I'm underwhelmed by the news that James Dobson will no longer serve as chairman of Focus on the Family (FOF).
Most people know Dobson through his daily radio broadcasts, which reach millions. Dobson will continue doing those. Many others receive monthly letters from Dobson giving his perspective on "culture war" issues. Dobson plans to keep sending them. Still others know Dobson for his political endorsements, which he issues in his capacity as a private citizen. He plans to keep handing those down.
So what has changed? I guess if you work at Focus on the Family you might notice some differences. Dobson will no longer be involved in administrative matters. But even that is probably overblown. As a practical matter, I suspect Dobson long ago handed this off to underlings anyway.
Don't look for any policy changes, either. FOF is Dobson's baby. He founded it and nurtured it from a small organization with a handful or employees to the behemoth is has become with a sprawling campus in Colorado Springs, a worldwide reach and an annual budget of $140 million. In the unlikely event new leaders tried to moderate the organization's stands, Dobson would be back in a heartbeat.
But who expects any moderation? FOF has long been in the hands of Dobson henchmen, who are his ideological soul mates. Under their guidance, FOF has consistently taken the hard line.
When the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) urged evangelicals to address the issue of climate change, Dobson led the opposition – even though FOF is not a member of the NAE.
When some evangelicals began calling for more emphasis on issues like global poverty, war and hunger, Dobson insisted that the only issues that matter are abortion and same-sex marriage.
When conservatives like Cal Thomas called for evangelicals to stop emphasizing politics so much and focus instead on changing people's hearts, Dobson screamed that political involvement must be a top priority.
It's true that Dobson is 72 and has experienced some health issues. He and other FOF leaders may be thinking about the day when he truly retires and ceases all involvement as a Religious Right leader.
That day isn't here yet. Dobson may have dropped a title, but he's not stepping out of the limelight, nor is he ending his efforts to remake American law and society more to his theocratic liking. I suspect Dobson will be like Jerry Falwell in that regard: Convinced beyond all doubt of the moral certainty of his stands and secure in the knowledge that God agrees with him, he'll push his agenda until the day he draws his last breath.
There is less here than meets the eye. Those of us who support true religious liberty buttressed by a high and firm wall of separation between church and state need to keep the focus on Dobson for a while longer.