Focus on the Family (FOF) founder James C. Dobson continues to handicap the 2008 Republican presidential aspirants, recently opining that former senator Fred Thompson is not really a Christian.
“Everyone knows [Thompson’s] conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for,” Dobson told reporter Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report. “[But] I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression.” The news of his apostasy must have come as quite a surprise to Thompson, who was baptized as a member of the conservative Church of Christ denomination.
An FOF spokesman later explained that Dobson defines “Christian” in a special way. Gary Schneeberger said Dobson knows that Thompson belongs to a Christian denomination but added that the FOF head “has never known Thompson to be a committed Christian – someone who talks openly about his faith.”
Added Schneeberger, “We use that word – Christian – to refer to people who are evangelical Christians. Dr. Dobson wasn’t expressing a personal opinion about his reaction to a Thompson candidacy; he was trying to ‘read the tea leaves’ about such a possibility.”
When that failed to clarify matters, Dobson fell back on his old standby: attacking the media. According to a “clarification” issued by FOF, Dobson had been misquoted.
“In his conversation with Mr. Gilgoff, Dr. Dobson was attempting to highlight that to the best of his knowledge, Sen. Thompson hadn’t clearly communicated his religious faith, and many evangelical Christians might find this a barrier to supporting him,” read the statement. “Dr. Dobson told Mr. Gilgoff he had never met Sen. Thompson and wasn’t certain that his understanding of the former senator’s religious convictions was accurate. Unfortunately, these qualifiers weren’t reported by Mr. Gilgoff.”
In his original remarks to Gilgoff, Dobson also expressed support for the candidacy of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He called Gingrich the “brightest guy out there” and “the most articulate politician on the scene today.” But according to the FOF clarification, Dobson didn’t mean that to be perceived as an endorsement of Gingrich.
The FOF statement concluded with a warning, “[W]e would caution friends of our ministry not to believe what they read about Dr. Dobson in the secular media today. Never in the 30-year history of this ministry has there been more misreporting and outright distortion of his beliefs and teachings. It is apparent that those who represent a liberal worldview seek to marginalize him and confuse our friends. Anyone who ever has a question concerning what they read about Dr. Dobson or Focus on the Family is encouraged to contact us for clarification. The chances are they have been misinformed.”
Interestingly, Dobson initiated the conversation with Gilgoff. The FOF head called the reporter up unsolicited and began offering his thoughts on the ’08 race. Gilgoff has penned a new book, The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are Winning the Culture War.
Dobson isn’t the only religious conservative acting as a political powerbroker these days. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has taken it upon himself to pontificate on the GOP candidates.
Recently, Land spoke highly of Thompson, who has yet to formally announce that he’s running.
“Fred Thompson reminds me of a Southern-fried Reagan,” Land told The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper. “To see Fred work a crowd must be what it was like to watch Rembrandt paint.”
Land, head of the tax-exempt denomination’s lobbying office, added that he would not support former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani or Gingrich, partly over their marital histories. Thompson is also divorced, but Land said the circumstances matter, noting that Thompson’s first marriage was an amicable split that ended years ago.
“That’s a very different circumstance than engaging in an adulterous affair while still married to your second wife,” Land said, taking a slap at Gingrich.