A “Gauntlet Down” Challenge to James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Other Christian Ministries of Fame
One of the most common characteristics of an abuser is — you all know it well — he never admits when he is wrong. Never admits fault. Never takes blame. Unless of course it is done just for show, to dupe others into thinking he is “humble.”
Now, here is a question for all of us. When is the last time you heard a notable Christian ministry, organization, or celeb personality, admit they have been wrong, that they have taught something falsely, and they are confessing it and doing so publicly? When have you heard them say something like this: “I have always taught that God does not permit divorce for abuse. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I repent of that and I want everyone to know it.”
We know of some celebs who actually have softened on this point, but will they come out publicly and say so, admitting their errors and asking for forgiveness from those they harmed? Nope. Too costly.
On our Facebook page (link) we recently highlighted James Dobson’s teaching on how to deal with a violent spouse. He teaches that: “divorce is not the solution to this problem. Our purpose should be to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage.”
He advises that the abused wife use a weird version of his ‘tough love’ approach. We say weird because if Dobson’s advice were followed, the woman would be at risk of being killed or permanently maimed by her violent husband. No kidding. His advice shows how little he understands (a) the dynamics of abuse, and (b) the responses that abused wives usually receive from the church when they seek support. He greatly underestimates the naivety of the church when it comes to abusers. And he gives no longterm advice for what a woman is to do if her abusive husband chooses not to genuinely repent and reform.
Dobson’s “tough love” advice is false. It is unbiblical. It is disgusting and dangerous.
Focus on the Family has undergone changes. Dobson is no longer there. Here is the scoop from Wikipedia-
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 on 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.
Ok, so there are some indications that Focus on the Family does not hold to all that Dobson taught and continues to teach. FOF says that they are reaching out to victims of domestic violence. So here is the gauntlet we throw down to them:
To Focus on the Family: let’s hear you come out publicly, renouncing the damaging, enslaving errors that Dobson taught for so many years at Focus on the Family, specifically in regard to situations of domestic abuse. Let’s hear you confess these things. Confess that as an organization FOF participated in grievous errors which you now renounce. Be specific about what errors you are renouncing: what wrong things you taught or condoned in the past, and what you now teach instead. Let’s hear you stand up and say for all to hear that you do not accept Dobson’s teachings on these matters. Because FOF really needs to be the leader in correcting these harmful things.
And to James Dobson: let’s hear you publicly renounce all your teaching that has loaded countless victims of abuse with burdens hard to bear, when you yourself wouldn’t touch the burdens with one of your fingers.
You see, it is one thing for Christian celebrities and ministries of notoriety to say things behind the scenes. But it is quite another for them to be willing to pay the price and take a public stand for all to hear. And there will be a price. That is the main reason these public confessions are so rare. There is a price. Here is our estimation of the price:
- Some big time donors will be all kinds of upset and take their checkbooks and go home.
- There will be a barrage of angry shouts from old school loyalists.
- Your website and blogs will be deluged with comments from abusers attempting to perpetuate the myths about domestic abuse.
- These abusers will cleverly and subtly use language to
- conceal abuse, violence and oppression
- obfuscate perpetrators’ responsibility
- conceal victims’ resistance to abuse
- blame and pathologize victims.
- If you want to keep your website and ministry safe for victims of abuse, you will have to learn how use language to do the opposite of what abusers do. Your written and spoken language will need to
- reveal abuse, violence and oppression
- clarify perpetrators’ responsibility
- elucidate victims’ responses and resistance
- contest the blaming and pathologizing of victims.
- And you will find that it is is necessary to moderate all comments on your blogs. You’ll need to be able to detect and block comments from abusers, plus be careful with comments from naive people who unwittingly say things that will trigger the abused and prolong their bondage to oppressors.
But if you are prepared to pay the price and do all that hard work, something else will happen. Something good. The reputation, integrity, and trustworthiness of your ministry will increase exponentially in the eyes of God’s true people. The same applies to all other celebs and ministries in the Christian realm. (Note: When this post is published, we will be emailing both Focus on the Family and James Dobson at his current ministry, to invite them to read it.)
At present, myriads of abuse victims who have been dealt rank injustice at the hands of these kinds of ministries, are waiting. Waiting for a word of confession. Their wait is really quite similar to that other crowd of saints calling out for validation and justice:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9-10)
* * *
Acknowledgements and thanks to Dr Allan Wade for his ideas on the four operations of language which we have nested in the bullet points of this post. For further reading see Allan Wade’s article Language and Violence: Analysis of Four Discursive Operations of Language.
Related Post at Spiritual Sounding Board: Three Pastors Challenge Dr. James Dobson’s Advice on Domestic Violence Which Could Put Victims in Harm’s Way
Related post at Homeschoolers Anonymous: James Dobson on Domestic Violence: Women “Deliberately Bait” their husbands