A Gay Rally at Focus on the Family
Don't expect James Dobson to show up at this "family picnic and protest" in Colorado Springs.
By John D. Spalding
I couldn’t believe my eyes. The flier I found online was promoting a gay rally at Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs headquarters of evangelical Christian leader James Dobson, for this coming Sunday and Monday, May 1 and 2. A gay rally sponsored by Dr. James Dobson? Talk about a religious conversion!
But no. James Dobson isn’t involved. The event is the brainchild of Soulforce, an organization devoted to promoting “freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance."
On Sunday, more than 1,000 people are expected to gather for a “family picnic and protest” outside Focus on the Family. On Monday, they’ll return to “take the truth about our families directly to Focus on the Family, holding hands as we walk through their building and eating in their lunch room (or possible civil disobedience).”
Now that’s a sight that must be seen to be believed—hundreds of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender couples strolling hand-in-hand down the long halls of the massive brick campus in which so much time and energy is spent denouncing them. Since I won’t be there to see this amazing spectacle for myself, I did the next best thing—I called Soulforce to learn more about their rally. I spoke with Laura Montgomery Rutt, Soulforce’s Director of Public Relations and Media.
Well, the kids got on campus. About 55 students from various colleges and universities around Virginia went to Liberty and, despite Jerry Falwell’s admonitions to Liberty students not to talk with Soulforce, they did. And our students were able to distribute literature. It went very well.
So, how did the idea for a rally at Focus on the Family come about?
It was Jeff Lutes’ idea. He’s a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice specializing in couples and family therapy. He’s also a gay man with a partner and two children who are deaf, and they make an incredible, loving family. Jeff has committed himself to researching and confronting the rhetoric of James Dobson.
He wrote a book you’ll find at our website called A False Focus on My Family, which documents five false claims—violent false claims—Dobson makes against gay and lesbians, and it shows how he twists research to support his religious views.
Sure. Soulforce defines spiritual violence as “the misuse of religion to sanction the condemnation and rejection of any of God’s children.” James Dobson’s rhetoric qualifies. For example, he claims that same-gender parents are unfit and seek to hurt their children. In his book, Jeff Lutes lists a series of Dobson’s quotes in which he makes this claim, and then Jeff responds to it, pointing out that numerous studies show that children of same-gender parents grow up to be just as healthy as children raised by heterosexual couples. Jeff supports this with powerful quotes from the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Back to the upcoming event at Focus on the Family…
Jeff’s idea was to hold a big family picnic at Focus on the Family, and to invite James Dobson and his supporters to come and actually meet some of the real families that his rhetoric hurts.
Has Dobson responded?
No. We’ve attempted on four different occasions to talk with James Dobson directly, or through Focus on the Family. We even got a mediator to try to start dialog with him, and he has totally ignored us. Now, Jim Daly, the new President and CEO of Focus on the Family, did respond, politely declining to meet with us. In response to Jeff Lutes’ invitation, Jim Daly sent us a letter which is posted on our website, along with Jeff’s response. We just received another letter from Jim Daly, which we haven’t posted yet and in which he cites statistics that he believes show that homosexuality is bad.
He cited a statistic showing that a child is better off with a father and a mother. But what he doesn’t say is what they’re comparing that situation to. The study compares children raised by a mother and father to children raised by a single parent—not to children raised by same-sex parents! And Dobson warps that statistic all the time to support his religious view.
So how do you think Dobson will respond to hundreds of homosexuals attempting to walk through his headquarters holding hands? Will there be attack dogs?
Well, the first thing we’re doing is holding a picnic and rally on Sunday. It will be across the street from Focus on the Family, and we have permits and noise variances for this, so there’s nothing he can do about that. We’ll also be in the street, which will be blocked off on both ends by the police.
Oh, yeah. Fred Phelps, the anti-gay guy who protested at Matthew Shepherd’s funeral, will be there, so the police will be there, too. Fred requests police protection because he’s an extremist and he’s afraid someone is going to attack him.
Who else do you expect to be there, from the other side of the debate?
Not sure. Probably supporters of Focus on the Family. Actually, we’ve heard that people from the area churches will come and be part of our picnic. Which is what we want. We want these people to get to know our families!
So you’re not stepping onto Focus on the Family’s property on Sunday?
No, that’s Monday. We’ve collected some 10,000 letters from people who explain how Dobson’s rhetoric has hurt their families. And we’re going to attempt to deliver them to Focus on the Family on Monday. And they can either let us in, or lock us out. Either way, it can’t look good for Dobson. Because if we go in with 10,000 letters, we’re going to distribute them to his staff, so they’ll learn just how much he’s hurting families.
And then, if Dobson won’t see us, we’ll go into his public cafeteria and eat lunch. We’ll sit in his lobby and pray, and we’ll distribute as many letters and pictures of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families as possible.
And if Dobson locks us out, then we’ll do a sit-in on his front yard with clergy and colors and hundreds of people. So, what will Dobson do then? Either he’ll let us sit there, in front of dozens of TV cameras, or he’ll have us arrested in front of dozens of TV cameras.
Why do you think James Dobson is so obsessed with homosexuality?
On the record? Part of the reason is his total misunderstanding, and lack of knowledge and lack of experience with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals, couples, and families. That he won’t even come to meet with us at an informal picnic—he must be totally oblivious to the reality and the spirit in the lives of GLBT people.
The other thing is—fundraising. He raises a lot of money by creating fear. There really wasn't a fear of homosexuality until the Cold War ended. After communism fell, they needed a new scapegoat for their fundraising schemes. And the next target was homosexuality. I truly believe that once GLBT people receive equal rights, which I believe is an historical inevitability, then they’ll just find someone else to oppress in order to raise funds.
Yeah, but remember, Jesus was anti-gay. He once said, “Homosexuals don’t just want marriage. They want to destroy marriage and the family—as we know it.” Oh wait.... Jesus didn’t say that. James Dobson did.
Uh, well… I do think that biblical misunderstanding and misinterpretation plays a big part in all this. It prompts them to believe they are doing God’s work. And it is a misinterpretation. I mean, the Bible was also used to support slavery and then segregation. The Bible also speaks out against things like gluttony. But you don’t hear many preachers raising money on gluttony. Or even adultery! They have to pick someone or something they feel is a safe target, a group that the people in the pews won’t object to being oppressed. But just try railing against gluttony every Sunday, and you’ll see how many people stop going to church!
What’s your take on the whole SpongeBob SuqarePants thing? Dobson claims he was misunderstood…
Well, there are millions of people who feel they’ve been misunderstood by James Dobson! But Soulforce decided to stay out of that whole fray. We felt we had much more important things to focus on than James Dobson making an issue out of SpongeBob, which was very similar to Jerry Falwell making an issue out of Tinky Winky, the Teletubby, being gay. But we don’t resort to ridicule. It’s not a tool of nonviolence.
But the Dobson/SpongeBob thing was interesting. Dobson complained that he was being ridiculed. He said his real concern wasn’t about SpongeBob, but was about a video that featured dozens of cartoon characters, including SpongeBob, used to spread a message of tolerance and diversity. But as Dobson saw it, the video had a "sinister" agenda. In his newsletter, he wrote that “those childhood symbols are apparently being hijacked to promote an agenda that involves teaching homosexual propaganda to children.”
I read that and thought, “Does Dobson really think this clarification makes him sound less ridiculous?”
Exactly! And you know, the Religious Right sees bogeymen under almost every bed. I was at a Christian Coalition conference doing opposition research, and I sat in on a workshop given by Bob Knight, of the Family Research Council, and he talked about how “the homosexual agenda and the sexual revolution” were being funded by the National Endowment of the Arts. And I was like, well, I never got that memo! And if I’d known that was the case I would have been a bigger supporter of the NEA!
I just don’t know how they come up with this stuff.
John D. Spalding is the editor of SoMAreview.com and is the author of A Pilgrim's Digress: My Perilous, Fumbling Quest for the Celestial City.
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