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James Dobson’s failed attack on Obama

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By Rick Howell

Some think that the religious right doesn’t pack the punch it used to. Evangelicals haven’t voted as a bloc for Republicans the last two election cycles. Jerry Falwell and some lesser figures have died.

But one stalwart of “Christian conservatism” is not only still going, he’s apparently making an effort to be the new king of the hill. James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” organization is an enormously powerful tool of the right.

In the past, Dobson has turned it into a force to reckon with in Colorado, the state where he is based. He’s used it to support conservative ballot initiatives there, and he waged a noted campaign to get right-winger Samuel Alito on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now, Dobson is going after Barack Obama, the Democratic party’s presumptive presidential nominee. Dobson was critical of remarks Obama made at a “Call to Renewal” conference in 2006. His attack might have gone virtually unnoticed had it not been criticized by a fellow religious rightist in The Washington Post.

Peter Wehner, whom the paper identified as a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, took exception to Dobson’s statements. That is, from a Christian point of view.

Dobson claimed that Obama was “deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit ee his own confused theology.” So, what was it that the candidate said that might have angered the great defender of the family?

Here’s one example: “And even if we did have only Christians in our midst ee whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is okay and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggest 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’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?”

It’s possible that the mere mention of Dobson’s name set him off. But it’s also true that many Christians can’t explain some of the rather bizarre stuff in the Old Testament, and don’t want to be reminded of it.

As Wehner pointed out in his commentary, Obama made this statement that should eliminate any concerns people might have about his views on religion: “(Those) who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant” or “caricature religious Americans ee as fanatical” are wrong. The senator also said that religious people shouldn’t be expected to leave out their religious beliefs from their consideration of public policy.

Wehner put it this way: “Obama was doing what people like Dobson have long urged: making the public square more hospitable for people of faith and calling for a halt to their demonization. Obama made his case in ways I found to be respectful and authentic.”

As I’ve said previously, Obama will be subject to withering attacks, and his campaign team and the entire Democratic Party is getting ready for it. But I can’t help but wonder if Dobson was hinting at something else with his remark about Obama‘s “confused theology.”

If anyone is confused, it’s those people who still try to insist that, somehow, Obama is a Muslim. That nonsense has been so pushed on the Internet that, according to one survey, one in 10 Americans believes it. Again, it is simply not true.

Dobson struck out in his attempt to attack Obama from a religious viewpoint. Wehner put it this way: “If Christian conservatives want to be taken seriously, they need to make serious arguments and speak with intellectual integrity. In this instance, Dobson didn’t.”

Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.