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Christians Rebuke Dr. Dobson

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Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and one of the most powerful political voices for the Christian Right, has been officially rebuked and rebutted by a voice from within the Christian ranks. The Institute for Progressive Christianity (IPC), a recently christened research institute founded by a diverse group of moderate and progressive Christians, issued a crisp and confrontational reply to Dobson's remarks made during the 11/22/06 interview on Larry King Live. This action has drawn fire from various neoconservative media sources, including Rush Limbaugh and a writer for the Townhall think tank.

During the course of the King interview Dobson said, "But it's interesting to me that those, again, on the more liberal end of the spectrum are often those who have no value system or at least they say there is no moral and immoral, there is no right or wrong. It's moral relativism."

The initial 11/29/06 IPC rebuttal of this charge included a litany of noble liberal accomplishments by some American presidents and Christian leaders and concluded with "... it is preposterous for Dr. Dobson to suggest that liberalism is bereft of any notion of right and wrong."

Dobson also revealed in his dialog with King that he does not believe the constitution supports the idea of separation of church and state.

Dobson: "The separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. No, it's not. That is not in the Constitution. That was..."

King: "It's in the Bill of Rights."

Dobson: "It's not in the Bill of Rights. It's not anywhere in a foundational document."

The IPC responded: "As progressive Christians, IPC is steadfastly committed to the separation of church and state as stated in the Constitution of the United States. We base our belief not as an expression of hostility towards religion, but as a guarantee of its free practice whereby the position of one faith is not elevated over any other. In that manner, America will protect, as FDR proclaimed, "The freedom of every person to worship God in his own way."

Cybercast News Service published an article 11/30/06 by Susan Jones entitled Liberal Christians Going Head-to-Head with Conservative Christians. Jones notes the novelty of Dobson being chastised by a Christian group when she states, "In a lengthy news release on Wednesday, the Institute for Progressive Christianity rebutted Dobson's comments one by one, but it's not so much what the liberal Christians are saying, it's that they're saying it at all."

Rush Limbaugh, king pin of the far right talk show hosts, picked up on her story and blasted IPC on his 12/01/06 broadcast. Limbaugh opened his diatribe against IPC by dramatically proclaiming this to be a "sinister" story. He then offered his ditto of Dobson's remarks about "liberal moral relativism" and further affirmed Dobson's claim regarding no constitutional separation of church and state.

Limbaugh went on to say, "Here's something else, and this is the larger point. We just had the election. The Democrats just won the election less than a month ago. This is a brand-new group, the Institute for Progressive Christianity. They make up, they create, this brand-new group whose express purpose is to bash Christians. They do so by claiming that they are Christians too, but that the Falwells and the Robertsons and the evangelicals are nuts and wacko and pose a threat to real Christians, the progressive Christians. This is nothing more than a natural offshoot of their method in the election."

Limbaugh added, "So you have here a new group of Christians -- the "progressive" Christians -- who are running around with a script that says existing evangelicals and Christian leaders are corrupt, just as Republican incumbents were corrupt. This is supposed to depress the Republican turnout at the polls: It's the same technique that they ran during the campaign: put a bunch of frauds up as conservatives. Now, the same technique: they're ramping up to trash any Christian who dare say anything with a group of "progressive" Christians who say that everything you Christians are being told by your leaders is wrong and a bunch of fraud. So you watch. This group is going to be acclaimed. This is the one Christian group, the Institute for Progressive Christianity, which will not be laughed at, which will not be made fun of, which will not be impugned...they are going to be applauded, and the whole point of this is to further fracture the 24 million evangelicals and conservative Christians in this country."

The IPC issued another press release 12/07/06 responding to the Limbaugh broadcast. IPC director Frank L. Cocozzelli fired back, "Limbaugh's intent, with his many false assertions, is not designed to enhance the debate, but to shift the focus away from Dobson's own unsustainable claims. Along with my fellow IPC Directors I believe that the true moral relativists and nihilists are more likely to be found within the ranks of the Religious Right's neoconservative supporters. And they mislabel liberals as "moral relativists" and as "nihilists" to draw attention away from their own failures to address the pursuit of unrestrained economic self-interest."

IPC director Mark Farr added, "As Christians and as Americans, we affirm the traditional American ideal of separation of church and state as stated in the Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. But we are a pluralistic society and as such IPC seeks to ensure an open forum where people of all faiths and no faith can speak and express their views."

The IPC acknowledged that the phrase "separation of church and state" is not found in the constitution or the first Amendment, but asserts the phrase was in wide use among leading thinkers of the day. They support this claim with quotes from various founding fathers like this one from James Madison, "Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?"

Rush Limbaugh is not the only right wing pundit attempting to denigrate the validity of the fledgling IPC. A Townhall writer says in a 12/01/06 column, "The group's website says the only way to refute Christian fundamentalism is to do so from within the Christian community. Otherwise, it suggests, the critics will be "perceived and painted as a persecutor of the faith." Bingo folks...this is it in a nutshell. The group is a subversive group made up of some Christians but does not have a real Christian agenda. Its goal is to undermine Christians and Christianity."

IPC Executive Director Stephen Rockwell responds to these right wing critics, "The Institute for Progressive Christianity was neither conceived by, nor is it affiliated with, any political party. Our aim is to take a stand on the Gospel we know and love and relate that tradition to public policy. On good and evil, we unashamedly take our stand on the Bible. The Jesus we know lived and taught these values: compassion, peacemaking, economic justice, and a love for the outcast."

Farr adds, "We affirm the traditional American separation of church and state;
We reject the notion that the liberal Christian tradition is not biblical and firmly believe that progressives and liberals are supported by Biblical truth."

The Institute for Progressive Christianity has gained the attention of some prominent media players on the right. A new trend of left-leaning Christian voices entering the fray of faith and politics appears to be gaining momentum. How Dr. Dobson responds to IPC remains to be seen.
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Gary Vance is an evangelical pastor/writer living in rural Tennessee. He is the author of "Wasn't Jesus a Liberal?" and other published essays.
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