Dobson’s Successor Praises Obama, Looks for Common Ground

By Jacqueline L. Salmon Below is my interview with Jim Daly, president and chief executive officer of Focus on the … Continued

By Jacqueline L. Salmon

Below is my interview with Jim Daly, president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family in February. Daly was in Washington, D.C., to participate in President Obama’s conference on fatherhood at the White House. Focus on the Family, a Colorado-Springs Christian mega ministry founded by child psychologist James Dobson, has become one of the standard bearers of the conservative movement.

Daly, 47, steps in as the public face of the organization, replacing James Dobson, the outspoken chairman who stepped down in February, although Dobson will keep his radio show and speak out on issues. Daly has been at Focus on the Family since 1989 and has headed Focus on the Family’s international field director for Australia, Africa and Asia.

What did you think of the fatherhood presentation this afternoon?

It was outstanding. There wasn’t anything lacking in the president’s presentation. He reaffirmed the importance of fathering and the damage done when fathers are lacking in the home. And it’s something that is core to Focus on the Family as well. Thought it was gracious for the White House to extend an invitation to Focus on the Family. We’re certainly going to have enough areas to disagree on certain policies. But one of the things I want to do as president of Focus is when there is common ground that , we can pull together and say, “This is good. This is a good thing.” And personally, I am 47, like the president. I also didn’t have a father. So I can identify with what he describes as that hole in your heart. Anything we can do to help kids fill that void, I applaud. It’s something we’re trying to do every day at Focus and I think it’s wonderful for the government to also lend its support in that way.

Tell me about your plans for Focus on the Family. How do you plan to change the organization or keep it the same?

On the social issues, there is consistency. I am pro-life, I am pro-traditional marriage. At the same time, I’m also a person who looks for the conversation. I do want to talk to people who wouldn’t necessarily agree with me. That doesn’t offend me. I’m kind of a results-oriented person. I’d really like to solve some problems. The question I have is where can we meet on common ground. Like today, it’s like OK, can we lift the issue of fatherhood and make a difference in the country together? I think it’s a good thing for the country. The country benefits. I don’t know on the tougher issues like abortion, like traditional marriage, or homosexual marriage, what can be done there. But it’s a democracy. We get our voice out there, and that’s my goal–to be part of the process.
In that way, there won’t be a great difference. I think the difference will be the dialogue–engaging people who may disagree in a more aggressive way–in a good way.

What did you say to the president?

We shook hands, and I thanked him for the day. And I thanked him for putting attention on this issue of fatherhood and mentioned that, like him, I am 47, and I was raised without a dad. He had made a comment during his presentation that when he called his daughters during the campaign, they would answer with one word. I said, “I was glad to hear you say that because my sons are a similar age and do the same thing, so I’m glad it’s not me.”

He actually said congratulations for becoming president of Focus. I thought that was gracious, and I appreciated that acknowledgment. We have to remember that we’re all human beings. We’re all made in the image of God, and I’m sure everybody is trying hard and, to the degree that we can help in any way, that’s what we want to do.

When Dr. Dobson stepped down as chairman in February, you said at the press conference, “‘What we want to see is more families like Barack Obama’s.” What did you mean by that?

At the press conference, they asked “What do you see the future of Focus on the Family looks like?” And to answer to the question I said, “I know we take a lot of heat for the positions that we take in the culture, but what we really want to see are more families like Barack Obama’s in the United States.” I meant simply a man and woman committed to their marriage and raising their kids. That’s kind of core to Focus on the Family’s message.

That’s the irony of it. He exemplifies in his family what we’re trying to do every day with all the help that we’re trying to provide. We get 10,000 phone calls, e-mails and letters a day. It’s big. In that help, we’re trying to answer questions. We have a counseling staff of 28. Some people call in with suicide [threats]. Probably about 10 percent of that 10,000 is emergency-oriented. What we see as our responsibility as fellow citizens to step into the gap for people and help them. You know, in the arena of the media, 90 percent of our budget goes to what we call nurture and 10 percent goes to the policy area. But when you talk to people, they’ll get the impression that it’s the opposite. Because it’s not real pop and sizzle to talk in the newspaper about a marriage being restored. Journalists aren’t too terribly interested than that. But they’re interested in our position on abortion or gay marriage or something that. So that begins to create an impression that I think is unfortunate.

Do you plan to be as outspoken as Dr. Dobson was on politics. During the presidential campaign, for example, he said that Obama distorted the Bible and said he wasn’t going to vote for Sen. John McCain (although he later reversed that).

in the 20 years I worked with him, what people often don’t see is that deeply compassionate counselor. That’s his background as a child development expert. In that area of policy, he’s very feisty– a black-and-white person. And I think that served the country well in terms of clarifying positions and things like that. We will definitely be rigorous in the policy debate. We’re not going to back out of that or back off expressing a Biblical world view in the public square. That’s the wonderful thing about freedom, and we’ll continue to do that.

Again, just in my style is to engage and try to influence, not simply to make remarks that maybe are not as informed. I want to find out more about the people that we’re talking about. We talked about that today: Everybody who’s polarized on the issues can tend to demonize people. We need to be careful with that. We do want a civil discourse. We do live in an amazing country where we hand power off in the way that we do. Even with philosophical differences–deep philosophical differences–we can pass through that and work hard to get people who might promote our values in the next election. We can hopefully continue to do that very peaceably– engaging in the dialogue and meeting on common ground that helps the nation but that doesn’t conflict with our values.

What about on abortion. You were quoted in the Denver Post as saying, “When those who are left, right and center all say, ‘Let’s make abortion rare.’ Let’s simply meet at the starting point. Let’s shove off the rhetoric and get together on a practical matter.” What did you mean by that?

What I meant is that I would like to sit down with those who may be pro choice when they say, “Let’s make abortion rare.” I obviously am pro life and would like to see that practice ended because I think in our humanity we can find better solutions to bringing children into the world. From what I understand, there are far more parents looking for infants than there are abortions. It would be nice to create a national database of parents waiting for kids.

[We need to find] a kinder, gentler way to approach this topic and see if we can make abortion rare without, as pro-lifers, abandoning our desire to see it eliminated altogether. That would be a great starting point.The very fact that those who support abortion would say, “We would like to make it rare,” says something about the fact that they must not feel good about it. So let’s start the dialogue.

Your past is like something out of a Dickens novel. Your father left you when you were five. Your mother died when you were nine. Your stepfather abandoned the family after that. You went to live with a totally dysfunctional foster care family and then ended up living in a trailer when you were 17.

From my perspective, it was a faith journey. I became a Christian at 15. That helped me tremendously in coping with the trauma going on in my life. I had really solid male role models in my life. My football coach, who was a Christian, was a terrific influence in my life. That’s what’s so important about faith and helping those around you. I’ve written a book called “Finding Home” that tries to talk about hardship and how to get through hardship and make hardship work for you. There is something in the human experience that when you go through brokenness, you can actually thrive coming out of that if you deal with it in a good way. It can also make you very bitter.

For the first time, Focus is opening a Washington office, and you’ve hired Tim Goeglein as vice president of external relations. [Goeglein had served as special assistant to President George W.Bush and deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and previously as an aide to Indiana Republican Senator Daniel R. Coats]. Tell me what that’s all about.

We’ve known Tim for a longtime–back when Tim worked for Sen. Dan Coats and then, of course, with the Bush White House. We had years of experience getting to know Tim and the person that he is. We wanted Tim to help us relationally. It’s very easy to come in and drop the bombshells and leave. But I felt it would be important to build relationships with people here. For whatever reason, they have a stereotype of Focus, and relationships are what it’s all about–again with people who agree with us and people who disagree with us. You can accomplish a lot more if you get to know people.

Were you concerned that there is such a liberal environment here with the Congress and the President?

Of course. But that’s the country that we’re in. We shift power that way. I think we need to work within the structure. The New Testament talks about praying for the princes and the kings over you, which we try to do for this president as well. At the same time, work within the structure to promote what we believe is healthy for the country. It doesn’t need to be a caustic or acidic kind of thing. I think oftentimes there is such polarization on the issue. We just want to be in the debate and express our concerns from a Biblical perspective hopefully be respected in doing that and, at the same time, we have to respect those who oppose us as well. The nation will decide.

I wish this President were a conservative. He’s an incredibly engaging person and he’s hip.

  • Paganplace

    “I meant simply a man and women committed to their marriage and raising their kids. That’s kind of core to Focus on the Family’s message.”You know, before they start claiming that really hateful and insensitive and tyrranical positions are in fact the *opposite,* …Could they at least stop saying marriage should be between a ‘man and a women?’Is this a Freudian slip or something, or are women just still that interchangeable?

  • jakesfriend1

    He sounds like he will make a great politician when and if he ever decides to leave ‘Focus on the Family’. Beautiful words with marginal substance.

  • Alex511

    fr paganplace:>…You know, before they start claiming that really hateful and insensitive and tyrranical positions are in fact the *opposite,* You are SO correct. I had hoped that when “dr” dobdumb quit that the “focus” CULT would come into the 21st century, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

  • Alex511

    I also hope that this fellow is more receptive to new ideas than dobdumb was. See the excellent documentary “For the Bible tells me So”, about how dobdumb treated a family with a gay son who only wanted to give him a letter. dobdumb didn’t even have the courtesy to set his big floppy hairy toe outside of his castle/fortress, complete with armed guards.

  • ZebraLover

    Great article. He sounds like someone I will attempt to listen to. He’s already made a difference because I read most of the article. I hope people will give him a chance and maybe he’ll make an even bigger difference in America.

  • JMGinPDX

    As an atheist, libertarian with a leftward leaning and absolute believer in logic & reason and the triumph of the individual with unfettered civil liberty, I applaud Daly’s comments and his conciliatory approach. Too many of his colleagues in the religious right want to wage war and take control by force; Daly at least seems smart enough and reasonable enough to advance his cause without feeling the need to disrespect those who disagree with his beliefs.What I find ironic is that there are people on this board saying “nice to hear him be rational” and then they go off and call his predecessor “Dodumb.”Respect and taking the high ground begins at home, people. Don’t expect others to listen to you when you resort to name-calling and shallow epithets.

  • jbflynn

    There is no hate in Jim Daly or James Dobson for that matter. They both have total compassion for those they disagree with. It seems the hate in vilifying these two men is completely unjustified and you should reserve your hateful rhetoric, at the very least define hate when you throw it around so casually. Based on your comments it is just pain hateful to disagree with you.

  • aredant

    As an Atheist I personally protested against Dobson along with many other groups when he hosted a preacher gay bashing seminar in my town a few years ago. I do find Daly’s style of delivery of nonsense refreshing. Dobson and his ilk are thankfully relics right now. As with Daly, actions will speak louder than words.

  • tboyer33

    Great comments. I still think Focus on the Family deserves to disintegrate because it has done so much to support hate against homosexuals. Ironically, Focus on the Family has done terrible damage to families by counseling parents to shun their gay children — what a crime! Nevertheless, I am glad to see a member of the Christian Right who actually seems comfortable living in a diverse society and respectful of opposing views. Daly’s comments on abortion are groundbreaking. Indeed there are many abortion rights supporters who would be delighted to work to reduce the number of abortions. I don’t believe abortion is sin but it is — and who could disagree — a terrible method of birth control. In an ideal world, there would never be an abortion performed because someone failed to use effective contraception. But the problem is, I believe Focus on the Family — like the Catholic Church — also opposes most forms of birth control. To oppose birth control and then insist that abortion is sin amounts to wanting to force women by legislation to spend their lives having babies. That’s wrong.

  • jabran8701

    I commend Jim Daly and Focus on the Family for being a voice for those who share the same values as I do. I commend Jim Daly for his desire to be included in the discourse in relation to policies that affect families. I also commend our President for extending an offer for him to participate in the conference on fatherhood.The main point of my comment is that I find it sad that those whose have chosen to believe other wise feel they have a “right” to be demeaning or insulting. It’s Dobson, state it correctly, to do otherwise just demonstrates how foolish you are, though you try to appear wise. Daly has his own style and personality that is yes different that Dobson’s, but the message of the organization has not changed. Unfortunate for those of you who believe that the message is one of hate. Have you ever gone to their webpage and read the articles from the magazine? Have you ever called and spoken with a counselor? Have you ever gone to the organization and interviewed them one on one? I have read articles by gay authors and have listened to speakers give their viewpoint, but I don’t resort to name calling or mistreating them. I treat people the way I wish to be treated, even if I don’t agree with their lifestyle choice or philosophical point of view. Again, I comment Daly and Obama on the willingness to communicate, though they don’t see eye to eye. It would nice if those who comment could exhibit the same kind of courtesy.

  • SenegalSwede

    In reponse to TBoyer33, FoF does NOT take any stand against birth control! This is an organization that promotes *love* for the gay, unborn, and everyone else. Believing that the behavior of a person is immoral or sinful doesn’t even remotely suggest that the person is hated. This is another example of the faulty logic that prevails in the contrived fad of political correctness.

  • millenium_writer

    After reading the various posts, and being quite familiar with Focus on the Family, I am reminded of the following words by Ralph W. Sockman (preacher, teacher, writer, and speaker):Those who would promote what many Evangelicals and conservatives believe to be harmful values are often offended by our strong views. Have they read the Declaration of Independence, the letters of the apostle Paul, or the writings of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King? These are people and writings that are revered in this country, and yet the writers were not beyond expressing strong views, about God, king, people, and those who would not honor what was right.Even Jesus was not abashed about calling the religious leaders of his day spawns of the devil. We have become so soft in this country, afraid to declare anything as morally wrong. Do we say that murderers are simply “misunderstood” or that child molesters and rapists are just “practicing an alternate lifestyle”? How absurd we would be to say such things? Why then are we afraid to say, for instance, that the Bible condemns practices like adultery or homosexuality? Sin is sin. As Paul practiced, and as former Pope John Paul said, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” Do we work with those with whom we disagree, do we live in neighborhoods with those who live different lifestyles from us, do we attend school with those with whom we have little belief in common? Yes! Do we stop living right and speaking our minds for fear of offending someone. No! But, we do so in love, just as Jesus did. The real test will not be whether we can be tolerant of those with whom we disagree, but whether or not those who do not agree with our beliefs will be tolerant of us.

  • aaroncavanaugh2

    Hi,I am glad Dobson stepped down. He is out of touch with society.I wrote a long rebuttal about his use of donated funds to support a political candidate.Here is just a snippet.I’m sad that Dobson used funds from Focus on the Family to support a politcal candidate. I am a Christian and I support Obama. We as Americans should not be fusing Politics and Religion.Aaron.

  • jimgilliam

    I’m an atheist and feel sorry for people like Focus who carry around silly mythology in their lives. Further, their beliefs have divided families and people. If Focus is opposed to abortion or gay marriage then just don’t have one. Imposing their ‘values’ on others is wrong.

  • batgirl2

    Jim Daly:Actually Jim it’s a Republic…A rule of law that utilizes the democratic process for electing representatives. Democracies always fail because they boil down to “mob rule” vs. absolute truth or right vs. wrong.