Feb 012011

The Religious Right is a powerful force in American politics and society, tipping elections and making themselves one of the most influential voting blocs in the country. Their objectives are worn on their sleeves; their zeal unquestionable. Yet for everything that is known far more remains just out of common knowledge. In this series we will delve into this unknown tracking down more on their most powerful players, money, influence, and how they achieve their goals.

Focus on the Family, one of the many intellectual children of Dr. James Dobson, represents another facet of the Religious Right’s machinery and organization. Unlike their sister group theFamily Research Council Focus on the Family is much less of a lobbying organization and does most of their work outside of DC. While the FRC keeps their headquarters in Washington DC Focus on the Family runs their operations from Colorado Springs, a city dubbed the “Evangelical Vatican” thanks to the high concentration of world-famous megachurches and larger-than-life pastors. This distance from Washington has done little to dent their influence and effectiveness as a major force in the Religious Right. By leaving the heavy lobbying efforts to other organizations Focus on the Family serves as one of the main spearheads of grassroots operations across the country with allies around the world.

Focus on the Family was founded by Dr. James Dobson in 1977 to promote and uphold family values in the United States. Focus on the Family styles itself as less overtly political than other organizations. To cooperate with the Holy Spirit in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible by nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide” is their mission statement. Nowhere do they overtly proclaim support for traditional Republican Party positions instead focusing exclusively on religious slogans and imagery. In spite of recent shakeups in their finances and leadership the organization has kept up their main operations with little disruption: the dissemination of Christian fundamentalist propaganda. To Focus on the Family separation of Church and State exists to protect churches from government coercion, not to establish a secular government. On this ideological foundation they advance laws based on their religious beliefs on many issues including gambling, educational policy, the teaching of intelligent design, gay rights, abortion, and women’s rights.

The main front Focus on the Family engages is traditional marriage. Focus on the Family has consistently and most heavily engaged in the fight against gay marriage by offering their own brand of marriage counseling as the public face of the effort. Their main argument against gay marriage include claims of the downfall of Western civilization as one of the many consequences. To advance their efforts Focus on the Family raises and spends millions of dollars a year for advertising and advocacy campaigns. One of their more direct approaches is the Love Won Out Ministry, a group that claims to “cure” homosexuality. To provide further support they publish a number of studies claiming scientific basis to support their claims. These publications have been denounced by the American Psychological Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists as unscientific and promoting an atmosphere of hate. The war against gay rights, while a major focus of effort for the organization, is just a part of Focus on the Family’s crusade to reclaim America in the name of the cross.

As part of advancing their objectives Focus on the Family uses their prominent position and network of allies in the Religious Right to rally support for their agenda. One excellent example is the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Officially the Task Force is not affiliated with Focus on the Family in any meaningful fashion. Their main office is in Focus on the Family’s headquarters in Colorado Springs and their current Chairman is Shirley Dobson who assumed the position in 1991. During the Bush Administration the Task Force coordinated the observances thanks toannual presidential proclamations giving them unofficial but clear government support. Non-Christian groups that applied to participate were regularly ignored. In the 2008 Presidential campaign, through their PAC Focus on the Family Action, they spent millions of dollars in support of John McCain’s campaign following the selection of Sarah Palin as Vice Presidential nominee. They bankrolled an extensive mailing campaign predicting doom and gloom if the GOP lost the 2008 election. Focus on the Family does not put all their proverbial eggs in one basket. They have a network of international affiliates in New ZealandAustraliaIndonesiaSingapore,TaiwanIreland, and Africa just to name a few.

Focus on the Family presents another facet to the Religious Right’s political machine. Unlike the Family Research Council they work largely in grassroots efforts eschewing a heavy emphasis on Washington lobbying for a substantial propaganda arm and international reach. While they escaped being labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center Focus on the Family remains a powerful force in the Religious Right. With substantial funding and support Focus on the Family in spite of recent shakeups and setbacks remains on the front lines as a crucial element for Christian fundamentalists in the Culture War.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

  11 Responses to “Mapping the Religious Right: Focus on the Family”

  1. Sorry about the delay, procrastinated on the weekend and had technical difficulties earlier today.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sorcha Root, Pagan + Politics. Pagan + Politics said: Mapping the Religious Right: Focus on the Family The Religious Right is a power http://bit.ly/dLeL5a http://bit.ly/dLeL5a [...]

  3. Their propaganda can be unnervingly clever. You know that Adventures in Odyssey series? They draw you in by having the first few videos be as non-controversial as possible. I owned one as a kid about taking responsibility for one’s actions, and there’s nothing in that particular episode that is at all objectionable. Later videos feature strong anti-atheist and anti-Pagan propaganda, but because parents have checked out the first few videos, they probably wouldn’t bother to watch later ones with their kids–children who are being taught to fear and hate the Other.

    These people are experts at what they do. If we are to counter them, we will have to be equally clever and subtle.

    • I’ve heard of it but haven’t had a chance to listen to them. What makes it even more insidious is how well coordinated their messaging is with other groups and leaders in the Religious Right and how rarely the groups clash in that messaging.

  4. Perhaps I am hair splitting over the authors choice of words but I take issue with the kind of ideology found in the following statement (and I ASSume progress is what the author intended to imply) To Focus on the Family separation of Church and State exists to protect churches from government coercion, not to establish a secular government.

    Why does that not include pagan churches in the authors view? Also, why presume that a secular government is not already in operation? Is this sin by omission or taken foregranted in order to highlight what the author is truly impassioned about, an ideal that has nothing to do with governance? Progress?

    • If Focus on the Family is such a strong advocate for protecting churches from government coercion then perhaps you could explain their lack of comment, let alone action, in the 2005 Pasadena Episcopal Church IRS controversy where the pastor preached a sermon against the Iraq War and faced an IRS investigation.

      On the topic of allegedly defending Pagan churches from government coercion Focus on the Family soundly rejects Interfaith cooperation of any kind while preaching hellfire, brimstone, and collapse of civilization for those who do not do things the way they approve. I’d say my assertion on the issue of motive is supported by the evidence.

      • Defining Christianity can be a political issue. They also support separation of church and state but albeit in a different manner than your stylistics suggests which is why I brought up your need to define progress.

        • You’re whitewashing the facts. Focus on the Family makes it abundantly clear they believe the United States is supposed to be a Christian nation. Looking at their positions, arguments, propaganda, and endorsements they’ve consistently argued against government interference in their activities but in turn have openly advocated for imposing their religious beliefs on society through legislation.

          Separation of church and state cuts both ways. Focus on the Family, by contrast, wants to make it so church has say in state matters instead of respecting the “wall of separation” Thomas Jefferson so famously described and is enshrined in the Constitution in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and Article VI, Section 3 of the US Constitution. Government is to stay out of religious affairs and churches likewise are to abstain from government, not use it as an avenue to impose their morality like Focus on the Family consistently has with their anti-abortion and anti-gay campaigns.

          • How can I commit the sin of omission here Ryan when you have consistently failed to answer a simple question about your writing style? You took off on a tangent and lambasted me with a IRS case that pits an Orientalized view of Christianity cum Islam, against a moralistic Freudian secular state and I asked you about your writing style as it related to progress. ONLY THEN did I step into the equally erroneous LACK of separation of Church and State that is the commerce clause realm of domestic policy.

      • Focus on the Family’s notion of a “Christian Nation” (evidence that Focus on the Family) is focusing on more than just your family:

        http://www.delicious.com/InsaniTEA (tags: focusonthefamily – JamesDobson – Dominioism)


  5. Here’s that tag pulled up for inquiring minds who want to know:

    Focus on the Family, Dominionism, and Biblical Law (who needs a Constitution when all you need is the Old Testament):