DENVER — James Dobson, one of the nation's most powerful evangelicals, has resigned as chairman of Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian organization he founded 32 years ago.
Mr. Dobson, 72, parlayed his daily radio show into a national role, becoming one of the most influential voices among Christian conservatives, and helping to make a place for social and religious conservatives in the Republican Party coalition while holding politicians' feet to the fire on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and school vouchers.
A child psychologist by training, Mr. Dobson plans to stay on as host of the organization's popular radio program, which reaches an estimated 1.5 million U.S. listeners, and will continue to write the organization'sweekly newsletter, sent to 1.6 million people per month.
The move represents what Focus officials described as the next step in a transition plan to reduce Mr. Dobson's administrative duties. The first step came six years ago when he stepped down as president and chief executive officer.
"One of the common errors of founder-presidents is to hold to the reins of leadership too long, thereby preventing the next generation from being prepared for executive authority. I have wanted not to make that mistake with Focus on the Family, which is why I stepped back, first from the presidential duties six years ago, and now, from board chairmanship," he said.
While he described letting go as "difficult after three decades of intensive labor," he added that "it is the wise thing to do."
Wife Shirley Dobson also stepped down from the Colorado Springs-based organization´s board of directors. Mr. Dobson was elected to the position of founder and chairman emeritus, while Mrs. Dobson now holds the title of director emerita for the nonprofit ministry.
A statement released Friday added that the Dobsons were "anxious to devote themselves to the joys of grandparenting."
The organization also announced that Mr. Dobson would be succeeded as board chairman by Lt. Gen. Patrick Caruana, a board member since 1996 and vice chairman since 2006.
Gen. Caruana, who served 36 years in the Air Force, was vice president of Northrop Grumman Space Technology from 2002 to 2005.
Jim Daly, Focus´ president and CEO, called Mr. Dobson "a great leader" and "an inspiration and role model to millions of Americans."
Alan Sears, president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund, called Mr. Dobson's life and work "a role model for leadership and his selfless devotion and concern for the future of America´s families and our nation."
Mr. Dobson has been viewed considerably less charitably by his critics on the left, who have criticized him for his strong stances against gay marriage and abortion.
On Friday, Kathryn Kolbert, president of People for the American Way, warned that Mr. Dobson "may be stepping down, but he´s not stepping off the field. Dobson will continue hosting his national radio show and pushing his far-right agenda under the cover of folksy advice. … Regardless of where Dobson appears on the organizational chart, he and Focus on the Family will continue their assault on Americans´ liberties."
Nonetheless, few would dispute his influence. In November 2004, Salon magazine called him "America´s most influential evangelical leader" with greater sway than either Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell at their peaks.
Mr. Dobson plans to continue speaking out on public policy issues through the organization's political arm, Focus on the Family Action. Mr. Dobson endorsed Republican hopeful John McCain in the 2008 election after at first saying that he would not vote for him.
Focus has struggled in recent years to reach younger listeners through its flagship radio program, and was forced to cut 200 jobs from its payroll last fall, its biggest staff reduction to date. The organization has said that Mr. Dobson will host the radio program for as long as he likes, but has also introduced younger on-air personalities in the search for a successor.