Christianity Knowledge Base
James Dobson 1

James Dobson

James Clayton Dobson (born 21 April 1936 in Shreveport, Louisiana), is a Protestant Christian and psychologist who presents a daily radio program called Focus on the Family on over 6,000 stations worldwide in more than a dozen languages. He is chairman of the board of a nonprofit organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado of the same name, which he founded in 1977. His programs are estimated to be heard by more than 200 million people every day in 164 countries[1], and Focus on the Family is also on 80 US television stations daily.


Dobson is an evangelical Christian with significant political clout, well known for mobilizing his listeners on political and ethical issues. Dobson is sometimes labeled as a fundamentalist, though other fundamentalists criticize Dobson for cooperating with Roman Catholics and Jews. Some fundamentalists also disagree with his mixture of psychology and Christianity. However, he has at times stated his opposition to Catholic teachings and Church hierarchy, and has vigorously criticized it for what he calls its "lack of spirit". In one instance, Dobson stated his belief that neither Evangelicals nor Roman Catholics are as faithful as they should be, saying, "We're not just talking about Evangelicals, they're Catholics, people with no faith at all, but hold those views."[2]

He first became well-known with the publication of Dare to Discipline, a book which became a cultural phenomenon among conservative Christian families. Dare to Discipline recognizes the value, as a last resort, of spanking children who defy their parents. This caused some controversy among those who oppose all physical discipline of 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 programs.

Dobson has two children, Danae and Ryan, with his wife Shirley. Ryan Dobson is a public speaker in his own right, often speaking on issues relating to youth and the pro-life movement.

Dobson was an eyewitness to the death of basketball great Pete Maravich. Maravich was scheduled to appear on his radio show on 5 January 1988. That morning, Maravich collapsed during a pickup basketball game in which both he and Dobson were playing, and was declared dead on arrival from a heart attack resulting from an undiagnosed congenital defect.

Dobson is an ardent supporter of adoption, especially adoption of troubled children (Ryan and Danae are both adopted).

Degrees, positions and awards[]

Dobson holds a doctorate in child development from the University of Southern California (1967). He was an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine for fourteen years. He spent seventeen years on the staff of the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles in the Division of Child Development and Medical Genetics.

He is a licensed psychologist in California, and is listed in Who's Who in Medicine and Healthcare. He also has a long list of honorary doctorates from various institutions.

At the invitation of presidents and attorneys general, Dobson has also served on government advisory panels and testified at several government hearings. Among many other awards, 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.

Views on corporal punishment and authority[]

Dobson advocates the spanking of children of up to eight years old when they misbehave, but warns that "corporal punishment should not be a frequent occurrence" and that "discipline must not be harsh and destructive to the child's spirit." He does not advocate what he considers harsh spanking: "It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely." (Dare to Discipline, p.7.)

Dobson recognizes some of the dangers of child abuse, and considers 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 by correctly portraying authority 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." (ibid., p. 235.)

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." (ibid., p. 36.) 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."

Note that here Dobson is speaking of punishment in general rather than advocating a repeated succession of spanking.

Anti-spanking groups disagree with Dobson's views, suggesting they are too simplistic and even dangerous for children. Some insist that Dobson's views are based more on his personal theology, cultural biases, and political views than on any serious clinical research or real Biblical scholarship. Pro-spanking groups disagree, pointing out that a philosophy of "no spanking, ever" is certainly more simplistic than Dobson's situational and limited approach.

Dobson and homosexuality[]

Dobson's views on homosexuality differ greatly from many of American mental health providers. He believes homosexuality can be "cured" in adults and prevented in children. He regularly and vigorously decries the gay rights movement and is outspoken about anything that he regards as promoting homosexuality.

However, unlike many Evangelicals, Dobson does not believe that homosexuals choose their orientation. He states in his book, Bringing Up Boys, "Homosexuals deeply resent being told that they selected this same-sex inclination in pursuit of sexual excitement or some other motive. It is unfair, and I don't blame them for being irritated by that assumption. Who among us would knowingly choose a path that would result in alienation from family; rejection by friends, disdain from the heterosexual world, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis, and even a shorter lifespan? No, homosexuality is not 'chosen' except in rare circumstances. Instead, bewildered children and adolescents find themselves dealing with something they don't even understand." (Bringing Up Boys, Dr. James Dobson, Focus on the Family 2003, p. 115-116).

However, Dobson does not believe that homosexuality is genetic. In his June 2002 newsletter, he states: "There is further convincing evidence that homosexuality is not hereditary. For example, since identical twins share the same chromosomal pattern, or DNA, the genetic contributions are exactly the same within each of the pairs. Therefore, if one twin is 'born' homosexual, then the other should inevitably have that characteristic too. That is not the case. When one twin is homosexual, the probability is only 50 percent that the other will have the same condition. Something else must be operating." [3]

SpongeBob SquarePants controversy[]

On January 20, 2005, The New York Times published an article, "Conservatives Pick Soft Target: A Cartoon Sponge", that focused on comments made by Dobson on the association of SpongeBob SquarePants with a children’s tolerance video created by the We Are Family Foundation. [4] Several media outlets incorrectly interpreted the Times article and reported that Dobson was accusing SpongeBob SquarePants, the cartoon character, of being homosexual or promoting a homosexual lifestyle. [5] At least one media outlet published a correction. [6]

Dobson on Marriage[]

James Dobson is a promoter of patriarchal marriage. He believes men have the divine right to lead their families, and women have the divine obligation to submit to their authority. He supports organizations such as Promise Keepers. Dobson doesn't "recommend" women with any children under the age of eighteen to work outside the home. His views generally reflect the 1950's idealized American family, with a strong, patriarchal father and a very domestic, feminine wife. He is rather neutral to the idea of inter-racial marriage, saying that God made all of us equal despite appearances and cultures and therefore all are fair game, so to speak, in the world of marriage according to his website. He does, however, say this with a word of advice that the world is apt to be unfriendly to these relationships as well as to the children produced in the relationship. He is also highly critical of the American trend of singles getting married at older vs. younger ages. In his opinion, the call for men to lead isn't limited to the home, but stretches to both the church and government. He is highly critical of efforts to increase a female presence of leadership in these realms of authority.

Dobson on Tolerance[]

Dobson contended that "tolerance and diversity" are "buzzwords" that the We Are Family Foundation misused as part of a hidden agenda to promote homosexuality. He stated in the February 2005 edition of the Focus on the Family newsletter that "childhood symbols are apparently being hijacked to promote an agenda that involves teaching homosexual propaganda to children."[7] He offers as evidence the association of many leading pro-homosexual organizations, including GLAAD, GLSEN, HRC, and PFLAG, with the We Are Family Foundation and the foundation's distribution of elementary school lesson plans which included discussions of compulsory heterosexuality, gender, heterosexism, and homophobia. [8] The Focus on the Family website stated, "While words like 'diversity' and 'unity' sound harmless — even noble — enough, the reality is they are often used by gay activists as cover for teaching children that homosexuality is the moral and biological equivalent to heterosexuality."[9]

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." [10] A spokesman for the foundation suggested that anyone who thought the video promoted homosexuality "needs to visit their doctor and get their medication increased." [11] Dobson contended that the controversial material had been removed by the We Are Family Foundation following their remarks to the press, stating that Focus on the Family obtained "clear documentation that these materials were being promoted on the Web site." [12]

Marriage Under Fire[]

In the 2004 book Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle, Dobson outlines his view of traditional marriage. Dobson suggests that falling heterosexual marriage rates in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are due to the recognition of same-sex relationships by political leaders in those countries during the 1990s (pp. 8-9). He remarks that traditional marriage "is rapidly dying" in these countries as a result, with "most couples cohabiting or choosing to remain single" and illegitimacy rates rising in some areas of Norway up to 80% (ibid.). 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 argues that homosexuality is "curable." Railing against "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).

Political power[]

Despite his distaste for the compromises often necessary for political success, some say Dobson is the most politically powerful Evangelical in America today, as exemplified by this excerpt from the online magazine,

"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... He proselytized hard for Bush during this last year, organizing huge stadium rallies and using his radio program to warn his 7 million American listeners that not to vote would be a sin. Dobson may have delivered George W. Bush his victories in Ohio and Florida.
"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.' And when the pro-choice Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter made conciliatory noises about appointing moderates to the Supreme Court, Dobson launched a fevered campaign to prevent him from assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which until then he had been expected to inherit. Dobson is now a Republican kingmaker... Dobson unlike other religious figures involved in lobbying and politics has talked about bringing down the GOP if it fails him."[13]

In 1983, Dobson founded the Family Research Council, which served as his political arm, though he initially remained somewhat distant from Washington politics. With LGBT issues becoming more prominent, he entered politics in full force.

In late 2004, Dobson led a campaign with social conservatives to block the appointment of Arlen Specter to head of the judiciary committee because of Specter's moderate stances on abortion. Responding to a question by 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."[14]

On 1 January 2005, The Washington Times reported that Dobson promised six Democratic senators "a battle of enormous proportions" if they filibustered conservative appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court. "He singled out six Democrats up for re-election in 2006: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Bill Nelson of Florida." In 2004, Dobson played an important role in the defeat of then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

Dobson also stirred controversy when he called Vermont senator Patrick Leahy a "God's people hater" in response to Leahy's political viewpoints, which stood in opposition to traditional conservative Christian positions (Daily Oklahoman, 10 October 2004).

Statements about ethics and science[]

During the Focus on the Family radio show on 3 August 2005, Dobson criticized United States Senator Bill Frist and others who supported expanded stem cell research, saying:

"In World War II, the Nazis experimented on human beings in horrible ways in the concentration camps, and I imagine, if you wanted to take the time to read about it, there would have been some discoveries there that benefited mankind... You know, if you take a utilitarian approach, that if something results in good, then it is good. But that's obviously not true. We condemn what the Nazis did because there are some things that we always could do but we haven't done, because science always has to be guided by ethics and by morality. And you remove ethics and morality, and you get what happened in Nazi Germany." [15]


Dobson has authored or coauthored 31 books (as of 2004), including:

  • Bringing Up Boys: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men ISBN 084235266X
  • The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide
  • Emotions: Can You Trust Them?
  • The Focus on the Family Complete Book of Baby and Child Care (with Paul C. Reisser)
  • Judicial Tyranny: The New Kings of America? - contributing author (Amerisearch, 2005) ISBN 0975345567
  • Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Families in Crisis
  • Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle, Multnomah Publishers, Inc. (Sisters, Oregon), July 2004
  • The New Dare to Discipline
  • Night Light: A Devotional for Couples (with his wife Shirley Dobson)
  • Night Light for Parents (with Shirley Dobson)
  • Parenting Isn't for Cowards
  • Preparing for Adolescence
  • Stories of Heart and Home
  • Straight Talk to Men
  • Straight Talk: What Men Should Know, What Women Need to Understand
  • The Strong-Willed Child : Birth Through Adolescence
  • What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women
  • When God Doesn't Make Sense

Dobson also served on the committee that wrote the Meese Report on pornography.

External links[]

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