Bible Devotionals Justify Traditional Gender Roles: A Political Agenda That Affects Social Policy

By Dexter, Hedy Red; Lagrander, J. M. | Social Justice, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Bible Devotionals Justify Traditional Gender Roles: A Political Agenda That Affects Social Policy


Dexter, Hedy Red, Lagrander, J. M., Social Justice


The Biblical Perspective

To recruit "a few good men for God...To stand in the gap...lest America go the way of Sodom and Gomorrah" (Denver Post, October 1, 1997), Promise Keepers (PK) founder and CEO Bill McCartney says he is called by God to do the job and intends to globalize PK for Christ. But, he insists, "there's no political agenda." Wanting only "to change hearts, not votes," McCartney claims that "there will be no politicians speaking at the October 4th PK, D.C. rally" (Denver Post, October 3, 1997).

According to Focus on the Family's James Dobson (1994), "turn[ing] hearts toward home by reasonable, biblical, and empirical insights...to discover the founder of homes and the creator of families - Jesus Christ: it's who we are and what we stand for." Like McCartney, Dobson insists, "there's no political agenda." Wishing only "to arm [Americans] with information," he claims that Focus does "not and will not ever endorse political candidates" (Dobson, 1997a).

Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition has the responsibility of "educating voters about religious issues." Like McCartney and Dobson, Robertson insists, "there's no political agenda." Wishing "only to educate...not to elect one party or specific politicians," Robertson claims that his Christian Coalition "is a non-partisan group" (Denver Post, September 18, 1997).

Neither innocent nor naive, these profamily honchos would have us believe that politics is limited to what goes on in Washington, D.C. Yet politics is never just about government, per se; it is about power: how it is defined, distributed, and enforced, by whom and to whose advantage. Political agendas shape public opinion, especially a profamily agenda that appeals deliberately to troubled citizens during changing times (Detweiler, 1992). Public opinion shapes social policy, setting the terms for who gets what. For this reason, profamily methods concentrate on shaping attitudes, assuring that they stay traditional. Social policy shaped by traditional attitudes protects the status quo, assuring that, within families, the traditional division of labor is sanctioned by both church and state (Gould, 1990).

Nonetheless, their words (disseminated through publications) and deeds (which are part of the public record) belie their claims to nonpolitical motives. In their own words, what do Robertson, Dobson, and McCartney say for themselves and for their organizational goals? Among the three, the 700 Club's Pat Robertson is the most conspicuously political (e.g., disappointed with Reagan's failure to deliver fully the profamily agenda, Robertson himself ran for president in 1988). In a recent speech taped secretly by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Robertson told Coalition leaders to tell Congress: "the Christian Coalition deserves full credit for the Republican takeover of Congress.... Look, we put you in power in 1994, and we want you to deliver" (Denver Post, September 18, 1997). But there is no political agenda.

James Dobson is subtler about his politics. According to Barry Lynn (1996), executive director of the Committee for Separation of Church and State, "in many ways [Dobson] is the ultimate stealth campaigner. He is a person who likes power, who likes to be a kingmaker." Dobson, by recruiting people in need, "converted a family crisis hotline into a political army" (Hockenberry, 1996). As Lynn notes,

a lot of the names in [Dobson's] database came not because somebody said we seek your advice about legislation, it's because they called in during a time of great personal trauma in their life and those names have become part of the gigantic mailing list of James Dobson.... There's tremendous evidence that he can deliver people. His folks respond quickly, directly to whatever he tells them to do on the radio (Lynn, 1996).

Via his daily radio broadcast, Dobson rallies his listeners to help "eliminate the Department of Education [and] abolish the National Endowment for the Arts. …

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