described as more conservative) was the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision in 1972 on abortion. Over the ensuing decades in various ways, the political bandwidth grew from a few social issues to allying the gospel of Christ with the invisible hands of free-market capitalism and other GOP orthodox political platforms.
In the minds of Dobson and other remaining remnants of the religious right, a person would either not be a true Christian or perhaps would be immature in their faith for holding positions other than those espoused by Republican politicians. Indeed, Christianity became to these “Moral Majority” leaders a political wedge itself or a tool of manipulation to coarse sincere believers in Christ into voting exclusively in the wings of a major American political party. The gospel became a power religion at the service of people with money and influence who can tell specific politicians that they can deliver a “voting bloc” for them if those candidates agree with their political hobby horses. Frankly, this is disgusting.
On a macro level, regarding immediate political issues in the context of my community or nation, I keep in mind the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John. While standing in front of a politician, Pontius Pilate, who was about to wash his hands of the torture and death that Jesus would suffer: “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.'” (John 18:36, ESV) By the teachings of Christ, believers trust in a spiritual kingdom that is transcendent to this world. Future Hope for Christ followers is in a coming, perfect King.
Religious Right ideology has centered around often trying to pass legislation to force/ coerce others to act Christianly. Surely, Christians should know though that an external law will not change heart behavior. Jesus famously addressed this in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5-7).
Dobson, and some of his like-minded peers, would like us to embrace Trump as a born again Christian in order to vote for the “R” on the ballot. Embrace anyone instead of voting for a Democrat or a third party. Even desiring for us to cast a ballot for a candidate who has long been on the opposite side of one of Dobson’s preeminent issues: abortion. Trump has famously been pro-choice most of his life and described himself as “very pro-choice” in 1999. The Donald claims he has converted to the pro-life cause just in time to run for president on the GOP ticket. Months ago, he changed his position on abortion 5 times in 3 days. This week, when the Supreme Court issued a ruling in the Whole Woman’s Health vs Hellerstedt that struck down key provisions of a Texas law, Trump was silent on the decision and he has pro-life advocates worried.
Yet, the evaporating religious right keeps on marching and twisting themselves in the knots of cognitive dissonance in support of a casino magnate and strip club owner. In other words, a man who has engaged in activity for years that the religious right has condemned. This will be the final, closing act of the decaying “Moral Majority”.
My hope for the Church in America is that it will not be a voting bloc for the political machinations of powerful leaders but a wellspring of critical and independent thought in regard to politics. Less association with a specific political party and more coalescing around important issues including: helping the poor and disenfranchised, making war an extremely rare response, pro-life matters, helping single mothers or fathers, advocating for reconciliation, and standing strong against racial/ cultural bigotry.
Those categories are broad enough that people in the church (and beyond) will disagree on the details. That is fine. The Christian Church has existed for nearly two thousand years under all kinds of different political systems. In my small church of about 200 people, one will find committed Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and everything in between. We gather under the common banner of the gospel of Christ (as the church has for millennia) that we seek to not defile by adding to this sacred and foremost doctrine the platforms or goals of an American political party.
As for Dobson, I’m sure he lives a good life in his likely mansion with all manners of servants catering to him and his family. Confidently, we can assume he has a very comfortable life. With the end of the religious right and its slide into irrelevance, now might be as good a time as any for the former head of Focus on the Family to…retire.