Posted by Bible Bumper Bobo on January 22, 2010 at 16:05:51:
January 17, 2010
Radio Show for Focus on the Family Founder
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and an influential voice for Christian conservatives, is about to depart from the organization he created and is starting a radio program that will give him greater leeway to hold forth on politics.
Beginning in March, Dr. Dobson, 73, will co-host the radio show with his son, Ryan, 39, a tattooed surfer and skateboarder who wrote a book called “Be Intolerant” and who has honed an identity preaching to youths.
“Our nation is facing a crisis that threatens its very existence,” Dr. Dobson said on Dec. 29 in announcing his new venture on his Facebook page. “We are in a moral decline of shocking dimensions. I have asked myself how can I sit and watch the world go by without trying to help if I can. That is what motivates me at this time.”
Dr. Dobson, a psychologist, founded Focus on the Family 33 years ago to offer advice on parenting, but he has increasingly used his substantial following among evangelicals to influence policy debates and elections. He is wooed by Republican candidates, and he conducted a sympathetic interview with Sarah Palin, then a vice-presidential candidate, after she stumbled badly in national television interviews.
Dr. Dobson will finish hosting his daily radio show for Focus in February. It now has 1.5 million listeners a day on about 1,000 stations. He has been gradually withdrawing from the leadership of Focus since 2003, but it is unclear why he decided to start a new organization and create a new show — “to be called ‘James Dobson on the Family.’ ”
He said in his announcement that he wanted to “hand the reins of Focus to gifted successors.” (Both he and his son declined requests for interviews.)
The real reason for Dr. Dobson’s new venture may have been his 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. (Ryan Dobson has since remarried and has a son of his own.)
Experts who study Christian ministries said that whatever the reason for it, Dr. Dobson’s decision was extraordinary.
“I can’t think of another example where the leader of a major ministry organization founded it, built it up, then moved on and did something so visibly competitive,” said Stewart M. Hoover, director of the Center for Media, Religion and Culture at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Dr. Dobson did cultivate a successor as leader of Focus, but he never cultivated anyone to succeed him as its media personality. Focus will continue broadcasting its radio show with a variety of hosts, including Jim Daly, whom Dr. Dobson handpicked as the new president for Focus in 2005.
Mr. Daly, who also declined an interview request, has already taken the organization in new directions. He has expressed a willingness to work with Democrats. He has praised President Obama as a role model for African-American fathers, and just last week, Focus issued a news release hailing Mr. Obama for his attention to human trafficking and urging him to do more.
Mr. Daly, who was orphaned as a child, has also moved Focus toward more hands-on social services, including a program that finds families to adopt children who have been in foster care.
“The organization has been trying to moderate its image,” said D. Michael Lindsay, a sociology professor at Rice University who studies evangelical leaders, “and I imagine that Dr. Dobson will now speak out on public policy issues with a louder voice than his organization exercised.”
But Dr. Dobson’s new venture is likely to compete directly with Focus for donors, listeners and radio stations.
In his Facebook page announcement, he asked contributors to raise $2 million to get it under way, adding that he hoped they would also continue to support Focus.
Paul D. Nelson, a board member with Focus and former chief operating officer, said that he had seen many ministries survive the exit of their founders, but that this situation with Dr. Dobson created a “big unknown.”
“Focus on the Family is losing its icon, it’s losing its face and its voice,” said Mr. Nelson, formerly the president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. “You have to reinvent yourself, but that reinvention is all about delivery, not about change of values.”
Focus occupies sprawling headquarters in Colorado Springs. It had 1,400 employees at its height in 2002, but has 860 now. Its budget was cut from $160 million in 2008 to $139 million in 2009. The contraction is due not only to the recession, but to Focus’s struggle to retain a younger generation of evangelicals who identify it with their parents.
A year ago, because of budget cuts, Focus stopped publishing three magazines for Christian teens, Brio, Brio and Beyond, and Breakaway (combined circulation 200,000). On Facebook, their readers mourned the loss.
Focus bequeathed the magazines to Ryan Dobson, who beat out a half-dozen competitors. A spokesman for Focus said Mr. Dobson was chosen because his proposal was the only one that did not request the subscription fees, which had already been considered donations to Focus.
Ryan Dobson said he would publish the magazines on the Web, but a year later they are little but logos on his Web site.
Ryan Dobson, the only son of James and Shirley Dobson (they also have a daughter), was adopted as an infant and says he spent years rebelling against the expectation that he should follow in his father’s footsteps. But he eventually found a calling preaching at youth events and formed Kor Ministries.He is as opposed to abortion and homosexuality as his father, but his tone is edgier. Reviewing the first book he co-wrote, “Be Intolerant: Because Some Things are Just Stupid,” Publishers Weekly said it had “all the subtlety of a two-by-four to the side of the head.”
Occasionally Ryan Dobson hosts a podcast, and last week he talked about setting off fireworks, losing the title to his truck and visiting Haiti before the earthquake. Even then, he said, “It was kind of gnarly.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 19, 2010:
An article on Sunday about Dr. James Dobson, an influential voice for Christian conservatives who is leaving Focus on the Family, which he founded 33 years ago, to start a radio program that will allow him more leeway to talk about politics, misstated Dr. Dobson’s professional credentials. He is a psychologist, not a psychiatrist.
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