Dobson Denials Echo Saint Peter
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Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 10:54:47 PM EST
'Denial of Dobson,' graphic by Jonathan Hutson, based on Gerrit Honthorst's 'Denial of Peter,' c.1620-25

Dr. James Dobson is not the first Christian leader to deny a relationship in the strongest terms, only to be found out as a false witness. In the First Century, there was Saint Peter, who cried, "I don't know what you're talking about!" when a servant girl asked if he knew Jesus.

In the Twenty-first Century, there is Dobson, founder and leader of Focus on the Family, who has been caught on tape, bearing false witness against Harper's Magazine and a writer who reported accurately on his political endorsements. Dobson denied ever endorsing candidates who call for abortion providers to be executed. But newspaper reports and broadcast news videotapes show otherwise.

At the same time, Dobson and his organization are attacking writers for questioning their involvement -- knowing or unknowing -- in the scandal swirling around convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his gambling industry clients, and certain religious right leaders.

Dobson and his organization slam writers -- whether from the political left, the right, or the center -- who report accurately and who dare to ask tough questions based on Dobson's own words and deeds. Such counterattacks would be more credible if Dobson and his organization did not engage in broad-brush smears and defensive rhetoric that is at times misleading or even, at least in this instance, false.

Media Matters for America reveals that on the March 8 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Dobson wrongly accused Harper's Magazine, and contributor Chris Hedges, of "say[ing] the most crazy things" in a May 2005 cover story which reported that Dobson is "in favor of people who want to execute abortionists." Although Dobson implies that the magazine report is false, it is instead Dobson's claim which is false. In fact, Dobson has endorsed two former candidates -- Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) -- who have expressed support for executing "abortionists."

Just as Peter wrongly denied ever embracing Jesus, Dobson has wrongly denied ever embracing Terry and Coburn.

Media Matters reports:

In 2004, Dobson endorsed Coburn in his bid for Oklahoma's open Senate seat. Coburn told the Associated Press on July 10, 2004, "I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life."

Terry Calls for Capital Punishment of Rebellious Teenagers, Too

In 1998, Dobson gave a rare letter of support to Terry in his failed Congressional bid in upstate New York. Media Matters notes:

According to a September 28, 1998, profile of Terry in The Nation by David Corn, during a campaign speech, Terry reportedly stated, "When I or people like me are running the country, [abortion providers] better flee because we will find you, we will try you, and we will execute you."
And as first reported in a 1995 story by this writer published in the journal Front Lines Research (and edited by Talk to Action's Frederick Clarkson), Terry has also called for the stoning to death of rebellious children.

In the same article for The Nation cited above, Corn wrote:

Then there was a private meeting in 1995 at which he said that striking or cursing a parent is a "capital offense." What did he mean by that? Terry is outraged by the question: "I was quoting the Torah.... Are you asking me do I think that teenage rebels should be stoned today? The answer is no.... I was a rebel teenager." It is unfair, he maintains, to "take a speech, a sermon in a church about the Law of Moses and try to implicate me on a policy level." There is Terry the Bible-believing preacher, and there is Terry the politician with policy proposals. The roles, he claims, are distinct. The remark about rebellious teens, he protests, is unrelated to his attempt to become a lawmaker.

But according to a videotape obtained by researcher Jonathan Hutson, this is what Terry said about teenage rapscallions: "Our enemies would throw the tough cases up in our face...and say, `Do you actually mean that you would support the stoning of a rebellious teenager?' Well, you know what? I might not understand everything, but I know that God is perfect. And if God spoke those words out loud, audibly, to Moses, so that Moses could write them down--which God did--who am I to say that God is unjust? I fear God, and I think that we would have a heck of a lot fewer rebellious teenagers if a law like that existed in America today." The remark suggests that Terry's advocacy of "Law" is relevant in considering how he might behave as a civil lawmaker. "There were liberties that 1 was able to take before that I cannot take now," he concedes. "I have a lot of baggage."

Now Dobson has some bags to be carried, too, since he's been caught bearing false witness against a writer who reported accurately on his activities.

Dobson Entitled to Benefit of the Doubt

Dobson is entitled to the benefit of the doubt concerning his recent statements that he never met convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, never took any money from him, and never knowingly lobbied at Abramoff's request. There's no proof to the contrary, and it would be wrong to cast doubt on his integrity without cause.

Max Blumenthal, who has written for The Nation, for Media Matters, and in these pages, about connections between Abramoff and religious right leaders, including Dobson, told reporters on March 8, 2006, "there is no proof - and I doubt there will ever be any proof - that Dobson consciously colluded with Abramoff."

Blumenthal has given Dobson the benefit of the doubt. But Dobson has not returned the favor to Blumenthal or other writers who pose questions to which he does not wish to give complete and candid answers.

A Focus on the Family web site has attacked writers who advised the Campaign to Defend the Constitution (DefCon) for engaging in a "vicious and misleading campaign" that includes a $200,000 ad in The New York Times, headlined "These Religious Right Leaders Have a Serious Gambling Problem." The DefCon campaign spotlights the work of a number of writers who are exposing how Abramoff paid former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed to induce Dobson and Focus on the Family (with or without their knowledge) to lobby against an Indian casino in Louisiana, to the benefit of another Indian casino that was among Abramoff's gambling industry clients.

Focus Action spokesman Gary Schneeberger says it's another smear campaign from the left. But this defense is misleading, since some of the toughest questions have been posed by a reporter for the conservative evangelical World Magazine, whom Focus on the Family has also attacked, without giving complete and candid responses.

Further, as World makes clear, Dobson and Focus on the Family have refused to criticize Reed for deliberately misleading them into a lobbying campaign that benefitted one of Abramoff's Indian casino clients by limiting competition among the Louisiana gambling industry. Instead, Dobson and his organization have attacked Abramoff but embraced Reed. Reed's lobbying firm, Century Strategies, received millions of dollars from Abramoff's gambling industry clients, some of which flowed through an elaborate series of cut-outs. Reed is embroiled in the Abramoff scandal and fighting for his political life in a flagging campaign for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia.

Dobson is entitled to the benefit of the doubt when he asserts his innocence, if there's no proof to the contrary. Likewise, writers are entitled to the benefit of the doubt when they ask hardball questions, based on Dobson's own statements and actions. And if Dobson and his group smear their critics as vicious and unfair, then they should hold themselves to a higher standard of decency, consistency, and accuracy.

In attacking Harper's Magazine for its May 2005 cover story by Chris Hedges, Dobson said, "They just say the most crazy things."

But what was reported -- that Dobson endorsed candidates who called for the execution of abortion providers -- wasn't crazy; it was accurate.

Dobson's vehement denials echo some of the flavor of Saint Peter's famous denials.

"I don't know or understand what you're talking about!" Peter insisted to the servant girl. But his statement was false. How could Peter deny Jesus, whom he had so recently and so warmly embraced?

Yet Jesus, on the night of his arrest, had said only a few hours before that Peter would disown him before the cock crowed twice.

While Jesus was being condemned, the servant girl approached Peter and said, "Surely you must have known him." Peter issued strong and repeated denials: "I don't know this man you're talking about."

Hey, servant girls just say the most crazy things, right?

And then, for the second time, a rooster crowed. And Peter repented of his false statements. (Gospel According to Mark, 14: 66-72)

The graphic that illustrates this piece is based on Gerrit Honthorst's "Denial of Peter," circa 1620-1625.

by jhutson on Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 11:05:43 PM EST

also said that on one ocasion, he voted for Howard Phillips for president as the candidate of the Constitution Party.  

I was present when Phillips and his VP candidate Herb Titus declared that Roe and other Supreme Court decisions are not the law of the land; they should not be obeyed by local officials; who should shut down clinics; prosecute abortion providers for murder; and, oh yeah, execute them.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Mar 11, 2006 at 12:04:01 AM EST

In response to writers covering the Abramoff scandal -- and readers asking some hardball questions of their own -- Focus on the Family launched a Frequently Asked Questions page, which states at the top, "There is no connection. Dr. Dobson has never met Mr. Abramoff and, in fact, has never even spoken to him."

Maybe so. Maybe they never met or spoke. But that's not the point. And there's at least one connection, which Focus admits on the very same page.

In fact, Focus on the Family did publicly urge listeners, in special broadcasts aired only in Louisiana, to contact [former Secretary of the Interior Gale] Norton and ask her to reject gambling expansion in Louisiana.

There's a connection, right there. That lobbying campaign limited expansion of Lousiana's gambling industry. That campaign benefitted one of Abramoff's Indian casino clients by heading off another, rival Indian casino. This is what is being reported, and this much is accurate, even according to Dobson's own organization.

Is that guilt by association? Maybe so. But Ralph Reed didn't think so. He bragged to Abramoff about landing Dobson's support. (Note: Focus on the Family misleadingly says that Abramoff was the one doing the bragging; but no, it was Reed who was chest-thumping. And Dobson has never called him on it, though even a conservative evangelical publication like World Magazine has wondered why.)

by jhutson on Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 11:09:03 PM EST

I designed the following for websites - but, If leaders of the Christian right were produce, could supermarket retailers justifiably slap similar labels on any of the major ones ? Certainly, Dobson wouldn't qualify

by Bruce Wilson on Sat Mar 11, 2006 at 12:48:22 PM EST

I'm intrigued by the way in which Mr. Hutson is able to pull a statement out of context, then twist it to fit his theory.  It's breath-taking!  Is the only thing he knows about St. Peter is the fact that he denied Christ.  If I were Dr. Dobson I would count it an honor to be compared to the apostle Peter, because we all have failings.  Peter moved past his, and I'm sure Dr. Dobson is moving past his.  The word "execute" in reference to Mr. Terry and Mr. Coburn would obviously be after a murder trial where an abortionist would have been convicted by a jury and sentenced to death, depending on the state.  Just like other murders who are tried and convicted.  But that point was conveniently left out.  You made it seem like these men would simply haul abortionists out of their clinics, line them up against a wall and execute them.  That's the implication.  But I know Mr. Terry and Mr. Coburn to be law-abiding citizens.  And when it comes to integrity, I doubt that Mr. Hutson or Mr. Wilson would come anywhere close to the integrity of these three men.  Give me a break.  I think you need to widen your reading a bit, be sure to check your facts and your sources, and consider being more truthful than vindictive.

by pathfinder43 on Mon Mar 13, 2006 at 01:52:23 AM EST
As you can see, the text and context of the Apostle Peter's words denying his relationship with Jesus are provided above. So the quotes are actually put in full context, along with a cite and link to the Gospel According to Mark, so you can review the biblical text for yourself.

To respond further: Peter's denial of his relationship with Jesus is not the only thing one knows, or should know, about the apostle. One should also know that Peter was a fisherman from Galilee. His name was Simon before Jesus called him Peter, which means rock. Jesus predicted that Peter would be led to a death not of his own choosing, to glorify God. (Gospel According to John, 21:18-19)

According to legend, Peter died a martyr's death in Rome in about A.D. 64 under Emperor Nero. Although scriptures provide no firm evidence of Peter's presence and death in Rome, there is little reason to doubt this church tradition. The New Testament does not describe the manor of Peter's death.

However, there is a description of Peter being crucified upside down during the Neronian persecutions in the Acts of Peter. This book, however, is not part of the New Testament canon accepted by Protestants. And that raises the question of what is a Bible anyway, and why don't Protestants and Catholics have the same number of books in their Bibles?

And that goes to the heart of the question: How does one inflict biblical judgment on others -- say, in the form of the stoning to death of rebellious children -- if one cannot say for certain which biblical law applies, or even what constitutes a Bible? After all, come the theocracy, whose Bible will rule?

As for Peter, by the time he was led to his execution, he could have probably articulated a coherent Christian argument against capital punishment administered by fallible human beings who are overconfident of their wisdom and godliness in taking a man's life. Nero thought he was divine; he was wrong. You could be mistaken, too, regardless of how many books you find in your particular version of the Bible.

by jhutson on Mon Mar 13, 2006 at 04:09:41 PM EST

To advance a Lakoffian frame on this front, it would be wonderful to have a "society for Biblical homogenization"......

Too few Americans are aware that "The Bible" is actually "The Bibles"

....So, it would be helpful to have an actual movement to publicize the fact that Christianity has never resolved this "many Bibles" problem.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Mar 13, 2006 at 07:07:51 PM EST

Progress Now Action, located in Colorado Springs (Dobson's home town), is planning to launch a new site, Focus on Dobson, which will act as a clearing house for information about unethical/inappropriate conduct by Dobson or his associates. The web site contains a form for submitting material. I mentioned Talk2Action in case they weren't aware.

A rather amusing aside: I also check out the FoF site to see what they're up to. Only sent an e-mail once - in the midst of the "SpongeBob" flap. You might remember Dobson got his knickers in a twist because he thought SpongeBob was being used to promote homosexuality. I wrote immediately (and very politely) to tell them that Dobson had confused two web sites with similar names: that the group called we are family foundation had produced the film (which included many other popular children's characters as well) to promote multicultural tolerance after 9/11 and that We Are Family was a support site for gay teens. Others, including the producer of the film, called his attention to the error. Dobson not only didn't own up to his mistake, he spilt a lot of ink trying to convince his followers that he had been right all along and swore that the first group had taken all the gay content off its site because he'd called attention to it.

The weird part is that when I tried to send a second e-mail, I was shut down as soon as I entered my e-mail address. Have tried periodically since then with the same result. Apparently I have the honor of being permanently banned on their site because I dared to correct Dr. Dobson!

by Psyche on Tue Mar 14, 2006 at 02:38:23 AM EST

On the internet or in a letter to the editor is probably much more effective in any case. This story of yours deserved more attention - but the Spongebob flap has mostly blown over. Oh well....

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Mar 14, 2006 at 07:42:45 AM EST
I'm well aware that public correction is more effective and I didn't write to the FoF site instead of but in addition to public posting. The anecdote was also an aside. I'm aware it has primarily historic interest although it is an example of how the organization deals with error, the public, and it's followers.

The main reason I commented here was to call attention to a new site that members of this blog might be interested in and contribute to. Cooperative documentation seems to me to be a constructive first step toward disclosing the under-the-radar tactics used by this highly influential group.  

by Psyche on Tue Mar 14, 2006 at 04:22:02 PM EST

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