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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fruitcake? Well, James Dobson Would Know...

James Dobson is taking to the Focus on the Family airwaves today to accuse Senator Barack Obama of distorting the Bible. Dobson takes issue with Obama's keynote address to Jim Wallis's "Call to Renewal" group in June 2006.

I've linked to this speech before. In it, Obama discusses his journey to Christian faith, his understanding of how to put that faith to work, and how he sees Christianity informing politics. It is a sensitive, thoughtful speech about the need to "tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America." Obama tells us that Americans understand that "something is missing" in a life that revolves around mere material pursuits. He says the black church, "in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man," helped him "see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope." Obama says his very intentional faith is indispensible:

Faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts. You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away - because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey [Senator Barack Obama, "Call to Renewall Keynote Address," Washington, DC, 2006.06.28].

The proper theological response is, "Amen, brother!" Instead, James Dobson is saying that Obama is "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology.... He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter." For good measure, Dobson also labels Obama's position on abortion "a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution."

Fruitcake? Is that a political assessment, a theological assessment, or a psychological assessment? The latter is the only one Dobson is remotely qualified to offer. Remember, Dobson is a psychologist* with a doctorate in child development. He's never had any formal theological training. Of course, neither has Obama. My wife has more theological training than the both of them, and independently of our political leanings, she has yet to spot anything "fruity" in Obama's pronouncements on religion.

Fruitcake doesn't strike me as the sort of word I would expect a pious man like Dobson to use in describing Obama's sincere effort to discuss faith in the public realm in words intended to promote understanding and practical action. Obama actually defends the idea that religion has a proper and vital role in public discourse, a position Dobson and his followers supposedly embrace... or does that only apply to religion that supports their political agenda?

Fruitcake sounds more appropriate as a description of the "theology" Dobson's fellow traveler Alan Keyes tried to use against Obama in the 2004 Senate race. From Obama's "Call to Renewal" speech:

Mr. Keyes is well-versed in the Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson style of rhetoric that often labels progressives as both immoral and godless.

Indeed, Mr. Keyes announced towards the end of the campaign that, "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has behaved in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved."

Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. [Obama, 2006.06.28]

Be sure to watch the video so you can hear the laughter and disdain for Keyes's words. Obama is saying that religion isn't about calling other people fruitcakes and claiming God wouldn't vote for them. Religion is about translating our beliefs into good work in this world.

If you listen to Dobson's full speech online, be sure to give the text it critiques a fair read as well. Heck, you can even watch Obama's speech on YouTube. But don't expect a flashy arena speech. No silver-tongued devilry, just intelligent talk about faith and action. Part 1 is below; you can find the other four parts on YouTube.

*Wikipedia slips up: their current entry for Dr. Dobson says his California psychologist's license lapsed in April 2008. However, the link Wikipedia provides to the California Board of Psychology indicates Dobson has renewed his license (number PSY3203) through April 2010.


Update 18:08 CDT: An ELCA pastor from the Delaware-Maryland synod offers an insightful breakdown of Dobson's manipulative, defensive, and deceptive commentary. To think some people are willing to pay good money for Bible study materials from a charlatan like Dobson.

1 comment:

  1. Dobson interpreting theology is more like a proctologist performing brain surgery.

    The role of the black church in surviving and surmounting slavery is one of the most significant constructions of the New Law in human history, most notably transmitted through the sorrow songs (often called spirituals). The shame of the major media is that it gives people like Dobson uncritical hearings.


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