Dr. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, isn’t very happy with being named in one of Barack Obama’s speeches. In today’s Focus on the Family broadcast, the following “exchanges are made”.
[My comments are indented and italicized]
The set up by the co-host: “Before he [Obama] diminishes you, Dr. Dobson, on the subject of religion, he diminishes religion itself. Play that first cut and let’s listen to him.”
Obama (in a replay of a speech made June 29, 2006): “Ninety percent of us believe in God, 70% affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38% call themselves ‘committed Christians’, substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.”
Co-host: “Notice he said 70% of the people identify with an [emphasis of the speaker] organized religion. That organized religion they identify with is the Christian religion, the Judeo-Christian tradition. Now he allows that 38% are identified as committed Christians, but that is a smaller number than the entire body of people that identify as Judeo-Christians, so he’s not even acknowledging the strong Judeo-Christian tradition. Then he, later in the speech, he says whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation, we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of non-believers. Well I say, ‘excuse me’. Seventy-six percent of the people identify themselves as Christian. There are only 0.6% who are Muslim, 0.7% are Buddhists, 0.4% who are Hindu, that’s from last years’ Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Religious survey. So he’s diminishing the idea that people of Christian faith have anything to say, and then he begins to diminish you [Dr. Dobson].
When I listened to Obama’s speech, I heard him saying that matters of faith are important to a very large segment of the population of this nation. I heard him say that we are quite diverse, and becoming even more diverse as we move forward. I did not hear him say, as was suggested, that people of Christian faith have nothing to say. What does “Judeo-Christian” have to do with “Christian?” You can’t lump the two together interchangeably!
Obama: “And even if we did have only Christians in our midsts, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, who’s Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would it be James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s?
Co-Host: Oh, we have to camp on that for just a moment, because he is comparing you somehow as being on the right when Al Sharpton is on the left. Al Sharpton achieved his notoriety in the 80’s and 90’s by engaging in racial bigotry, and many people have called him a black racist. And he is somehow equating you [emphasis of the speaker] with that and racial bigotry.”
What?!? It starts out ok. Yes, it is clear that Obama is using Dobson and Sharpton as opposite ends of a spectrum. The co-host underhandedly calls Sharpton a bigot and racist (the tactic is so say that other people have used this lable when it is clearly your own and you agree with it), but there is nothing in Obama’s speech that even hints at the bigotry or racism of Dobson. Obama is talking about perspectives on scripture and how scripture is understood.
Dr. Dobson: “You know, Tom, I don’t want to be defensive here. Obviously that is offensive to me. I mean, who wants to expel people who are not Christians, expel them from what? From the country? Deny them constitutional rights, is that what he thinks I want to do? Why did this man jump on me? I haven’t said anything, anywhere near that. He also equates me with Al Sharpton who is a Reverend. I am not a Reverend. I’m not a minister. I’m not a theologian. I’m not an evangelist. I’m a psychologist. I have a PhD in Child Development from the University of Southern California, and there is no equivalance to us. I don’t want to overreact to it, but, you know, I, this comment was made two years ago and it has taken me two years to find out about it”
For someone not being defensive, Dobson is pretty defensive! Obama did not suggest that Dobson wants to expel people from the US. Obama said that if this country were entirely Christian, we would still have division, because Christianity is not a uniform lable. Dobson protests a great deal about being lumped in with a religious figure, but he does everything he can to present himself as a religious, or Christian Psychologist elsewhere. His teaching about parenting, marriage, and the like are heavilly influenced by scripture, and his brand of Christianity. At least his parting shot is that he is completely unaware!
Co-Host: “Well you are in good company, because he proceeds to disparage serious understanding of the Bible. Let’s continue with that quote.”
Obama: “Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok? Eating shellfish is an abomination. Or we can go with Deuteronomy which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith. Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount, a passage that is so radical that it is doubtful that our own defense department would survive its application? Well, before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles now. Folks haven’t been reading their Bible.”
Co-Host: “That kind of commentary drives me crazy. It is almost willful to confuse the dietetic laws of the Old Testament that apply to the Israelites, to suggest that the Levitical law governing stoning of a belligerent, drunkard son somehow applies to the church age, the New Testament.”
Know that for the “Focus on the Family” gang, the word “willful” is a code word. One of Dobson’s books is titled, “The Willful Child”. Their use of this term here and in following passages is inflamatory language to the people who regularly listen to their broadcast. Tom, the co-host, glosses over the controversy about what parts of the Old Testament remain valid for God’s people today, and what has been set aside by the New Testament (for Christians). Notice now how all Dobson and Tom’s answers assume Christianity and now negate the presence of other religious faiths.
Dr. Dobson: “Even that, his reference to that son was if he leaves the faith. That’s not what the scripture says. He says we ought to read the Bible. I think he ought to read the Bible.”
This exchange is the most fun of all. Dobson claims that Obama gets this wrong, and Tom has to admit that Obama is right and Dobson is wrong! The passage in question: Deuteronomy 21:18-21 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid.”
Co-Host: “That’s right. That’s Deuteronomy 21, and that’s a very compacted description of how to handle a child who has greatly embarrassed himself, greatly embarrassed the family, has sworn off the faith of his father [Emphasis mine]. Remember, this was at a time when the Israelites had just left 400 years of slavery. The Lord was trying to purify them and create a holy nation, his chosen people, and laws that apply to them then, the Levitical Code, the dietary laws, no longer apply (many of the principles of the Old Testament apply), but not those laws. It seems that he’s willfully trying to confuse people with what Jesus said in that …..”
There is that “willful” language again.
Dr. Dobson: “He is equating that with the Sermon on the Mount.”
Co-Host: “And you remember more recently that he quoted the Sermon on the Mount, cited the Sermon on the Mount as justifying same-sex marriage. So it seems that he is vastly confused about details of Biblical exposition, yet he’s painting himself in this highly religious aura.”
I see Obama saying that there is a great deal of disagreement about what the Bible says, and what applies today. That is most certianly true.
Dr. Dobson: “And then says, go read the Bible. Go read the Bible, I mean as though he is some kind of Biblical authority.”
Co-Host: “And it seems as though he has taken a direct shot at the defense department as if Jesus, as if Paul, as if the New Testament writers had nothing to say about real good and real evil in the world. And we have to know the difference. I think he is dragging Biblical understanding through the gutter. I just don’t know whether he is doing it willfully or accidentally.
See the “willful” language again? The Sermon on the Mount is full of hard teachings about justice and righteousness. It says to love your enemies. It says to turn the other cheek. It says do not repay evil for evil. In my Bible the words of Jesus trump the words of Paul or the others.
Dr. Dobson: “I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology.”
Co-Host: “That’s exactly what he’s doing, and there’s another clip that gives everybody an understanding of his notion of morality which is equally distorted.”
Obama: “I cannot believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality. I would rather have someone who is rounded in morality and ethics and who is also secular affirm their morality and their ethics and their values, all without pretending that they are something they are not. They don’t need to do that.”
Co-Host: “See, he’s saying that moral people do not have to be religious people. But religion is the grounding, the foundation for morality. Read what George Washington said about that, ‘Of all the dispositions which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indespensible supports.’ That’s our first President. Our second President, John Adams said, ‘Our Constitituion was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholely inadequate for the government of any other.'”
Chill Tom! He’s saying that non-religious people have morals and ethics too. I’m not going to be convinced from George Washington or John Adams about humanity and whether or not morals and ethics are completely from the realm of religion. In fact, both your quotes could be understood to mean that morality and religion are separate yet essential elements of a just society.
Dr. Dobson: “Related to that, Tom, there is another comment in Senator Obama’s speech that is of incredible importance in understanding his worldview. And it’s going to be kind of difficult to explain. I ask people to really stay with me. He’s trying to make the case that it is anti-democratic to believe or fight for moral principles in the Bible that are not supported by people of all faiths, or presumably by those of no faith. Let’s listen to what he had to say.”
In order to make his point, Dobson has to tell us what Obama says first, because if you just listen to it, Obama does not say anything close to what Dobson claims he said.
Obama: “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values. What do I mean by this? It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and ameniable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, to take one example. If I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I can’t simply point to the teachings of my church, or invoke God’s will, I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths including those with no faith at all.”
Short version: Quoting the Bible to a non-believer does not work. They are not convinced by appeal to scripture. Come up with more than religious language if you want to convince non-believers or believers of other faiths.
Dr. Dobson: “What the senator is saying there in essence there is that I can’t seek to pass legislation, for example, that bans partial birth abortion, because there are people in culture who don’t see that as a moral issue. And if I can’t get everyone to agree with me, it is undemocratic to try to pass legislation that I find offensive to the scripture. Now, that is a fruitcake interpretation of the constitution. This is why we have elections, to support what we believe to be wise and moral. We don’t have to go to the lowest common denominator of morality, which is what he is suggesting. Remember Tom, that Senator Obama is a man who while he was in the state legislature did not oppose the killing of babies who were aborted but then somehow came into the world alive. That to him was a moral position. To me it is anathama. Am I required in a democracy to conform my efforts in the political arena to his bloody notion of what is right with regard to the lives of tiny babies? What he’s trying to say here, is unless everybody agrees, we have no right to fight for what we believe. I thank God that that is not what the constititution says. Tom, as you can see, I’ve managed to raise my blood pressure here and I saw it in your face. Your neck was red a minute ago too. We only have time for one more cut. This is a long speech that he gave and we could have devoted two days of our broadcast to the speech to let people know what Barack Obama thinks about religion and especially Christianity. You have one more that relates to that, don’t you?”
Where did they get that nonsense?
Co-Host: “Yes. He seems in this speech not to like pastors who he says deliver more screed than sermons. Now remember, this was delivered in 06, before anybody knew about his then pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who has now become his ex-pastor.”
Obama: “I don’t want faith used to belittle, or to divide. They are tired of people who deliver more screed than sermon.”
Dr. Dobson: “Tom, I read the transcript of this and that one jumped out at me. How interesting it is that Senator Obama is condemning pastors there for their highly emotional diatribe when he sat for 20 years under the tutelage of his own pastor and eventually had to disown him.”
Co-Host: “And he only disowned him when it became public that Rev. Jeremiah Wright was delivering more screed than sermon. Apparently Senator Obama didn’t recognize it in his own pastor in his own church.”
Unbelievable! This is where Dobson should become offended. Dobson issues screed all the time! Oh, he’s not a pastor.