James Dobson Is an Evangelical Agenda-Setter

Article excerpt

JAMES C. DOBSON IS telling anyone who'll listen that the agenda for the United Nations women's meeting in Beijing this month is hostile to the family.

"It's one of the most radical, atheistic crusades in the history of the world," the Colorado psychologist said at a news conference here recently.

When Dobson speaks, millions listen.

As founder and president of Focus on the Family, the 18-year-old lay Evangelical Christian communications empire, Dobson is an agenda-setter for the 1996 presidential campaign.

"He should be taken seriously," said Randall Balmer, an expert on the Evangelical movement and religion professor at Barnard College in New York. "He is becoming increasingly political."

Numerous St. Louisans listen to Dobson daily. His organization pays six local stations to run his radio shows. KSIV-AM (1320) airs his half-hour show four times daily and it is one of it most popular shows, said Dave Powell, station production director.

Across the country another 1,500 radio stations including a Spanish language station in Kansas City air his programs. One of his two monthly newsletters reaches 2.5 million supporters, he said. His ministry publishes nine Evangelical Christian magazines. Children are entertained by "McGee and Me", the ministry's 12 video series aimed at developing virtue.

His 14 books on Christian family advice line shelves here and across the nation. One, "Dare to Discipline," sold over 2 million.

Last month, his ministry spun into cyberspace. Through a contract with America Online, Focus on the Family has its own "home page" where users can call up the Focus library, radio listings, and excerpts of radio stories and magazines. No Problem Is Too Small

On radio Dobson, 59, chats front-porch-style. Speaking in a gentle western twang, he tells how families became stronger using ideas from the Gospel.

No problem is too small. He suggests solutions for thumb sucking and children stalling about going to church. He talks about caring for aging parents and squabbles between couples on how to squeeze the budget to contribute to Christians causes. He takes on addictions and spouse battering. His chatty scripts avoid psychological jargon, which he mastered in the 1960s while studying for his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Southern California.

He weaves in his family life - his wife Shirley and their two adult children, his late father, grandfather and great-grandfather - all of them ordained ministers. Tuesday, he talked about how his wife never spends much money because she grew up poor and feels guilty about luxuries.

Some 200,000 people a year visit his Focus headquarters near Pike's Peak in Colorado Springs, Colo. The lucky ones meet the blue-eyed, gray-haired slightly built man by chance. His 1,300 employees fill three limestone-trimmed brick office buildings on a 47-acre campus. The ministry runs on a $101 million annual budget, raised through sales, donations, and grants from private foundations. Dobson takes no salary, he said. Book royalties support his family, he said.

The heart of the evangelical outreach is a 100,000 square-foot white, high-ceilinged room where scores of employees sit at in roomy cubicles facing video display terminals. They answer his mail; he puts the volume at 250,000 letters and phone calls a month. …