Wrong time, wrong place

Just to prove I am an equal opportunity critiquer (and yes, I did just make up that word), today I am going to offer some criticism of one of the conservative right’s most revered figures, Dr. James Dobson.

On May 1 Dobson used the platform of the National Day of Prayer to criticize President Barack Obama. If you read this blog you are well aware that I am not opposed to criticizing President Obama when appropriate. Furthermore, given that this space is my own personal blog, I can say whatever I want here. Anyone who wants to read it is welcome to and anyone who would rather not is welcome to skip it. Dr. Dobson has plenty of vehicles for sharing his thoughts about the president, and I am not opposed to the fact that he criticized Obama or even, actually, what he said. Dr. Dobson, however, chose an inappropriate time and venue to make his comments.

According to the National Day of Prayer’s own web site, “The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. … It stands as a call for us to humbly come before God, seeking His guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people.” The site goes on to state that the National Day of Prayer unites “Americans from all socio-economic, political and ethnic backgrounds in prayer for our nation.” Quite simply, the National Day of Prayer is to be a non-partisan event wherein political differences are put aside so that those from anywhere along the political spectrum who believe in the God of the Bible can join together in seeking His wisdom, guidance and blessing for America. The National Day of Prayer is intended to be, in a word, nonpartisan.

During his remarks this year, however, Dr. Dobson said, “Before [Obama] was elected, he made it very clear that he wanted to be the abortion president. He didn’t make any bones about it, that this is something that he was really going to promote and support. And he has done that. And in a sense, he is the abortion president.”

Even if you agree with Dobson’s comments–and as I said above, I do–it is clear based on the description of the National Day of Prayer that this was neither the time nor the place for Dobson to make this statement. If the gathering is truly supposed to welcome those from all political backgrounds this is an offensive statement. California Democratic Representative Janice Hahn walked out of the gathering because of Dobson’s remarks. To my knowledge she is the only one who did so, and Dobson seized on this fact to legitimize and defend his remarks.

According to an article on ChristianPost.com, Dobson “told [FOX News’ Megyn] Kelly that, in his speech, he wasn’t only referencing Obama, but was also talking about people’s response to the mandate and abortion, in general. ‘It’s very difficult for people who aren’t part of the sanctity of life movement to understand just how intensely we feel the issue of the killing of babies.'” I feel intensely about the killing of babies, too. There is probably no issue on which I feel more intensely. But the National Day of Prayer is not the place to make the remark Dobson made and, try though he might, there is no way to interpret his remarks to mean anything other than a direct attack on Barack Obama.

Hahn told Roll Call, “We have this annual, national day of prayer, which is supposed to bring the whole country together to pray for our nation, and typically you put politics aside and you come together. Dr. Dobson just absolutely violated that, and I really think he did damage to what we try to do up here in Washington, D.C.” I may have never said this before and may never say it again, I don’t know, but I agree with Rep. Hahn.

Dobson told Megyn Kelly, “One person chose to walk out, as far as we know, and that’s what everybody focuses on. But the people who were there were with me 100 percent, because they also believe in the sanctity of human life.” If it is not hyperbole that is an incredibly bold assertion to make. I find it difficult to believe that Dobson knows what everyone in the room thinks about the sanctity of life. Even if he did, and even if everyone in the room not only defends the sanctity of life but believes that Obama is the “abortion president,” it was still not the right time for Dobson to make his statement.

In April, when the National Day of Prayer was highly criticized for being a “searingly sectarian event” that promoted evangelical beliefs, John Bornschein, the vice chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, said that the event was nonsectarian and was “purely about prayer and praying for our leadership and asking for God’s wisdom and blessing over our leaders.” That is indeed what the event should be. As Rep. Hahn said, however, James Dobson “hijacked” the event to promote his own views. There are plenty of ways in which the sanctity of life could have been supported and defended without specifically attacking the president. If Dobson wanted to go after the president specifically he could have followed up on his comments at the event with additional comments later on, adding the attack on Obama. After all, it is not as if Dobson has ever had a hard time attracting media attention.

Do Christians need to take a public stand in defense of the sanctity of life? Absolutely. They must not do it, though, at events that are advertised and promoted as being nonsectarian and nonpartisan. This is deceptive, inappropriate and, in my opinion, harms the testimony of the Church.