Who Speaks for Family Values?

In 1977, psychologist James Dobson quit his job at the University of Southern California School of Medicine and founded Focus on the Family. In several best-selling books on parenting and marriage and in seminars on family life held around the country, Dobson had already shaped and promoted a philosophy of strengthening families that emphasized discipline, parental authority, and a personal understanding of sin.

Focus on the Family is now a $77 million a year Christian multimedia organization, a prime communicator of what Dobson terms "traditional family morality." Focus produces 30-minute daily radio broadcasts for 1,800 stations worldwide and markets a variety of magazines, books, tapes, and videos that are used in churches, schools, and military institutions. Employees at the Colorado Springs headquarters receive an average of 2,200 phone calls and 9,000 pieces of mail daily requesting advice and counseling. In-house counselors answer many of the inquiries, and others are referred to local counselors and pastors.

Focus has also conducted seminars across the country on how to get involved in the political process. The organization distributed voter guides for 20 states in the 1992 elections, listing candidate positions on what it sees as key pro-family issues.

While there are other conservative Christian organizations doing more extensive grassroots political organizing (such as Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition), Focus on the Family and James Dobson carry immense weight in the family values debate. Focus materials are prevalent in evangelical, charismatic, and many mainline Protestant homes, and Dobson has the patina of trustworthiness that comes from being a non-politician. His word on the need to get back to traditional family morality was taken to heart by thousands long before Jerry Falwell, Robertson, or the Republican Party embraced the family as the way to America's soul.

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Sojourners Magazine June 1993
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