Refocusing on the Family
"My speculation would be that any evangelical organization that has a predominantly white evangelical donor base risks losing a revenue stream if these organizations take a definitive stance on an issue as polarizing as immigration reform."
Dobson himself was not known for shying away from polarizing political issues. He participated in networks like the Arlington Group (a coalition of politically conservative Christian groups that, notably, he did not found but for which he served as national chairman), and clashed with many evangelical leaders on policy, hiring decisions, and other issues. Famously among them was Wayne Pederson, who resigned as president of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) under pressure in 2002 when Dobson took personally comments Pederson made that Christian broadcasters should focus more on preaching the gospel than on political matters.
"Certainly it hurt deeply to be maligned so publicly," Pederson says. "That was interesting and that was nasty, but you move on." After Pederson became president of the media and health-care ministry HCJB Global in Colorado Springs in 2008, Dobson invited Pederson to lunch, though he did not mention the NRB events. (Through an assistant, Dobson repeatedly declined interview requests for this article.)
Pederson has met with Daly a few times since the transition.
"He wants to take Focus back to the original mission of helping marriages and family, distancing themselves from the more political emphasis that they had under Dr. Dobson," says Pederson, who has spoken with Daly several times. "The stations that carry Focus have noticed that and appreciate the change."
A Political De-Emphasis
Daly does not address politics nearly as much as his predecessor, reflecting a return to the organization's original priorities of marriage and family advice. Of the 121 new radio programs in 2010, 55 percent of the programs were on marriage, family, and parenting, 24 percent were on spiritual growth, and 7 percent were on public policy, according to a 2010 internal survey. (Daly began hosting the daily program in March 2010 with Dobson's former co-host, John Fuller, and Juli Slattery, who replaces Dobson as the expert with a Ph.D.)
"We tend to shut down the ears of people to hear the gospel because they only see you in a political context or as a conservative," Daly says. "Christianity must transcend politics in order to change culture and politics."
Many Focus employees acknowledge the organization's shift in tone but not in policy.
For instance, earlier this year, Daly announced on Focus's show that it would sit down with pro-choice organizations to discuss how to decrease the number of abortions. A spokesman declined to say which organizations Focus is talking to, and said Focus would likely use the conversations to encourage the use of ultrasounds.
"The media is having a tough time figuring us out," says Tom Minnery, senior vice president of public policy for CitizenLink, Focus's legally independent political arm. "They say we're changing in tone and say, 'Aha! They're in a Rick Warren or Joel Hunter cubbyhole.' Then we are active in the defense of traditional marriage, which is seen by the media as hateful and homophobic, so they scratch their heads and say, 'Wait, I thought they were changing their tone.'"