There’s another wrinkle in the story of James Dobson’s exit from Focus on the Family: an unnamed Focus board member told the New York Times in January that because Dobson’s son Ryan had a divorce several years ago, Ryan could not replace his father at the helm of the group’s popular radio show.
Yesterday we told you about the possibility that Dobson and Focus, arguably most powerful Christian conservative organization in the country, had a less than amicable breakup that resulted in Dobson departing last month as host of the Focus radio program, which reaches 1.5 million listeners.
A friend of Dobson’s suggested that the new leadership of Focus wanted to create a softer image for the group, which has long been associated with Dobson’s uncompromising rhetoric on abortion, gay rights, and other issues.
But, according to the Times, there was also the issue of Dobson’s son:
A Focus board member who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that because Ryan Dobson has been divorced, it would be against the board’s policy for him to serve as the voice for Focus, which counsels people on marriage and child-rearing.
Dobson stepped down as chairman of the Focus board last year, after giving up his role as president back in 2003. But he kept his position as host of the group’s daily radio show, remaining the de facto voice of Focus.
Then, in November, Dobson announced that the Focus board had asked him to step down as host of the radio show. He suggested the request came as a surprise, and said he did not “fully know” the reasons for the move.
Ryan Dobson, born in 1970, leads the youth-focused KOR Ministries.
“Ryan traveled extensively for years, challenging youth at music festivals, concert tours, youth camps, and crisis pregnancy center activities. Drawing from his experiences talking first-hand to teenagers and young adults, he co-wrote his first book, Be Intolerant in 2003,” according to his bio. “This wake-up call warned young Christians not to fall for the lies of a relativistic, post-modern society.”
That book was described by Publishers Weekly as having a “colloquial style with all the subtlety of a two-by-four to the side of the head.”
Ryan Dobson was also quoted in a recent Times piece on the use of ultimate fighting contests to recruit young men into evangelical churches. “The man should be the overall leader of the household,” Dobson said. “We’ve raised a generation of little boys.”
Ryan Dobson was divorced in 2001 and since remarried.
In the December statement announcing the new show, James Dobson cited the role of his son.
“Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t simply stay at Focus on the Family if my purpose was to continue broadcasting as usual. It is because I have felt since the turn of the century that I needed to begin passing along the leadership of the ministry to a younger generation,” he said in the announcement.
But the new show, which, like Focus, is based in Colorado Springs and will deal with family issues, may inevitably come to represent competition for Focus on the Family.
“I can imagine a significant portion of Dobson’s audience switching over to the new program because they want to continue to hear him,” John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron who studies evangelicals, tells TPMmuckraker.
Kyle Mantyla, who follows the Christian Right as a senior fellow at People For the American Way, tells TPMmuckraker that Dobson’s final exit from Focus likely came as a relief for the group.
“Every time he said something provocative, it reflected badly on the organization,” Mantyla says. “I think probably they were getting tired of that. it was fine when he was running the show, but he was increasingly not in charge.”