Dr. Jim Dobson … 35 years of talkin’ family
AFA Journal editor
November 2012 – Editor’s Note: Dr. James Dobson recently talked with AFA Journal about his decades of work in the pro-family arena through his new Family Talk ministry as well as his long history with Focus on the Family.
AFA Journal: What things moved you to begin a pro-family ministry decades ago?
Dr. James Dobson: It was March 26, 1977. I was a professor of pediatrics at University of Southern California School of Medicine and was enjoying what I was doing. I was in charge of research being done in major hospitals around the country. But I was also writing, and my early books were successful. That produced hundreds of speaking requests.
As I accepted those on the weekends and whenever I could fit them in, I became keenly aware that the American family was in serious trouble. I saw that it was deteriorating. I don’t want to sound like I was some kind of prophet, but I saw where we are today.
I realized that the homosexual activist community was going to try to change the family. I saw all the problems related to deteriorating families, especially with regard to children. I just felt that the Lord would have me do something about it if I could. So I resigned and opened a little two-room office in Arcadia, California, started a daily radio program and called it Focus on the Family.
AFAJ: Was it scary to resign from a solid, comfortable position to step out on faith?
JD: Not really. The head of the department of pediatrics for the USC School of Medicine was interested in what I was doing. He invited me into his office, and I told him I would like a one-year leave of absence. This was 1976.
He said, “I will grant it to you – if you promise to come back in a year.”
I said I would. Well, by the fall of 1977, Focus on the Family was exploding. I didn’t know what to do. I prayed on my way over to have my meeting with Dr. Donnell, and I didn’t know whether to tell him I was not going to keep my promise or to close down Focus on the Family and return.
I walked in the door, and he stood and shook my hand. He said, “I know what you’re doing, and I think it’s important. If you want to keep on going and doing what you’re doing, you can become an associate clinical professor for the university. You will have all your privileges and titles with the university and continue the work that you’re doing.”
I cried on the way home because the Lord made it so clear that this was what he wanted me to do.
AFAJ: What was your long-term vision for Focus on the Family?
JD: Honestly, I had no long term vision because when you begin telling God what you’re trying to do and build, what you want to become, how many stations you want to be on and how many countries you want to be in – that makes it feel like James Dobson Enterprises.
I never attempted to think five years ahead. Each day, I felt it was my job to do what was on my plate that day and leave the growth and the plans to the Lord.
AFAJ: Tell us about your transition from Focus on the Family to Family Talk.
JD: It was time to pass Focus on to a younger generation. One of the worst things a founder/president can do is stay too long. Then you either retire or you get bored with it and quit or you die. And you don’t leave an infrastructure of leadership to take over.
I felt like the Lord wanted me to move on – but I wasn’t through with ministry. My ministry, my message and my mission were just the same that they had been in 1977. So I left Focus on the Family on February 26, 2010, and the next day I started Family Talk.
I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have any staff, I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have a building, I didn’t have a studio, I didn’t have any radio stations. Our first program aired on May 3. It took that long to get it organized.
AFAJ: How have issues changed from 1977 to 2010?
JD: The family has deteriorated much more rapidly than I expected. The culture is at war with parents for the hearts and minds of their kids. We have a whole generation of kids who are growing up without spiritual foundation – or support for it within the culture. There are a lot of Christian parents who are trying to do that job, but they don’t get any help from the schools, from the entertainment industry, the rock music industry. That’s where my greatest concern is.
AFAJ: What new issues have come up over these recent decades?
JD: There’s nothing new under the sun, in particular when it comes to the institution of the family. One of the things that has bothered me most is that government has seemed to be so anti-family in what it does. You know, in 1969, Congress in its wisdom passed a marriage penalty tax, where people who are raising children – trying to keep a roof over their heads, and feed them and medicate them and bind up their wounds – were taxed more than those living together out of wedlock. That stayed true until George W. Bush passed the tax roll-back in 2001.
Ever since then, Democrats and many Republicans are doing the very best they can to re-impose that tax. That’s just one area undermining the financial well-being of families. Also in 1969, no-fault divorce laws came in, and divorce went through the roof.
Then in 1973, of course, we got Roe v Wade. And in 1977, the courts ruled that girls 13 years of age can be taken out of school and transported to an abortion clinic without their parents’ knowledge. Government has very little interest in the family, which is really the foundation, the ground floor for everything that matters as a culture.
That’s what pulled me into the public policy arena. It bothers me greatly that people have not understood that, and for the last 20 years many have accused me of being political, implying that what I seek is political power. That’s not it at all; it’s an extension of the work I do to try to protect families.
AFAJ: How and why is the U.S. different from the rest of the world?
JD: We have been different from the days of the Founding Fathers because of our Constitution – based largely on the Judeo-Christian ethic – and because of the great men God gave us at a critical time in our history. What is so sad is today’s culture and today’s politicians have forgotten it and don’t understand it, and the Constitution is under assault like never before. If we allow government to take away religious liberty, we will do so at our peril.
AFAJ: What is our best hope to restore our nation’s moral foundations?
JD: There’s only one hope. It will not be done by electing certain individuals, although that will help. It will only occur with a profound spiritual revival that will sweep this country.
AFAJ: What has the church done right – or wrong – in our culture war?
JD: First of all, I’m a great defender of the church. Through the years, with monthly letters and requests for funds, I have always said, “Do not give to this or any other para-church ministry until you’ve met your financial obligations to the church.” Most people who find a personal relationship with Jesus Christ do so through the church.
But I think we can all see that there are elements of apostasy and distraction within many churches where the emphasis of the preaching is on tapping into the power of God for more successful living instead of coming to terms with the claims of Christ. The former is not going to save us; the latter will – if we are to be saved.
AFAJ: Who have been the role models in your life?
JD: I would have to say it started with my father, a wonderful, godly man. He was my partner in the early days in the sense that he was very interested in what God had called me to do. He prayed for me every day, and for the ministry I had been led into.
He was also a reader. He would go to the library and get eight or ten books and read them over the weekend, then summarize them for me. There are no words to describe his influence on me.
Chuck Colson had a profound impact on me. We met one afternoon in the early 1980s and he came to my office just to get acquainted. It was like putting a match to gasoline. We talked as fast as we could talk all day, and then went into the studio and recorded a five-part program. From that time on, he was my friend.
In addition to Chuck, there was Adrian Rogers, who was a member of my board. Another was Bill Bright. He would call and say, “I don’t have anything to say, I just want to know how you’re doing. How can I pray for you?”
I’ve had a lot of good men in my life – and a very, very good mother.
AFAJ: In addition to your daily Family Talk broadcast, what other projects are you working on?
JD: We’ve just recorded a new eight-part video series we’re calling Building a Family Legacy. Its purpose is to discuss or present what I’ve learned in these times, of what research has explained that I didn’t know in 1977, and the result of these 30+ years of experience.
New Dobson series urges strong families
Building a Family Legacy, Family Talk’s new eight-part video series, features Dr. James Dobson, who has spent more than 35 years as a leading pro-family activist. It is an updated and expanded version of the parenting series he created in the early days of Focus on the Family, a ministry he founded in 1977.
When Ryan Dobson, as a brand new dad, saw the decades-old series four years ago, he urged his father to record a new DVD series and communicate principles of marriage and parenthood to a younger generation.
So earlier this year, the recording of the new series drew more than 5,000 Family Talk friends to Skyline Church near San Diego to hear the renowned psychologist, author and radio host along with his son, also a broadcaster and an important voice on family issues.
Family Talk’s website, www.drjamesdobson.org, will announce BAFL’s release in 2013.
Learn more about Dr. Dobson’s new Family Talk radio ministry at www.drjamesdobson.org or toll free 877-732-6825. Family Talk airs on American Family Radio M-F at 9:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. (CT).