For Focus On The Family, The Focus Remains On Far-Right Politics

Vice President Mike Pence will be in Colorado Springs this Friday speaking at an event to mark the 40th anniversary of Focus on the Family (FOF), the fundamentalist Christian family ministry and Religious Right group founded by Dr. James C. Dobson, a child psychologist.

Dobson, a controversial figure known mainly for his enthusiastic endorsement of corporal punishment, left FOF in 2010 and turned things over to Jim Daly. Daly presents a kinder, gentler face than the frequently scowling, judgmental Dobson.

But have things changed at FOF? Not really. You need only to spend a few minutes on the group’s website to see that it’s business as usual for Focus.

James Dobson is gone, but not much else has changed at Focus on the Family.

I was struck by the material about LGBTQ rights. This issue has always been an obsession with FOF – and many other Religious Right entities. The organization worked overtime to fight marriage equality and oppose other forms of LGBTQ rights. This continues today.

A FOF position paper states that marriage should be limited to “the union of one man and one woman” and asserts that only “married, opposite-sex couples” should be allowed to adopt. (Denying a child in need the possibility of a loving home simply because both potential parents are of the same gender doesn’t sound very “pro-family” to me.)

The FOF site contains advice on how to talk with children about transgender issues. The group starts with the premise that people aren’t really transgendered, they just suffer from “gender confusion.” FOF offers the same old fear-based, rigidly fundamentalist message that the organization has pushed for years. If children ask about transgender individuals, for example, FOF recommends telling them about “the pain and false beliefs in the lives and hearts of persons who struggle with transgender issues.” How FOF knows that all transgender people experience these feelings is left unexplained.

Asserts FOF, “God wants us to live in truth about how He created us and who we are. We know God is powerful to save and transform lives – including the gender-confused. Tell your children this truth.”

FOF also works to marginalize members of these communities. A FOF position paper argues that the gay community in America is smaller than most people think. FOF puts the number at 1-3 percent of the population. Even if that were true (and statistical data says it’s not) it’s irrelevant. In this country, large groups don’t get more rights than small ones. FOF may believe a group’s demands for equal treatment, respect and basic rights can be ignored if that group is not large, but that isn’t the way our Constitution works, thankfully. (FOF also continues to promote long-discredited “conversion therapy” for gay people.)

Elsewhere on the Focus site, you will find praise for Kim Davis, the infamous government clerk in Rowan County, Ky., who refused to do her job by giving same-sex couples marriage licenses, things they were legally permitted to have. (FOF asserts that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln would have sided with Davis.) You’ll find demands for more Christian symbols on public property, dire warnings about legislation designed to protect people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and articles defending North Carolina’s mean-spirited bill that attempted to regulate citizens’ bathroom choices.

In other words, even in the post-Dobson era, it’s pretty much business as usual at Focus on the Family.

And here’s another thing that hasn’t changed: FOF remains very well heeled. Its annual budget hovers around $86.5 million. That’s a big chunk of change to use to fight the culture wars.

As AU celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, we will continue to support true religious freedom. Through our Protect Thy Neighbor project, we fight against efforts by FOF and other groups to use religious freedom as an excuse to discriminate. Learn how you can support our work here.