Focus on the Family and change.

One blog that I consistently read is Matthew Paul Turner’s blog. I first was exposed to his wit and writing with the book The Christian Culture Survival Guide, which was a book I read alongside Blue Like Jazz. To say both books left an impression on my cynical nineteen year old mind is an understatement. Turner’s writing was a breath of fresh air and his blog is consistently good, hilarious and enlightening.

That said, I feel the need to respond to a recent post. Guest writer Nicole Wick talks about her trip to Focus on the Family, located in my hometown, and how the experience felt very genuine and had more of a “bridge-building” feel than an attack feel. She’s apparently been very critical of the organization and their stance towards LGBT issues, and FOTF wanted to give her the VIP treatment.

I don’t diverge from Wick on LGBT, as I would agree with her critique of Focus on the Family’s stance towards those individuals and issues. Where I diverge is in her assertion that maybe the organization is changing. I don’t know if I buy that. The final questions she asks in her post are, “can you extend grace to Focus on the Family,” and “what would they need to do to change your opinion on them?” This is my response.

They would need to actually change. From the inside. And from the outside. As Wick points out, there are people who appear humble and willing to change. Willing for dialogue. Even so, the best intentions and gestures can still lead nowhere so long as there is still an assertion that “we” are the ones who have an answer. This is what I didn’t get from Wick’s piece. Does FOTF still claim to have definitive answers? Are they simply changing their approach to these issues? These are things I would like answered. At the heart of these things though, is really how long of a shadow their former leader casts.

I worked for the organization, as a night janitor, for roughly a week in the summer of 2006. During that time I encountered some the most intense indoctrination into a job that I was already barely qualified for (which says more about my work history than their standards). There was the eight hour long “training” which consisted of presentation after presentation. We took a tour of the entire facility. Learned about the secret entrances and routes for Dr. Dobson. We were even given a book, written by his aide, about how great of a man he is. The chapel was lined with his honorary doctorates. The main hall filled with pictures of him with world leaders and dignitaries. I expressed these things and my thoughts on the purpose of them on a myspace blog, which got me fired (along with a one time, contextual use of the “f” word and an acknowledgment that I liked beer). This was a pre “every-company-has-a-social-media-policy” time. In short, I was fired because I was not upholding their worldview, their idea that we are a culture at war. The idea espoused by Dr. Dobson, who was worshipped in their hallways. I don’t hold any bitterness to them for this anymore. It was, quiet honestly, one of the best experiences because it shaped me and lead me in the path I am on now. But it was a problem then, and I wonder if it is still a problem now.

Until the organization leaves behind the vestiges of it’s culture warrior founder, I feel that change won’t happen. I am open to seeing the organization as different. In fact, I can extend them grace. It takes a lot of time and energy to change, especially consciously. It will take time for the organization to see, project and act differently. However, if the internal mechanics and ideologies remain the same, no amount of dialogue will do in bringing about this change. It’s a structural thing, and faulty structures need to be demolished and then rebuilt if they are to truly be different.

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