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.
As the furor mounted, Dobson went on his radio show and divulged the contents of the Rove call, explaining that Rove had released him from any pledge of confidentiality. Dobson told his listeners that Rove had shared with him Harriet’s conservative credentials, as well as the fact that a number of other conservative candidates had taken themselves off the short list because they didn’t want to be subjected to the acrimonious confirmation process. To the relief of everyone, including Dobson, who was beginning to have second thoughts about Miers after learning of a speech she gave that was pro-feminist and pro-abortion in tone, Miers withdrew her name.
In her place, Bush nominated Samuel Alito, a Princeton grad with a J.D. from Yale and federal appeals court judge. A devout Catholic, Alito was the polar opposite of Dobson’s so-called “tyrannical judges” who dictated social policy from the bench and threatened the very fabric of the nation. Alito was a strict constitutionalist who didn’t think all religious symbols in the public square should be banned. Even more promising, he had issued an anti-abortion ruling. Alito was exactly the kind of candidate that Dobson wanted on the High Court. Focus’ political arm went into warp speed, drumming up massive support for Alito. Though the candidate got nicked a bit during the confirmation process (which caused his wife to burst into tears and flee the room in front of dozens of television cameras), Democrats had neither the will nor the numbers to mount a credible fight against the likes of Dobson.
Alito’s confirmation fulfilled his lifelong ambition to “warm a seat on the Supreme Court,” and was further evidence of Dobson’s reach. One of the first things Alito did when he took his warm seat was dash off a thank-you note to the folks in Colorado Springs. “This is just a short note to express my heartfelt thanks to you and the entire staff at Focus on the Family for your help and support during the past few, challenging months,” he wrote. “As long as I serve on the Supreme Court, I will keep in mind the trust that has been placed in me.”
On his March 1 radio program, Dobson read the note in its entirety. Sitting next to him in the radio studio was Minnery, who had been heavily involved in the Alito campaign. Though the two men knew it wasn’t polite to gloat, they could barely contain their glee. Referring to the two new justices, Dobson said, “We do not yet know how these men will vote, but every indication is that they get it.”
A country preacher, long and thin as a summer shadow, stood at the front of a church with his arms outstretched, quietly inviting those who wanted to pray to come forward and join him. He was James Dobson Sr., a 6-foot-4-inch giant, with gentle eyes and a face made gaunt from ministering to impoverished rural flocks. Little Jimmy Dobson, who had his father’s light-colored hair, stepped from his mother’s side and joined the procession moving toward the altar. Weeping and crying, the 3-year-old boy knelt and asked Jesus to forgive his sins and instantly felt the overwhelming presence of God. “Imagine the king of the universe, creator of all heaven and earth, caring about an insignificant kid barely out of toddlerhood! It makes no sense, but I know it happened,” Dobson would later say.
The spiritual awakening bound him ever more tightly to his father, who gave up a promising career as an artist to become a man of the cloth. Dobson loved his father so passionately he once told a reporter that just thinking about him when he was a little boy could move him to tears. “He would never have been able to write a book, not because he couldn’t write it, but because his assessment of himself was so low he couldn’t have risked putting an idea out there emotionally, with the possibility of having it rejected,” Dobson told Tim Stafford, who wrote a piece on Dobson in 1988 for Christianity Today entitled “His Father’s Son.”
The Dobsons were members of the Nazarene Church, a denomination of evangelical Christianity that believes human beings are inherently evil but can be saved if they repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ. Followers believe fervently in Judgment Day, when the Lord will return to the earth, the dead will be raised, and the faithful will be reunited with their loved ones in Heaven. Nazarenes believe that after a person has had an initial born-again experience, the Holy Spirit will seek to perform a second work of grace called “entire sanctification” or “baptism with the Holy Spirit,” which purges all sin. Gil Alexander-Moegerle, a former Focus executive and once one of Dobson’s most trusted advisors, writes in his 1997 book James Dobson’s War on America that this “Holiness” principle is key to understanding Dobson’s worldview: “James Dobson believes that he has been entirely sanctified, morally perfected, that he does not and cannot sin. Now you know why he and moralists like him make a life of condemning what he believes to be the sins of others. He is perfect.”
With his born-again experience, James Dobson was on his way to fulfilling a family prophecy: His great-grandfather had told the family that he received a message from God informing him that four generations of his family would rise up and serve the Lord. Dobson’s father often spent three to four hours a day on his knees; the child attempted to pray before he learned to talk. Being the son of an itinerant, evangelical preacher was hard on young Dobson, an only child. While his parents spread the gospel, the boy often was left with relatives. Sensing his son’s loneliness, Dobson’s dad bought a house in Bethany, Oklahoma, and for the next 11 years his wife, Myrtle, looked after their child while he traveled from farm to church, sowing God’s word.