A prominent friend and supporter of James Dobson believes Dobson was pushed aside by the new leadership of Focus on the Family, who want the powerhouse evangelical ministry to project a softer image on issues ranging from abortion to gay marriage to relations with President Obama.
Dobson founded Focus on the Family in 1977 and spent the next 25 years building it into the influential Christian conservative group it is today.
In February 2009, Dobson stepped down as chairman of the Colorado Springs-based group’s board of directors, after relinquishing his longtime role as president in 2003. But he kept his role of host of the popular Focus radio show, which is reportedly heard by 1.5 million Americans each day.
Then, this past November, Dobson said on the show that the Focus board had asked him to give up the radio program in a few months time. Late last month, he delivered his final Focus broadcast.
In little-noticed comments from the November show, Dobson seemed troubled by the board’s decision to ask him to give up the program.
“[T]the board of directors voted privately on Wednesday — before we got there — to ask for my resignation, although their request was made with kindness and respect. We can only guess the reason for their decision because frankly I don’t fully know,” Dobson said. “But it apparently has to do with the desire for closure on my tenure and the beginning of another.”
Pastor Ken Hutcherson, who leads the Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland, Washington, and describes himself as a longtime friend of Dobson, says he became suspicious when Dobson, 73, announced he would launch his own independent radio show this spring. While the new show is not associated with Focus on the Family, it will be called Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson, and center on the same issues Dobson brought to his Focus broadcast.
And Focus — which has been through several rounds of painful layoffs — agreed to donate $1 million to Dobson to start the new show.
“Dr. Dobson gets off the radio in February, and he’s starting a new program in May. It just didn’t make sense. Why get off if you don’t want to get off?” Hutcherson asked in a phone interview with TPMmuckraker.
Hutcherson, a former Dallas Cowboys linebacker, is a force in his own right. He is best known for his anti-gay activism and the New York Times has described him as “a rising national star in the world of black evangelical ministers.”
Hutcherson says he’s talked to both Dobson and Focus president Jim Daly. While he won’t say what Dobson views on the matter are — and Dobson’s office did not respond to a request for comment — Hutcherson penned a WorldNetDaily column this week writing that, “One thing is for sure, in his humility, Dr. Dobson only wants to continue to speak the truth on the radio. Apparently, that truth has limited appeal to the new leadership at Focus.”
Asked about Hutcherson’s criticisms, Focus spokeswoman Joanna Brown released this statement:
“We admire Rev. Hutcherson and the good work he has done for the cause of Christ and in support of families. He is, of course, entitled to his own opinion about the work we do, whether we agree with that opinion or not.”
In a Feb. 6 Wall Street Journal story on the changes at Focus (for which Dobson also declined to comment), Daly said that “he has no use for the sharp personal attacks on politicians employed by Mr. Dobson. ‘I don’t see evil behind everything.’”
The story continued:
Mr. Daly said he preferred to build bridges with others. While Mr. Dobson blasted President Barack Obama for “fruitcake” ideas, Mr. Daly praised the president for his devotion to family and last summer attended a White House event celebrating fatherhood.
Hutcherson said about Daly’s attendance at the Obama event: “The man believes in partial birth abortion. That’s something that never would have happened if Dr. Dobson were there.”
To Hutcherson, another example of Focus’ new approach is its Super Bowl ad featuring Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow. The ad was expected to feature a direct anti-abortion message, but ended up merely telling viewers to “celebrate life.”
“I mean, what did it say?” asks Hutcherson. “You gonna spend $2.5 million to say what?”
Whatever the reason for Dobson losing his radio show, it’s clear that a rebranding — free of Dobson — is underway at Focus.
He is nowhere to be seen on the glossy front page of the group’s Web site. Instead, a large graphic invites visitors to watch a 4-minute video on “The Focus Story” with President Jim Daly.
Dobson, for his part, said in a statement when resigning from the board last year that, “One of the common errors of founder-presidents is to hold the reins of leadership too long, thereby preventing the next generation from being prepared for executive authority.”
(This post has been edited from its original version.)