Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Christian Conservative on the "Callous" Theology of James Dobson

Last week Peter Wehner rebuked Mike Huckabee.  This week he takes on James Dobson.  A taste:

Some Christian conservatives seemingly cannot help themselves.  They have to try to find some deep theological explanation for the evil we witness in places like Newtown, Connecticut.  But often in doing so, they injure the very faith they seek to represent.  
The latest example is by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, who, in speaking about the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said this:
I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist, or he’s irrelevant to me, and we have killed fifty-four million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition.  Believe me, that is going to have consequences too.
And a lot of these things are happening around us, and somebody is going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us.  I think that’s what’s going on.
Let’s see if we can untangle some of this, beginning with this observation: In the New Testament, suffering and death are more often evidence of obedience than disobedience to God.  When the Lord told Ananias to go to Straight Street and place his hands on Saul (later Paul) to restore Saul’s sight, the Lord said to Ananias, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”  The two most important figures in Christianity – Jesus and St. Paul – died violent deaths (according to Christian tradition, Paul was beheaded by the Romans).  So the effort to create a cause-and-effect – in this case, turning your back on God leads to mass shootings and violent death – is itself theologically misguided.

The workings of God in the midst of tragedy cannot be reduced to a simplistic moral mathematics in which sin yields to disaster, in part because America is not a covenant community on the model of ancient Israel. The community of faith is found in every nation.  Believers share the blessings and tragedies of their neighbors. Rather than declaring the suffering of their neighbors to be deserved, they should work and pray for the common good.

And this:

Now, assume you were a parent of one of the children who was gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School and you heard a well-known Christian figure like Dobson declare that the worst thing you could possibly conceive of – the murder of your first-grade daughter — was a result of the wrath of God.  If you believed this, it would only add to your grief.  And if you didn’t believe it, it would only add to your anger.  And what would Dobson say to the father of the boy who had just dedicated his young life to the Lord?  Why was he the target of God’s judgment?  Because Washington State passed a same-sex marriage initiative?

Read the rest here.  It may be time for Dobson to call it a day.


Tom Van Dyke said...

It may be time for Dobson to call it a day.

He's stepped down into emeritus status at Focus on the Family, so he sort of has, or is.

As for Peter Wehner [Michael Gerson's ally], scolding a major constituency of the GOP has a bigger future among the left-leaning establishment.

For the necessary argument of those who mock or dismiss arguments like Dobson's is that a) God is indeed off somewhere like the blind watchmaker, and on a practical level b) Judeo-Christian principles are irrelevant in this braver new world.

Joshua Wooden said...


Huh? I don't understand your comment at the third paragraph.

Tom Van Dyke said...

a) Divine Providence, in which the Founders---even the less religious ones like Franklin, Washington and Madison believed. Yes, I get the image of martyrdom on the individual level, but the Old Testament is the Bible too, and it was when Israel turned from god that she was punished.

b)Theology aside, that, as Washington said

"And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

There was, in the olden days, a bit of the notion of the sacred what with school prayer and the like. And in the Connecticut case, can we say for sure that even a sufferer of autism/Asperger's could not be inculcated by a sense of the sacred rather than by violent video games, that his crimes were not inevitable?

I'm not endorsing Dobson's argument, but neither am I rejecting it as unreasonable, especially for a person of Dobson's faith and worldview. I think pluralism obliges a bit of breathing room for such beliefs---which perhaps uncoincidentally, aren't uncongenial to GWash's.

Hope that helps and thanks for asking. Cheers.