Brian McLaren weighs in on the Dobson vs. Obama debacle

Chances are you’ve heard about James Dobson‘s recent comments about a speech that Barack Obama made a little while back.

If you haven’t, then great, don’t bother looking into it.  It’s the same old, same old, stuff that people like Dobson have been saying for a long time.  Stop reading this post now and go do something else.

But, if you did already hear about, then you should read this blog post from Brian McLaren where he weighs in on some of the issues with what Dobson said, and (equally as important) how he said it.  Here are a few choice quotes:

This week’s “Beloved Christian Broadcaster Attacks Beloved Christian Presidential Candidate” headline reflects at least seven patterns of unhelpful discourse I frequently see among the religiously vocal, whatever their political persuasion.

First, this Christian leader didn’t restrict himself to making judgments on Barack Obama’s statements; he inferred the candidate’s motives and judged them as well. Consider his use of the word “deliberately” in this sentence:
“I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology.”

The Evangelical leader in question – whose attempts at persuasion I would judge as average or slightly above average in the world of religious broadcasting – displays the common religious tendency to lapse into name-calling, which has predictable and unhelpful results. For example, he referred to Obama’s approach as “a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution.” This tendency to mock the opposition might be deemed excusable if it were a rhetorical icing on the cake of solid analysis, but lacking that analysis, it can hardly be called an improvement over the thoughtful speech by Senator Obama, given at an event at which I was present in 2006, which was being criticized by the respected Evangelical speaker.

Unless this leader and his political and religious allies can lift their level of discourse, their shared good ideas will be discredited along with their bad ones. The same goes for all of us. And unless more of us become more scrupulous regarding how arguments are made – even if we agree with the point they’re trying to prove – we will become less able to tell the bad ideas from the good ones.

Read the whole thing here.

Thoughts?  Is Brian off base in his critique?  Was Dobson off-base?  Do you agree that HOW something is said is equally as important as WHAT is said?

UPDATE 7/2/08:

Scot McKnight weighed in on this as well. It’s a lot more concise than McLaren’s, however, he does come to some of the same conclusions.  For those people who have a tough time hearing from McLaren, maybe this other take on it would be beneficial to check out?  Just a thought…  (HT: David Swanson)

UPDATE 7/3/08:

In the comments, John pointed us to a site with more info on what went down.  It’s clearly Pro-Obama, but I still think it’s worth checking out because it doesn’t inject much opinion, it merely compares their statements side by side.  The fact that, when presented in this way, Obama comes out “on top” should say something to us…

Oh very cool. Take a look at this website:

It does a good side-by-side comparison of Dobson’s skewed characterizations and Obama’s actual words.


17 thoughts on “Brian McLaren weighs in on the Dobson vs. Obama debacle

  1. i think essentially dobson is right in his criticism of obama, though he should be a bit more careful in how he says things. also, unfortunately, i believe dobson misunderstood one of obama’s key points in the message, about needing to translate our religious concerns into arguments that are accessible to those from different faiths. you can hear the whole radio program in context here:

    dobson is a faithful brother in the Lord, and has done a lot of good for the family in this nation over many years. unfortunately, he is getting a bit out of touch with the culture today, and it has become very easy to make him look like a fool by taking his statements out of context.

    but if you find yourself critical of dr dobson, just make sure you have heard him in context, not just sound bites on CNN or comedy central. he’s not as hateful as some make him out to be.

    link #2:—james-dobson
    (i was surprised jon stewart correctly identifies the “cheap trick” of appealing to the OT law in making the bible sound absurd — and then catches dobson at that same game. well, at least the sound bite makes it look so, without the context. )

    that said, i think brian’s critique is right on. i agree with dobson that obama was distorting and confusing the scriptures. but in general, brian’s critiques are about HOW to go about such criticism, and i wish dobson would consider mclaren’s concerns. it is extremely difficult to survive someone taking a sound bite out of context, and dobson needs to be extra careful.

  2. I think that what we have been witness to over the last several years is really sad. Be it Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Alexander Hagee, Rev. Wright or other characters out to make a name for themselves in Christianity, they all seem a little desperate.

    I think that what they all have in common is the feeling that they are all being replaced. Replaced with something that scares the Rapture out of them – People thinking for themeselves.

    People interpretting scripture differently then them, and calling it the “truth” or “God’s word.” It scares them to death. Who do we think we are? What makes us so especially equipped to interpret these complex writings on our own or in community? We are not theologians!

    Reminds me of a song by Wilco called “Theologians” where the repeating chorus sings “Theologians, don’t know nothin’ about my soul… they don’t know…”

    Well, sorry James and others you are no longer the singular voice of God to me and my friends. You don’t tell me how to vote anymore, and you don’t tell me how to think ever again. You don’t knoa nothin’ about my soul.

    The saddest thing about all of this is that rather than embrace an opportunity for dialogue on something that highly interests both old and new enthusiasts (the Bible) they would rather make themselves martyrs taking a STAND on their truths.

    As martyrs, they are dying. God bless ’em.

  3. john, that is a very cynical view of christian leaders… they just want to make a name for themselves and are are scared of ppl thinking for themselves?? i guess that goes only for the christian leaders that say stuff you disagree with?

    it is probably more likely that they have become leaders because they are saying things that resonate with people, that give a voice to what they believe. they share their opinions, just like 10000 other people on the radio. it doesn’t make them right, but you don’t necessarily have to question their authenticity.

    also… turns our mclaren is a religious adviser for obama. did you guys know this?

  4. When McLaren writes things like:

    “One wonders what it will profit Evangelicals – or religious people of other traditions – to have financial accountability while they squander their rhetorical integrity as honest and trustworthy bearers of truth.”

    He loses what little credibility he had. In essence, he called Dobson a liar only sentences after he said we need to avoid the name calling and rhetoric. Everyone comes to the table with a bias or agenda. What we all need is less time reading blogs and more time studying exactly what the Bible says so WE KNOW what God is saying and we don’t have to take it from the likes of McLaren, Obama, Dobson, or anyone else.

  5. I think when other Christians come out and attack one of their own we do ourselves an injustice and we as a body of believers lose our effectiveness. You don’t have to agree with Dobson, but we are on the same team. Trust me I disagree with some doctrinal issues with McLaren, but I am not going to attack him over it. If I am discussing those issues as how they differ from my faith I can point those out without personally attacking him. In the end, Satan is getting the victory in all of this.

    Spineless Christians that do not have a solid foundation to stand on feel that people like Dobson will make them seem as narrow minded therefore they are coming out and criticizing him to try and distance themselves from him. They can distance themselves without dividing the body and without attacking. They are essentially doing the very thing they criticize Dobson for when they go after Dobson as they say he is doing to Obama. If you are a Christian and support Obama, that is your choice, but don’t attack other believers to somehow feel justified in your standing with your candidate. If you believe his policies line up with your Christian values, then your vote is your choice, but as Christians we must stand together in love, because honestly if we cannot love each other we cannot love those who do not know the love of Christ.

  6. Nearlynormalized: Amen. Of course I can’t imagine why a supposed audience of 220 million daily worldwide radio listeners pay any attention to Dobson, but apparently they do. Many, it seems, hope he can tell them how to raise their kids. Dobson has a Ph.D. in child development and became famous primarily because of his books and “pro-family” organization. Like most television evangelists, he is at least as good at promoting himself as promoting the Lord. Dobson’s first bestseller, Dare to Discipline, became popular largely because he was more pro-discipline than most other family experts of the 1970s. He favors corporal punishment, but only when administered by parents who don’t want to do it but know they must for the greater good. Consider him the neocon of child development.
    This might be the perfect time for both candidates to ignore the Religious Right and stop giving it undue influence. After all, religious conservatives are themselves split by this election. And as a just-released Pew survey of more than 35,000 Americans show, most Americans are both religious and fairly moderate in their religious view.
    Of course, James Dobson would probably say most of those folks were deliberately distorting the Bible with fruitcake interpretations.

  7. Scott, did you notice that I made a comment about the subject at hand and your comments were generally assumptions made about me.

    “i guess that goes only for the christian leaders that say stuff you disagree with?”

    When someone talks to me like that and makes broad statements about me like this based on a single post, I basically just ignore them.

    But since I know you personally, I will try to answer the questions you seem to ask and see through your personal attacks to the real matter at hand.

    You mention “Christian Leaders.” Well, I would rather describe these public political figures as religious leaders because each of them are trying to defend, establish and maintain their religion in public not to mention make a name for themselves, and their political candidate (who happens to be McCain).

    The fact that they have a huge following, is no seal of authority in my opinion. Jim Jones had a following as well. So do Christian Scientists.

    These folks do not speak for me, and I consider myself a Christian. Calling them Christian Leaders is a little like me declaring that I am the public spokesman for all Hispanic people — which by the way I am.

    These are not my leaders, My leaders are people like my Dad, my Mom, my friends, and of course Jesus.

    Brian McLaren is no Christian Leader either. Nor is he a religious leader. He is a writer, a speaker and a fellow traveler and claims to be that. He claims no market on the “truth” nor does he condemn those that disagree with him to eternal damnation.

  8. Man… a lot of action on this post! Didn’t think that would happen. Great discussion everyone. Let’s try extra hard to keep it civil, ok? I think we’re doing pretty well so far.

  9. Snarky response:

    I think we need need some sort of accountability group to forbid Brian McLaren from ever writing music again.

    Real response:

    Brian McLaren’s point would be valid in a vacuum. Civility is good. His rules are generally good. But McLaren and those with who he frequently associates are so frequently guilty of breaking these rules that his case holds no water. His sixth rule states that we should not pre-empt discernment by saying “God says…:” but then this post appears on a blog entitled God’s Politics (which, as has been noted, frequently labels others a liars).

    Moreso, I think McLaren finds dissent to be distasteful.

  10. john, didn’t mean to come across as if i was attacking you. my apologies. i mean no disrespect, i just disagree with your assessment of dobson, in particular your assumptions about his motives and purpose behind his ministry. (btw – dobson is no fan of mccain, and has said so clearly. dobson is not concerned about republican or democrat, he is concerned about the issues related to the family.)

    also, the term “christian leader”… i mean leaders who are christians and who represent or influence christians. i think this is the popular definition of the term. so dobson is one, mclaren is one, td jakes is one, etc. i don’t know of any christian leader who claims to have authority to speak for ALL christians. well… besides the pope.

    though dobson and mclaren have very different ideas about christianity, and mclaren is considerably more “hip” than dobson, i really don’t see that much difference between between their leadership. regardless of how you want to define “christian leader”, they are both christians who write books and speak around the world their understanding of the Truth. they seek to influence others to their understanding, and they represent the views of many christians. neither claim to be infallible, and both criticize those who disagree with them.

    i guess i just didn’t quite understand where such hostility against dobson came from… particularly when he never claimed to represent your view. again, i don’t intend any personal disrespect.

  11. bottom line – obama supports gay marriage and abortion, in the worst way! how can you support that???????? As a believer how can you say, yes thats what i want leading this country???????

  12. The thing is that that is just one bottom line – not the only one. Even if you believe that gay marriage is an abomination in the eyes of God (and not all Christians would agree – and those that don’t make some compelling, consistent and well considered arguments), and if you believe that laws are the best and right way to protect unborn children – these are not ‘the bottom line’ – there are others – which candidate comes closer to expressing God’s love to the widow and orphan or to the physical creation that we are charged with caring for? Are you as willing to say (for example) “bottom line – X wants to rape the world’s resources in the worst way!”? The ‘simple’ right-and-wrong issues are not always simple, and even if they are they are, they are not necessarily the most important issues.

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