The majority of the “pro-family” movement is simply anti-gay. They do virtually nothing to assist parents with child rearing or creating marriages that last. The one organization that occasionally seemed to offer some value to Christian parents was Focus on the Family.
However, in recent years, the somewhat constructive work was largely overshadowed by the destructive, aggressively political agenda of the organization’ founder James Dobson. His addiction to bullying leaders in Washington, purification purges of the Republican Party and an obsession with attacking gay and lesbian people branded the organization as mean-spirited and intolerant.
“Dobson and his gang of thugs are real nasty bullies,” House majority leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) once complained.
Fortunately, Dobson recently left Focus on the Family and has been replaced by Jim Daly (pictured), who pledges to take the organization in a new direction. One of the first things he did was dump the group’ obnoxious “ex-gay” road show Love Won Out. Over the years, it became a fountain of fabrication and a mountain of misinformation on LGBT issues.
Daley claims to hold similar social views to Dobson, but he does not appear to want to shove his religion down peoples’ throats. At least that is the message he is trying to sell us. On the surface, he seems more open to dialogue and not quite as arrogant at his predecessor.
For example, instead of the propaganda-spewing Love Won Out conference, Focus on the Family actually participated in a Colorado Springs panel discussion where dissenting views were allowed. AOL News reports that some panelists were openly gay, while Focus on the Family provided “ex-gay” employee Jeff Johnston, who discussed his “journey out of homosexuality.”
Daly was out of town for the panel, but taped a welcome message. “We’re not always going to agree,” he said on the video, but added, “I’m not here to tell you what to do.”
The fact that Focus on the Family is still pushing the tired and tragic ex-gay myth is dispiriting. But, allowing openly gay people who actually live fulfilling lives to speak is a definite step in the right direction.
More important, Daly seems to be moving away from Dobson’ quest for Christian dominion over government. “The Christian label means a lot to me,” Daly said in the AOL interview. “We don’t want a theocracy. We want a government informed in moral principle.”
While we hold different viewpoints on marriage, Daly, seems to understand, on some level, that allowing gay couples to wed isn’t catastrophic.
“I’m not fearful that change will happen in America. It will happen. … I don’t know what will happen with same-sex marriage, but I’m not going to be discouraged if we lose some of those battles,” he said, noting that for “98 percent” of people, traditional marriage will remain relevant. “It’s going to be difficult in this culture and the way the demographics are going right now,” he continued. “You look at the under-35 age group. I think it’s splitting 60-40 support for same-sex marriage. There’s a lot of people in the U.S. [who] basically come to the conclusion that this is something between two adults. I will continue to defend traditional marriage, but I’m not going to demean human beings for the process.”
Compare this to the doomsday response to marriage equality from Dobson: “Homosexuals are not monogamous,” Dobson told The Daily Oklahoman on Oct. 23, 2004. “They want to destroy the institution of marriage. It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth.”
Focus on the Family is also striking a different tone on abortion. It ran a controversial feel-good ad during the Super Bowl featuring football star Tim Tebow. Strategically, it seems like a wise move to persuade mothers to “choose” to give birth, rather than have angry zealots browbeating pregnant women in front of abortion clinics. (Of course, Focus on the Family would have more credibility pushing the “choose life” message if it actually weren’t cynically working to overturn Roe v. Wade.)
Additionally, Daly has started a program to reduce the number of legal orphans in foster care by recruiting families to adopt hard-to-place children. His Wait No More program has expanded to five states and has already halved the number of children in foster care in Colorado.
Daly’ cheerful style is particularly welcome at a time when many fundamentalist organizations are losing their marbles. For instance, Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition is running around Capitol Hill demanding that Congress defeat the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) to keep “she-males” from becoming gym teachers.
Eugene Delgaudio the executive director of the anti-gay organization, Public Advocate of the U.S, sent out an insane fundraising letter this week. It warned that “Radical homosexuals will terrorize day care centers, hospitals, churches and private schools…Wedding-gown clad men smooching before some left-wing clergy or state official is just the beginning….You’ll see men hand-in-hand skipping down to adoption centers to “pick out’ a little boy for themselves.”
Still, not everyone is sold on the surface changes at the Colorado Springs-based mega-ministry.
“There is clearly a concerted rebranding effort within FOtF, with the communications team placing a focus on creating a nicer, sweeter, less hostile Focus on the Family,” wrote blogger Jeremy Hooper on his popular Good As You website. “But they seem to want this change in impression without actually creating any change within their own operation… We on the side of LGBT equality buy into the “nicer, softer” myth at our own peril!”
Hooper (pictured) points out that, “This is still the group that, just two weeks ago, declared that an openly gay SCOTUS nominee is automatically a non-starter, regardless of merit and qualifications. This is still the outfit that donates hundreds of thousands whenever gay rights are up for contention at any one of our state’s polls.”
Will Focus on the Family actually start helping real families rather than fixating on gay people? With Daly’ leadership, there is at least hope that the culture war will eventually turn into a civil cultural discussion.
But if this is all spin and no substance his plan will sow distrust and backfire. It won’t take long to know if Daly’ hugs are thinly disguised headlocks. While outspoken homophobes are unpleasant, they are always preferable to insincere hypocrites.
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