Wednesday, 20 June 2007

US Religious Right in Australia

The following was contributed by Progression member Alan Matheson, a retired minister with Churches of's interesting reading.

In a bizarre move, James Dobson's Focus on the Family has recently entered into a formal partnership with the New South Wales Conference of Churches of Christ.
Churches of Christ (CoC) are a diverse and an increasingly fragmented denomination. It's one in which the local congregation is pre-eminent. Yet with government funding it operates some of the largest aged care companies in the nation. It's the only denomination, for example, to host a congregation established by the international, inter denominational organisation, Celebrate Messiah; it also has a congregation which gives away motor vehicles to attract audiences at it's services.
It was a church founded on a commitment to work for 'the unity of the Body of Christ". Yet the majority of its congregations have little to do with the ecumenical movement, and most of its state conferences are not members of the National Council of Churches of Australia's (NCCA) state ecumenical councils. It continues however, to hold a tenuous membership with both the NCCA and the World Council of Churches.
Its membership has shrunk to such a degree it is no longer recognised as a separate denomination in the national census.
James Dobson on the other hand, is perhaps one of the most significant and aggressive figures in the political and religious right in the USA. The relationship, then, with a small conservative denomination on the other side of the world is intriguing.
Dobson is described as," the most important and political influential evangelical leader in the United States". His radio program reaches 3 million people; his weekly column appears in 500 newspapers; 4 million letters are handled each month by his organisation/s; his mailing list is said to contain more than 6 million names, and his call centre, handles 5000 calls a day. It's said that it was Dobson who delivered George Bush, his second term. A recently published analysis of Dobson's organisations, ("The Jesus Machine", by Dan Gilgoff, 2007) describes Focus on the Family, as "the most powerful organisation in Christian Right history".
There is hardly a religious or political new right organisation on which his cash or footprint does not appear. Whether it is the Christian Coalition, Council for National Policy, Moral Majority, Religious Roundtable, Christian Freedom Foundation or the Alliance Defence Fund, Dobson has been present. His other organisation, the Family Research Council is regarded as the number one Christian political organisation in America.
While issues such as creationism are important, it is family, abortion and homosexuality, which are the battle cries of Focus on the Family. When the National Evangelical Alliance moved to develop a Biblically based environmental policy, it was Dobson who led the campaign against such a move.
So what's a partnership between one of the richest and influential religious right organisations, and a small conservative denomination on the other side of the world, all about? Well it may not mean anything more than the founding director of Dobson's operation in Australia is a minister of Churches of Christ! On the other hand, all state conferences in Australia are cash strapped and some survive by selling off assets, others by becoming more effective entrepreneurs. A partnership with a resource rich organisation, then, has some attractions. Dobson's mailing lists are some of the biggest in the world, so this maybe just another move to expand the list. Such lists are the lifeblood of American para church organisations.
National days of prayer, political prayer meetings, nations under God, campaigns against homosexuals, and conferences on Christian values, are the essence of the Dobson "machine". NSW members of Churches of Chris would be also comfortable with such a political and religious agenda.
For Focus on the Family, it also provides a formal relationship and a toehold into an established Australian denomination. CofC in NSW, while not a member of the NCCA's state ecumenical council, it is a member of a conservative grouping of churches, which could provide another access point for Dobson to move.
For the moment, it's a strange relationship.
And one of the ironies of this relationship, is just as it is being formalised, Dobson is mounting a full scale on attack on Fred Thompson, a Republican presidential hopeful, who just happens to be a member of Churches of Christ!


rajane said...

Bizarre is the right word to use.

Good on you for bringing this to our attention. I think this is worth watching.

Thanks for all the MARVELLOUS work you've done in the US james Dobson, but we'll do much better without you here.

jollyroger said...

Thanks for the excellent article. Marian Maddox in her book GOD UNDER HOWARD and JIM WALLIS, AMERICAN EVANGELIST, have both warned about the infiltration and rise of the American Religious Right in Australia.We need to be on guard against so called evangelists who are inflexible and intolerant.
Roger Norris-Green