Consider this: It has not been a great year for James Dobson. Now he has picked a fight with Barack Obama over a speech Obama gave in 2006, says the Associated Press. The debate’s focus is on Obama’s understanding of the Bible. Dobson thinks Obama employs a “fruitcake” interpretation, Obama is essentially dismissing Dobson – directly.
To my Obama-opposing, Republican, non-Evangelical eye it looks like Obama is getting the better of Dobson in this one. You need to read the whole AP piece, but note this bit of backlash Dobson has provoked:
The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, a Methodist pastor from Texas and longtime supporter of President Bush who has endorsed Obama, said Tuesday he belongs to a group of religious leaders who, working independently of Obama’s campaign, launched a Web site to counter Dobson . . . . The site highlights statements from Obama and Dobson and asks visitors to compare them.
So now there’s evidence of squabbling within religious creedal Christians, provoked by Dobson’s apparent over-the-top efforts to stay relevant.
In response, Tom Minnery, a Focus on the Family spokesman made this thoroughly fascinating statement:
Without question, Dr. Dobson is speaking for millions of evangelicals because his understanding of the Bible is thoroughly evangelical.
It seems to me that by that utterance Mr. Minnery has helped marginalize Dobson and his worldview as the “Evangelical” view. How does that help anyone, other than Obama? Ironically, by trying to stay relevant, Dobson seems to be slipping closer and closer to irrelevancy.
U.S. News summarizes pretty well where we are:
Anybody who thought faith and the values voters wouldn’t play a big role in the next presidential election might be having second thoughts by now. In the primaries alone, we saw a Baptist minister come out of nowhere to make a surprisingly strong showing, while a highly accomplished candidate and presumptive front-runner unexpectedly went down in flames, possibly in part because of his Mormon faith. Assorted “pastor eruptions” nearly derailed a Democratic candidate who had seemed eloquently at ease with his faith. And the Republicans ended up choosing a candidate who appeared to have difficulty even explaining what his religion was.
Yet while it’s clearly a force, religion appears to be a more complicated variable than it was when evangelicals and other conservative Christians lined up behind George W. Bush in 2000 and even more solidly in 2004. . . .
Read the whole thing. It’s unremarkable, but worthwhile.
John comments: U.S. Snooze (sorry Rush) seems a bit oxymoronic to me. If indeed religion as a political force is fracturing, and I think it is, then those very fractures will reduce its political relevance.
Sadly the political battles are drawing lines inside the churches. Check the news from the current General Assembly of the PC(USA) or the forthcoming Anglican Lambeth Conference, and you can watch churches fracture as well as political alliances.
When political stances become religious ones and religious identity becomes based on those stances, these sorts of fractures become inevitable. There is a difference between stating that “My faith causes me to believe abortion is wrong, and I should fight it in the political arena,” and “If you believe in abortion you cannot be a Christian.”
Bill Keller Watch
Meanwhile, the attention-addicted nutty pastor from Florida is in a bit of trouble. Blogger David Bernstein at The Phoenix observes:
Since last year, the Christian right has been talking about challenging [IRS rules against partisan political advocacy] in ’08. But their carefully laid plan of attack has been snarled by the wonderfully loopy Bill Keller — “world leading Internet evangelist.” Keller has insulted many famous people, from Oprah to Obama, but he is most famous for his classic line: “A vote for Romney is a vote for Satan.”
The IRS is now investigating whether that statement pushed Keller over the line, and outside the rules for tax exemption. Keller argues that he was merely making a religious statement about the tenets of Christianity vs. Mormonism. But it sure sounds like a political statement against voting for a specific candidate. Where’s the line? And what about Keller’s more recent assertion that Barack Obama is an “enemy of God,” complete with Biblical explanation for his use of the phrase?
That’s two very different religious leaders (Dobson and Keller) shooting themselves (and their supporters) in the foot.
John chimes in: I am not so quick to group Dobson and Keller. Keller is a numbskull, media whore with a penchant for the idiotic. Dobson is a different story altogether. though I agree he is shooting himself in the foot right now. Sitting one out is no way to build political authority.
Dobson simply trapped himself. Sources tell me that he wanted to back Romney, but felt that to overtly do so would simply cause his constituency to back away. His strategy, apparently was to back his constituency into Romney by bad-mouthing Rudy and McCain. Remember all those antics back when, the Colorado Springs meetings, the declarations of a possible third party, etc? Unfortunately, the Huckster stuck his attention seeking face up and what that strategy did was drive Dobson’s group to Huck not Mitt. Rudy stumbles, McCain drives through the gap – here we are.
Now, Dobson finds himself without having someone to vote for – having denounced McCain so badly in the primary. He knows McCain is far preferable to Obama, but he already swore he would never vote for McCain. He has nothing left but to attack Obama. And then he gets ham-fisted about that. Dobson is mistake prone, but he is trying to make lemonade out of lemons.
The lesson learned here is it is better to build than to tear down. If Dobson had taken the risk he should have, this would be a different world. He may have believed, as he said, Evangelicals would never vote for a Mormon, but his failure in leadership when confronted with that fact, his attempts to get too tricky, have dug him in a very deep hole. In the end, all he will have accomplished here is to hold his audience, he will not have expanded it, and he will not have moved closer to his political goals. It’s a shame.