I am writing this letter to undecided, voting Christian women in the upcoming November 2020 election. I frame it especially in counter to a recent message from Evangelical Christian leader, James Dobson, widely shared by Sunday School group leaders — especially by several women I know and love — all over the United States.
Dobson calls on his “800,000 readers” to disregard the “rhetoric, tone, style, or likeability” of a candidate, and — without mentioning Trump — implicitly endorses him.
My general appeal against the Christian vote for Trump is that support for the Trump platform has neglected the very component of love for one’s fellow man, which Christ stood for. My appeal against the Christian vote for Trump — from women — is (1) that it disregards the embodiment of love which Christ had for women especially and (2) it harms women and by extension, their families. On (1) — for one example of many — in the story of the “woman at the well,” Christ actively ignored the societal demonization of her as a foreigner and seductress. Instead, he rejected her subservience and instead, invited her to speak with him— which then, was an ultimate sign of acceptance.
Now, our ultimate sign of Christ-like acceptance of foreigners is more than speaking with them; it is also our vote. There are 47 million foreign-born people in the U.S., in line to become a U.S. citizen. All the while, American voters — especially Trump voters — drag our feet, focus on our own families and disregard the powerful impact our vote has on others. Your vote accepts or excludes others. Christ carried a model of acceptance. Christ has been tossed from the Christian voting model.
I see recently Christians losing followers, respect and community because of their leap for Trump in 2016 (70% anyways). I fear this step — regardless of who wins the presidency — is a loss of permanence. It is a loss of credibility, humanity and kindness within the Christian faith. It is a loss of fellowship and a great deal of respect from one’s kids. Voting for Trump is an inflicted wound on too many aspirations and identities — i.e., gay people, working class people, black people, women, immigrants, etc. — for this wound to be healed immediately. The time to begin healing the wound—by not voting for Trump again — is now.
As someone raised in a Bible belt fundamentalist Christian environment, the Christian vote for Trump is honestly heart-wrenching to witness, just as it is morally abhorrent to ignore. I invite re-consideration; it takes courage to change course. And there is still time yet. After all, a most beautiful component of Christianity is forgiveness. Even for political errs, of an extraordinary proportion, forgiveness can and must be had.
I agree with Dobson’s challenge to Christian voters:
“With all respect, this election isn’t about you. It certainly isn’t about me. It is about our kids and grandkids.”
I disagree when he says in the next line, however:
“It is about those who are yet to come, if they are allowed to live.”
This is flatly untrue, and misleading. The next election is not about abortion. This statement implies some homogeneous group is out to get the babies, and it implies this election is not about the people it impacts in the here-and-now. A focus on abortion, as a core presidential issue, is harmful; in fact, the focus on abortion in America has been concocted. And, it helps justify an anti-democratic, anti-immigrant, cruel platform like the one of Trump’s Republican Party. The “scare narrative” around abortion helps him implement lie after lie to confuse people and use their lives and votes to garner real power.
I invite Christians to consider that the November 3 election is not at all about abortions. After all, states pass laws related to abortion access — not the president. Also, abortions are on a general decline, and will likely continue to decrease with increasing access to healthcare. I argue it is better for Christians to focus on supporting women rather than “encouraging” against or criminalizing people for their childbearing and healthcare decisions, which are difficult enough as it is.
To start — in case you haven’t yet read the history of how abortion became a political issue in the U.S. — I highly recommend to unconvinced Christian voters this 2011 article in the New Yorker. It will challenge you — and that’s okay. It is painful to challenge and overturn long-held beliefs, and it takes a lot of time. It is not a journey for the faint of heart, nor one which one can engage with narcissistic tendencies. Read this piece; consider it; and start to learn how your own views have been shaped over time — avoid the mental shortcuts, which are so comforting right now, I’ll admit. We are living in a time when your long-held views can actually augment power that inflicts harm on others. Christian voters have got to start unpacking that rather difficult realization.
I especially am hopeful that Christian women can change course. Christian men, especially, benefit directly from a Trump-style presidency. So, I am not attempting their minds. Leaders like Dobson, in fact, garner immense financial power. For my second point, though (2) Christian women — despite their endless contributions of time, care and financial donations — do not stand to reap rewards from their tireless efforts. Since 2010, when Dobson split from Focus on the Family, his new organization the “Dr. James Dobson Family Institute” brings in millions of dollars each year and pays its board members six figures, while listing his wife as the secretary, working 5 hours a week, and for no pay. Yet, she is the one who contributed the content for his most recent letter.
I am not saying women gaining more of a financial stake in Evangelical organizations would be more Christ-like — indeed, it wouldn’t be since Christ was not a materialistic figure at all. Instead, I’m pointing out that most Christian women have nothing to lose by stepping away from right-wing political organizations altogether. Indeed, they may find the move empowering toward another type of benefit they do seek — emotional acceptance and recognition and positive relationships with their kids.
Toward these immaterial benefits, I invite my Christian friends — especially women — to consider their role in the political world less from the standpoint of the unborn, and more pressingly, from the standpoint of their fellow citizens who are born. Your family, as your rightful core concern, can only benefit from your empowerment.
As one of the born — and one of the referenced Dobson “kids” — I reach out to Christian voters, to church elders of influence and especially, with this letter, to Christian women. I want to convey that: more than anything in the world, I desire a better future than Trump’s platform has provided us in the past four years.
As someone raised within the Dobson-founded “Focus on the Family” literature — and thereafter, completing a liberal arts education often demonized by Evangelical Christians as brainwashing—I find it astonishingly hypocritical for Dobson to speak in his statement against the “leftist curricula.” I’ve experienced both liberal and admittedly elite discussions in college classroom settings and a childhood of rightwing evangelical literature, so incidentally, I can speak plainly on both. I’ll focus here on right-wing curricula.
Dobson himself created the foundation for an over-simplifying, anti-gay, exclusivist and politicized curriculum as his life’s work. He’s not the only one. “Keys for Kids” provides a less financially expansive model — but still one that excludes women from pay while breaking the million dollar mark from the “Trump bump.” This literature — when readable — demented kids’ perceptions of themselves, of their friends and their families. Despite being an avid reader as kid, I couldn’t stomach the overt pejorative stance of each “key.” It was — put bluntly — uninteresting.
What I didn’t realize then though is the irony of Dobson’s literature being titled “Focus on the Family” when it calls to focus anything, but a loving, supportive family. Instead, his literature was nothing short of a copy-and-pasted, second hand battle cry for the Republican party. His literary model is simple — so simple the next founder, Jim Daly, perpetuated the basic model flawlessly: stir fear, blame your readers for their fear, provide guidance which perpetuates the fear → i.e. fight it! → and then, you and your all male friends, profit handsomely.
A look at the tax returns of Focus on the Family in the past four years is instructive. The organization earned in revenue ~$90 million each year and its board members took in more than six figures. Notably, not a single woman on the board received any pay at all. They record women employees as working 5 hours/week. No woman I know works 5 hours a week. All deserve pay for their labor.
It is high time for Christian women to look away from leaders like Dobson or Daly. It is time to prioritize instead, your relationships with others, your relationship with Christ and your relationship with your family members.
It’s cliché but needed: you’ve got to be true to yourself! From there, only, can you step away from the simplifying notion that women’s views are worth less than men’s — an authoritarian view perpetuated by men like Dobson.
Jesus saw women as equals; U.S.-based evangelical organizations do not.
Notice that, for the main push of Dobson’s pre-election message, he cites an anonymous statement his wife received in a chain email:
“I’m voting for the Second Amendment. I’m voting for the next Supreme Court justice. I’m voting for the electoral college. I’m voting for the Republic in which we live. I’m voting for the police and law and order. I’m voting for the military and the veterans who fought and died for this country. I’m voting for the flag that is often missing from public events. I’m voting for the right to speak my opinion and not be censored for it. I’m voting for secure borders. I’m voting for the right to praise God without fear. I’m voting for every unborn soul that is at risk of being aborted. I’m voting for freedom and the American dream. I’m voting for good and against evil. I’m not just voting for one person.”
There is no mention of Christ, and there is no mention of any other person. The narrative centers around himself, and mentions power structures (i.e. the electoral college), the dead, and the unborn. All the while, he rests his case on an image of love and correspondence with his wife. It’s a lie. It is the ultimate selfish political narrative. Despite this rather tired narrative he copied and pasted — which had already circulated the internet long before — nearly every Christian voter of my social media newsfeed shared or engaged Dobson’s statement within the same timeframe (last week). Countless were moved by it.
I understand the general feelings of insecurity lately and even how a message from someone you looked to for guidance in the past brings great calm. I don’t wish to ignore that need for calm. I invite simply for Christian women to look elsewhere for it. And I’ll admit, I don’t really expect to convince women like Dobson’s wife, for instance. Although not visible on a tax form, she profits from his Christ-exploiting business model too.
But I write this counter reflection — with love — to other Christian women who find comfort in Dobson’s and other men who so prominently abuse the words of Christ for political and financial power. We cannot take another man’s words on faith. We cannot follow another’s words as if they come directly from God. I write this reflection to burst this self-defeating Evangelical bubble. Perhaps even just for one person.
The facade of Dobson and other Evangelical leaders must be called out for what it is: it is misinformation with actual negative impacts on people’s lives. It it Dobson’s quest for power and influence, as he openly states in the closing of his letter and on his tax forms (i.e. “IMMEDIATELY RESONATING WITH AUDIENCES AND FANS BOTH ESTABLISHED AND NEW. OFF LIKE A SHOT FROM ITS FIRST BROADCAST”). His model of outreach is effective, both financially and politically, it’s true. We can’t ignore, however, that it simultaneously garners support for the exclusion of human lives from the safety and stability they deserve.
We can’t ignore that Dobson’s model disregards immigrants entirely. We can’t ignore that Dobson’s “culture” promotion is uniformly Christian and homogenizing — which stands in stark contrast to the freedom of others to practice religions different than Christianity. We can’t ignore that Dobson demonizes gay people and encourages corporal punishment, despite the oodles of evidence that spanking children can permanently harm them (here, here and here). We can’t ignore that voting for Trump, alongside Dobson, entails additional, permanent family separations. How’s that for focusing on the family.
Most Christian women I know are not power-hungry or seeking influence in this way. Most love their children immensely. You seek comfort and guidance. We all do. I want to convey especially that I do not blame any one for a vote for Trump, although I do hold you responsible for this information. Most Christians I know radiate Christ’s image of love, care, and concern for those around them. It is only occasionally — most often around election time — that this darker, simpler side becomes exposed. I invite you to reject what is simple and challenge yourself. I am here to point out that this darker side comes from last-minute, well-timed moments of influence around these times of indecision from leaders like Dobson. But, you don’t have to listen.
The consistent misinformation, used for political and financial power by rightwing organizations, must be challenged. I invite Christians — especially Christian women — to reconsider looking to leaders like Dobson to provide messages directly from God, and ultimately, to refrain from attaching Dobson’s messages to their votes. Stop listening to Dobson altogether and stop purchasing Focus on the Family literature for your children. Dobson, nor the rightwing Christian literature, speak about Christ anymore. They brandish his name, but the fundamental component of Christ’s love is nowhere to be found.
I invite Christian men too along for the ride in support of Christian women’s journey away from the male-only leader model of Evangelical organizations. Women can lead, quite often with more wherewithal than men, as the women-led countries of the COVID crisis prominently illustrate. Those countries’ men benefit too.
I understand this is a difficult ask: indeed, I know that for some, Christian radio is a component of their very identity. But even so, Christian women and men must face: that a Dobson-inspired vote for Trump embodies not love, but four more years of public lies, fostering division, endless COVID deaths, and — implicitly and explicitly — the promotion of actual violence. A vote for Trump tears families apart.
Alternatively, we can appreciate that Biden is experienced, honest, kind and a father of two sons who he clearly loves. His immigration policies are eminently more humane. Biden is imperfect; but he works hard and he’s willing to listen. His model of politics is much more Christlike: he care about others before himself. He’s thinking about my future and our future. These are some of the reasons I respect Biden and have voted for him. I hope you will too.
If not though, grappling with the political power of male Christian leaders like Dobson — and taking steps away from them, small or large, and however is possible and safe for you — would be a good start.