For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. (Acts 26:26)
“I simply can’t in good conscience be a party to putting any of them in power, because I believe they’ll do irreparable harm to our country.” James Dobson in 2008 on electing McCain, Clinton or Obama
Years ago, as a young church-going parent, I listened to James Dobson’s tapes on Christian child-rearing. Until I realized the futility of his advice to break children’s wills by bullying them with authoritarian parental control. Abuse doesn’t lead to redemption. From there, the child psychologist increasingly misapplied his media hold over millions of evangelicals for his own skewed political purposes. Confident in his role as Spiritual Daddy, he parleyed his combative fundamentalism to become a partisan kingmaker.
Bill Clinton “will never stop lying”, Dobson pronounced in 1998. His “disregard for morality is profoundly disturbing to me.” Clinton, he maintained, “is the only one in American history, to my knowledge, who has been specifically applauded for his deceit… Character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it.” Again: “We are facing a profound moral crisis — not only because one man has disgraced us – but because our people no longer recognize the nature of evil. And when a nation reaches that state of depravity – judgment is a certainty.”
Fast forward to today, where Dobson runs spiritual defense for Team MAGA, including its pathological leader. He’s a man who remained stumm about Trump’s sexual infidelities, his cheating, his profanity – despite supporting “those who will lead the country righteously, honorably, and wisely”. And he’s a man who claims the 2020 election was stolen, because of “the overwhelming volume of evidence”.
You might say Dobson is a hypocrite. But Dobson, like so many of his pious sisters and brothers in Christ, is not a religious phony. Dobson has spent his entire career telling others how to structure their lives. He, like the Pharisees, takes pride in narrow-minded “our-way-or-highway” religiosity. You’d think this witness for the Truth would have the discernment to distinguish right-ness from righteousness. Thus, he’s not a hypocrite when playing by his own interpretation of the rules. But you can know all the rules – and when to break them – all in a Christianity bereft of the teachings of Christ. And because, as Dr. Dobson put it, “our people no longer recognize the nature of evil”.
“If there’s no meaning in it,” said the King in Alice in Wonderland, “that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any.” Evangelicals “talk good sense about wisdom and morality, at least until a Bible opens up. Then, suddenly, we are incapable of holiness,” writes Bart Gingerich. It becomes a free-for-all antinomialism. This isn’t just that they’ve been ignorant, which implies lack of knowledge. They hold false beliefs while knowing they are untrue, which implicates deliberate sinful intent. As Jerry Falwell, Jr. once explained, “we can argue about theology later after we save the country.”
As the disgraced Falwell himself personifies, the Moral Majority has never been about personal morality. At least from “our” side. That’s why you’ll never see Dobson condemn a dreadful person like candidate for Georgia governor, Herschel Walker. Character DOES matter, as Dobson once believed. Now, its just delivering political results. “All that talk about how leaders must exhibit personal morality was forgotten in favor of a ruthless pragmatism they make no effort to conceal. They just want to win by any means necessary and worship power for power’s sake.”
And just as Dobson led thousands into the front door of churches, he’s now pushing thousands out the back door. Hello, Dr. Dobson, are you listening to the door slam on their way out? Wonder why the evangelical church is withering? To paraphrase Dobson, when the church “reaches that state of depravity – judgment is a certainty.”