December 30, 2009
James Dobson may be leaving Focus on the Family in late February, but he’s not going away.
Dobson, who founded Focus in 1977, announced on his Facebook page that in March he will launch a nonprofit Christian group and host a new radio show with his son, Ryan.
Retiring is attractive, Dobson writes, but “the institution of the family continues to be in deplorable condition, and children are growing up in a culture that often twists and warps their young minds.”
His new organization will be called James Dobson on the Family and be based in Colorado Springs. Its goal is similar to that of Focus — standing up for family values.
Focus spokesman Gary Schneeberger said Wednesday that Dobson told Focus that his future plans included radio.
In November, Dobson sent a statement to The Gazette that hinted at his plans.
“While I am leaving Focus on the Family in February,” he wrote, “I have no intention of retiring. I expect to be back on the radio in the near future.”
For years Dobson has been transitioning out of Focus to give way to new leadership. In 2003, Dobson stepped down as president; in February, he resigned as chairman of the board; and on Feb. 28 he will host his final Focus radio show.
“This is a natural progression that Dr. Dobson initiated,” Schneeberger said.
The venture will mark the first time that Dobson and his 39-year-old son are working closely together in the same ministry.
Ryan Dobson was never on staff at Focus, Schneeberger said, though he did have a short stint in the 1990s at the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, which is affiliated with Focus.
Since 2003, Ryan Dobson has written several edgy faith books, such as “Be Intolerant” and “2 Die 4,” and he has spoken regularly at Christian youth events.
But in interviews, he has never expressed interest in following in his father’s footsteps. In a 2005 biography of James Dobson, Dale Buss writes that Ryan “doesn’t feel called to succeed his father as head of Focus on the Family and doubts he ever will.”
Ryan Dobson leads KOR World Ministries, designed “to build passion and identity in Christ’s followers,” according to its Web site. On the site, he hosts a daily podcast similar to his father’s radio show in that both discuss current events and religion.
Some experts speculate that James Dobson formed the new group to raise the profile of his son.
“The motivation may be he wants to set up his son in a parallel organization (to Focus),” said Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Barnard College in New York. “He wants to pass the mantle on to his son.”
John Green, who tracks American evangelical religious trends, said there is a long history of religious leaders, such as Oral Roberts and Billy Graham, wanting to pass their ministry on to their sons. “Ryan and Dobson working together may be a way to establish Ryan in his own right,” Green said.
Green said James Dobson’s decision to form another Christian group after retiring from Focus is rare.
“If founders of ministries want to continue their work, they usually don’t retire from that ministry to form another,” he said. “It is quite unusual to create what might be seen as a competing organization.”
But Schneeberger said the ministries will not be competing. “We have never been the only family group on the block,” he said.
Jim Daly, whom James Dobson handpicked as his Focus successor seven years ago, said Focus wishes Dobson well in his venture.
“He has a chance to share his life’s work and passion with his only son,” said Daly, Focus president and CEO.
“What man wouldn’t choose to do that?”
Call the writer at 636-0367. For more religion news, go to Barna’s blog, ‘The Pulpit,’ at www.thepulpit.freedomblogging.com.