James Dobson launched his evangelical empire, Focus on the Family, and became the most influencial Christian in America. He's lectured millions of parents on how to spank their children and advised President George W. Bush on how to spank the Supreme Court. How did the once lonely son of a preacher man rise to such heights? It's no miracle.
The country’s most powerful evangelical Christian bursts through a door at the rear of his Colorado Springs radio studio. James Clayton Dobson is moving fast, head down, manila folder under his arm, a businessman hurrying from one meeting to the next. Suddenly, he seems to remember there’s a live audience on the other side of the glass, and he waves. Every hand shoots up, including mine. Dobson celebrated his 70th birthday this April, but he’s in better shape than ever due to his morning workout—60 to 70 minutes of treadmill and weightlifting—and no junk food.
His ministry is also healthy, raking in approximately $140 million a year. His recent book, Marriage Under Fire—like his 35 other volumes—is selling well. The family’s doing fine, too, especially his son, Ryan, a surfer, skateboarder, skydiver, lover of mosh pits and hip-hop music, who has moved back to the Springs with his second wife. Despite all these blessings, Dobson seems preoccupied as he settles before a dangling microphone. “I’m really pushing it,” he murmurs distractedly, squaring his papers and running a hand over a thick, gold-colored book that appears to be a Bible.
The radio studio, which is furnished with bookshelves and fireplace to resemble a cozy study, is the core of Focus on the Family, the ministry that Dobson started 29 years ago with a few pieces of battered furniture and a heart made heavy by what he perceived as the country’s moral free fall. Today, his behemoth ministry, based at the foot of the Rockies, reaches more than 220 million people around the globe through its radio and television programs, magazines, books, videos, audio recordings, and a powerful website that offers webzines, podcasts, music, and even movie reviews. He rarely gives interviews to the mainstream media and declined to be interviewed for this story. (Written questions e-mailed to a Focus on the Family press representative also went unanswered.)