Vowing to change is all the rage right now, as millions of Americans make their New Year’s resolutions, so you’ll have to forgive me for not playing along. But contrary to the thesis of The Washington Times’ Jan. 1 front-page story (“Legacies bedevil aging icons/Cultural reins taken by young”), the legacy of the man whose shoes I am prayerfully trying to fill is not “going to start getting chewed up” — because the principles and passions on which James Dobson built Focus on the Family more than 30 years ago are just as relevant today as they have ever been.
The proof is abundant in some of the statistics cited in your very own story. Most young people 18 to 25, you note, want to get married, have children and find careers; counseling and advising men and women to successfully navigate their marriages, raise their children and balance their careers with their family life is precisely the business we’ve been in since Mr. Dobson’s first radio broadcast. You also point out that the number of working mothers who think a full-time job is the ideal arrangement for them has dropped more than 10 percent in the last decade — a reflection, one must assume, of a renewed realization that nothing is more important than being there for your kids. That’s been central to all we do since our founding, too.
A third fact you report — that young Americans wish there were less sex and violence on TV — hits on the sort of subject most of your readers probably know our organization for. But here are a couple of things they may not know: Less than 8 percent of our budget, staff, resources and time goes into trying to have an impact on policy issues through government officials and agencies. Even more to the point, Mr. Dobson’s energy for defending the family against the culture’s assault on traditional values, although it has led him to speak out often on public policy issues, has never been about amassing political power or influence. It’s always been about keeping families safe, healthy and thriving. It’s always been viewed as hand-in-glove with the other 92 percent of what we do.
Consider this letter one of our staff recently found in our archives. It’s dated Oct. 26, 1988, and Mr. Dobson was writing to a friend concerned about Focus on the Family’s increasing involvement in politics and policy. “Our movement into the arena of public policy is unsettling to me,” Mr. Dobson wrote. “It is so easy to make a mistake in that dimension, and if I had my way, we would stay out of it.
“On the other hand, I feel that God has put us in a position of leadership there, and we would displease Him if we refused to accept the challenge. Thus, we proceed, with fear and trembling.”
Now I wouldn’t presume to speak for the men and women who have or soon will assume leadership from some of the other “icons” mentioned in your Jan. 1 story: be it the successors to Phyllis Schlafly or Hugh Hefner. I can only tell you what I plan to do, how I plan to wield the “cultural reins” that have been handed to me.
I’m going to do it the way Mr. Dobson did it, riding along the trail he has wisely worn. My commitment is his commitment: to serve and strengthen families at every stage of life — singles, married couples, young families, single parents, children, teens and seniors. We do that through everything from our Orphan Care Initiative to our Plugged In entertainment reviews for parents.
Will we still continue to speak out on public policy issues? Absolutely. But we will never be, as Mr. Dobson has never been, beholden to any political party or candidate. We will continue to fight for crucial truths like the sanctity of human life and the sacredness of one-man, one-woman marriage. And when other issues of import to the stability of families in the United States and across the globe are raised up — like the responsibility of Christians to be wise stewards of the Earth and its resources — we will make our voice heard with biblical principles as our guide.
That is the wonderful thing about having your work rooted in something greater than your own wisdom or the shifting sands of public opinion. When God is your guide, there really is no reason, or occasion, to be bedeviled.
Jim Daly is president and CEO of Focus on the Family.
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