James Clayton "Jim" Dobson (born April 21, 1936 in Shreveport, Louisiana) is an American evangelical Christian and chairman of the board of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization he founded in 1977. He has never drawn a salary from the organization, but has used it to promote his related books and publications, yielding him royalties only for sales through other venues. As part of his role in the organization, he produces the daily radio program Focus on the Family, which is broadcast in more than a dozen languages and on over 7,000 stations worldwide, and heard daily by more than 220 million people in 164 countries, according to the organization's own statements. Focus on the Family is also carried by about 60 U.S. television stations daily. He founded the Family Research Council in 1981. He is an evangelical Christian with conservative views on theology and politics. He has been referred to as "the nation's most influential evangelical leader" by Time magazine, and Slate has termed him the successor to evangelical leaders Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. In January 24, 1989, he interviewed American serial killer Ted Bundy right before Bundy's execution.
James C. Dobson Jr. was born to Myrtle and James Dobson, and from his earliest childhood, religion was a central part of his life. He once told a reporter that he learned to pray before he learned to talk. In fact, he says he gave his life to Jesus at the age of three, in response to an altar call by his father. He is the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Nazarene evangelists. To this day, he remains a member of this evangelical denomination, the largest denomination to come out of the 19th century Holiness Movement. His father, James Dobson Sr., (1911-1977) never went to college, choosing instead the life of a traveling evangelist. Pastor Dobson was well-known in the southwest, and he and Mrs. Dobson often took their young son along so that he could watch his father preach. Theirs was a patriarchal home, in which Mrs. Dobson always deferred to her husband in every major decision. Like most Nazarenes, they forbade dancing and going to movies, so young "Jimmie Lee" (as he was called) concentrated on his studies, and also became good at tennis.
Dobson was drawn to the study of psychology, which in the 1950s and 1960s was not looked upon favorably by most evangelical Christians. He came to believe that he was being called to become a Christian counselor or perhaps a Christian psychologist. He decided to pursue a degree in psychology, and ultimately received his doctorate in that field in 1967.
Dobson first became well-known with the publication of Dare to Discipline, which encouraged parents to use corporal punishment in disciplining their children. Dobson's social and political opinions are widely read among many evangelical church congregations in the United States. Dobson publishes monthly bulletins also called Focus on the Family, which are dispensed as inserts in some Sunday church service bulletins.
At the invitation of Presidents and Attorneys General, Dobson has also served on government advisory panels and testified at several government hearings. He has been given the "Layman of the Year" award by the National Association of Evangelicals in 1982, "The Children's Friend" honor by Childhelp USA (an advocate agency against child abuse) in 1987, and the Humanitarian Award by the California Psychological Association in 1988. In 2005, Dobson received an honorary doctorate (his 16th and most recent) from Indiana Wesleyan University and was inducted into IWU's Society of World Changers, while speaking at the university's Academic Convocation.
In 2008, Dobson's "Focus on the Family" program was nominated for induction into the Radio Hall of Fame. Nominations were made by the 157 members of the Hall of Fame and voting on inductees was handed over to the public using online voting. The nomination drew the ire of gay rights activists, who launched efforts to have the program removed from the nominee list and to vote for other nominees to prevent "Focus on the Family" from winning. However, on July 18, 2008, it was announced that the program had won and would be inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in a ceremony on November 8, 2008. TruthWinsOut.org, a gay rights group, has said they will protest the ceremony.
In the 2004 book Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle, Dobson explains what he believes to be the Bible's view of marriage. Dobson suggests that falling heterosexual marriage rates in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are due to the recognition of same-sex relationships by those countries during the 1990s (pp. 8-9). He remarks that traditional marriage "is rapidly dying" in these countries as a result, with most young people cohabiting or choosing to remain single (living alone) and illegitimacy rates rising in some Norwegian counties up to 80%. However, at least one journalist investigating the statistics Dobson cites claims he and others have "misinterpreted the statistics while not supporting their interpretations with any actual research." Dobson writes that "every civilization in the world has been built upon [heterosexual marriage]," (p. 7) and describes the institution of marriage as "the bedrock of culture in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Australia, and even Antarctica" (p. 8). He also believes that homosexuality is a learned moral choice and he cites as evidence the life of actress Anne Heche, who at one time claimed to be a lesbian but no longer does so. Criticizing "the realities of judicial tyranny," Dobson has written that "[t]here is no issue today that is more significant to our culture than the defense of the family. Not even the war on terror eclipses it" (pp. 84-85).
Critics, such as the Human Rights Campaign, point out that Dobson's views on homosexuality do not represent the mainstream views of the mental health community. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center opined that such views prompt violence: "We have reports that clearly show this kind of rhetoric paves the way to violence. Without question, gay men and lesbians are the most attacked group — and the hate crimes toward them are more violent."
Dobson has called disciplining children to be a necessary but unpleasant part of raising children that should only be carried out by qualified parents: "Anyone who has ever abused a child — or has ever felt himself losing control during a spanking — should not expose the child to that tragedy. Anyone who has a violent temper that at times becomes unmanageable should not use that approach. Anyone who secretly 'enjoys' the administration of corporal punishment should not be the one to implement it."
In his book The Strong-Willed Child, Dobson suggests that if authority is portrayed correctly to a child, the child will understand how to interact with other authority figures: "By learning to yield to the loving authority... of his parents, a child learns to submit to other forms of authority which will confront him later in his life—his teachers, school principal, police, neighbors and employers.
Dobson stresses that parents must uphold their authority and do so consistently, comparing the relationship between parents and disobedient children to a battle: "When you are defiantly challenged, win decisively." In The Strong-Willed Child, Dobson draws an analogy between the defiance of a family pet and that of a small child, and concludes that "just as surely as a dog will occasionally challenge the authority of his leaders, so will a little child — only more so." (emphasis in original)
When asked "How long do you think a child should be allowed to cry after being punished? Is there a limit?" Dobson responded:
"Yes, I believe there should be a limit. As long as the tears represent a genuine release of emotion, they should be permitted to fall. But crying quickly changes from inner sobbing to an expression of protest... Real crying usually lasts two minutes or less but may continue for five. After that point, the child is merely complaining, and the change can be recognized in the tone and intensity of his voice. I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears. In younger children, crying can easily be stopped by getting them interested in something else.
Dobson's position is controversial; as early as 1985, The New York Times pronounced that "most child-care experts today disapprove of physical punishment."
The We Are Family Foundation countered that Dobson had mistaken their organization with "an unrelated Web site belonging to another group called 'We Are Family,' which supports gay youth." Foundation attorney Mark Barondess suggested that anyone who thought the video promoted homosexuality "needs to visit their doctor and get their medication increased." Dobson countered, "I want to be clear: the We Are Family Foundation — the organization that sponsored the video featuring SpongeBob and the other characters was, until this flap occurred, making available a variety of explicitly pro-homosexual materials on its Web site. It has since endeavored to hide that fact, but my concerns are as legitimate today as they were when I first expressed them in January." In September 2005, Tolerance.org published a follow-up message advertising the DVD's continued availability, including We Are Family Foundation president Nancy Hunt's speculation that many of the DVDs may be "still sitting in boxes, unused, because of Dobson's vitriolic attack."
Dobson has been quoted as saying that it is the responsibility of a father to raise his son to be a "man", and to encourage his son's masculinity.
Dobson has been criticized for claiming that sociological studies show that gay couples do not make good couples; sociologist Judith Stacey, the author of one such study, responded that Dobson's claim "is a direct misrepresentation of my research. In response to Dobson's claim that "there have been more than ten thousand studies that have showed that children do best when they are raised with a mother and a father who are committed to each other," Stacey replied that "[a]ll of those studies that Dobson is referring to are studies that did not include gay or lesbian parents as part of the research base.
Dobson believes that bills expanding the prohibition of sexual orientation-based discrimination will lead to a situation where, "every woman and little girl will have to fear that a predator, bisexual, cross-dresser or even a homosexual or heterosexual male might walk in and relieve himself in their presence."
Some homosexual activists have expressed fears that Dobson's ultimate goal is to pressure lawmakers into completely outlawing homosexuality and have openly questioned whether he favors reinstituting the Old Testament death penalty for homosexual activity. In an interview with Soulforce, homosexual minister Mel White said, "Right now he just calls us an abomination. But he's warned us that he takes the Bible literally. Does that mean he's just waiting to enforce the execution part? I don't ask that question as an alarmist or an hysteric. I ask that question because it's real."
In late 2004, Dobson led a campaign to block the appointment of Arlen Specter to head of the Senate Judiciary Committee because of Specter's pro-choice stance on abortion. Responding to a question by Fox News personality Alan Colmes on whether he wanted the Republican Party to be known as a "big-tent party," he replied, "I don't want to be in the big tent... I think the party ought to stand for something." In 2006, Family Research Council spent more than a half million dollars to promote a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in its home state of Colorado.
A May 2005 article by Hedges in Harpers described Dobson as "perhaps the most powerful figure in the Dominionist movement" and "a crucial player in getting out the Christian vote for George W. Bush. Discernment Ministries, a site that describes dominionism as a heresy, characterized Dobson as belonging to the "Patriotic American" brand of dominionism, calling him "One of its most powerful leaders.
In November 2004, Dobson was described by the online magazine Slate.com as "America's most influential evangelical leader." The article explained "Forget Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who in their dotage have marginalized themselves with gaffes... Dobson is now America's most influential evangelical leader, with a following reportedly greater than that of either Falwell or Robertson at his peak... Dobson may have delivered Bush his victories in Ohio and Florida." Further, "He's already leveraging his new power. When a thank-you call came from the White House, Dobson issued the staffer a blunt warning that Bush 'needs to be more aggressive' about pressing the religious right's pro-life, anti-gay rights agenda, or it would 'pay a price in four years.'... Dobson has sometimes complained that the Republican Party may take the votes of social conservatives for granted, and has suggested that evangelicals may withhold support from the GOP if the party does not more strongly support conservative family issues: "Does the Republican Party want our votes, no string attached — to court us every two years, and then to say, 'Don't call me, I'll call you' — and not to care about the moral law of the universe? ... Is that what they want? Is that the way the system works? Is this the way it's going to be? If it is, I'm gone, and if I go, I will do everything I can to take as many people with me as possible."
However, in 2006, Dobson said that, while "there is disillusionment out there with Republicans" and "that worries me greatly," he nonetheless suggested voters turn out and vote Republican in 2006. "My first inclination was to sit this one out," but according to The New York Times, Dobson then added that "he had changed his mind when he looked at who would become the leaders of Congressional committees if the Democrats took over."
Dobson garnered national media attention once again in February 2008 after releasing a statement in the wake of Senator John McCain's expected success in the so-called "Super Tuesday" Republican primary elections. In his statement, Dobson said: "I cannot, and will not, vote for Senator John McCain, as a matter of conscience," and indicated that he would refrain from voting altogether were McCain to become the Republican candidate, echoing other conservative commentators' concerns about the Senator's conservatism. He has since endorsed Mike Huckabee for president. When Dobson later indicated he "might" vote for McCain, Independent presidential candidate Alan Keyes coined the tongue-in-cheek phrase "Dobson's Choice" to highlight the dilemma conservative voters face in a two-party political system while choosing to endorse the lesser of two evils. After McCain selected a pro-life candidate, Sarah Palin, as his running mate, Dobson said that he is more enthusiastic in his support for the Republican ticket. When Palin's 17-year old daughter's pregnancy was revealed, Dobson issued a press release commending Palin's stance, saying "We have always encouraged the parents to love and support their children and always advised the girls to see their pregnancies through, even though there will of course be challenges along the way. That is what the Palins are doing, and they should be commended once again for not just talking about their pro-life and pro-family values, but living them out even in the midst of trying circumstances.
On June 24, 2008, Dobson publicly criticized statements made by U.S. Presidential candidate Barack Obama in Obama's 2006 "Call to Renewal" address. Dobson stated that Obama was "distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview."
Dobson is an intelligent design supporter and has spoken at conferences supporting the subject, and frequently criticizes evolution. In 2007, Dobson was one of 25 evangelicals who called for the ouster of Rev. Richard Cizik from his position at the National Association of Evangelicals because Cizik had taken a stance urging evangelicals to take global warming seriously.
Dobson is a frequent guest on Fox News Channel.