In the interview that became this week’s cover story, Focus on the Family leader Jim Daly and J. Adrian Stanley covered a lot of ground. While most topics were represented in the final printed version, a lot of pretty good stuff ended up on the cutting-room floor, so to speak.
For those interested in reading more about the current state of Focus, here are some of those additional questions and answers (with the occasional interjection from Focus PR guy Gary Schneeberger).
ON 'THE DAY OF DIALOGUE'
Indy: I’m wondering about the “Day of Dialogue,” which was meant to counter the “Day of Silence,” a day meant to honor and observe kids who are bullied because they are LGBT. A lot of people see the Day of Dialogue as an endorsement of the bullying that the Day of Silence is meant to counter. And, of course, with the bullying-related suicides we’ve been seeing lately, this is a sensitive issue. I’m wondering, how do you view the Day of Dialogue?
JD: I think the Christian community, in our history, understands bullying. I mean, Christians, in centuries past, certainly have lost their lives for what they believe. So, it’s not new, and we would just categorically say bullying of all sorts is not a standard that any culture should embrace.
And so the Day of Dialogue is that attempt to actually do the exact opposite, to have a discussion where people may have an opposing view, but can still express it. ...
When you look at the Day of Dialogue and the temperament that’s being expressed, I think it’s very civil. I don’t see it as creating an opportunity for people to bully other people.
Indy: Obviously, there’s always exceptions in these situations.
JD: Sure, without a doubt. But again, from a Christian perspective, everybody deserves respect. We’re all made in the image of God. And that’s something we need to as the Christian community hold to.
And then the goal there is to have the discussion, like the apostle Paul, [on] Mars Hill. He didn’t go into that community and start blasting people for their behavior. He talked about knowing the unknown God, the fact that he is now known, and here’s how you know him. It changed that community. I think that’s a great example of how we as the modern-day Christian community need to work as well.
ON FOCUS' BUDGET AND FUNDRAISING
Indy: [$105 million] is kind of where you guys have stabilized?
JD: Yeah, it feels like it. But again, right when we thought — the giving was actually on an uptick, and then the oil prices went through the roof, and things pulled in again. ...
I thought if this were isolated, if only Focus were experiencing this, I’d be very concerned. But because it’s across the board and other organizations are experiencing 20, 30 percent downturns, including businesses, it felt pretty normal, even though difficult.
GS: And you spent a lot of time in the last 18 months with donors. Maybe you could share a little bit about what they’re saying about ...
JD: Well, I think [it’s] the great story of sacrifice. I mean, we have donors that stopped taking their salaries from their businesses but still kept supporting Focus. Others went bankrupt and couldn’t support Focus the way they used to, and that’s just the mix of what happens in an economy that’s turbulent.
But that was encouraging, I think for the most part, those that are giving are capable of giving larger gifts — that funding is actually up in a lot of different sectors.
Indy: I wonder if you think it’s been difficult for Focus to fundraise in the absence of your founder, James Dobson, and the perception by some that he was forced out of the organization. I wonder if you got any feedback from that. I know you said the fundraising was already starting to go down when he was here, but I’m sure there was some concern about that.
JD: There’s always going to be. I mean, you look at books on those kind of organizations, a founder transition, it’s very common to see dips. Again, I was pleasantly surprised that we were in the general vicinity of other companies and organizations that were not seeing transitional issues ... I’ve been racking my brain to see how much was here and how much was here, but probably the best thing you could do is just look at the budgets.
Indy: But your major funders weren’t hammering you with e-mails?
JD: No, no, no. I think by and large, I give Dr. Dobson tremendous credit, because probably back in 2003, when he started this ball rolling, he saw that he wanted to do a transition, he wanted to have a methodic[al] approach to step out as founder, and he achieved it. I mean, in the end he achieved it, he stepped out of the role of president and put Don Hodel in. And Don was here for two years, and then they asked me if I’d like to do it.
And then [Dobson] stepped off as chairman of the board, and then eventually he resigned there. And I think again, it was all very well-scripted, and I give him great credit for doing it. It’s a very difficult thing for a founder to do, to create something and then let go of it. But he did it.
ON WORK WITH PREGNANCY RESOURCE CENTERS
Indy: Have you been able to provide any sort of ground rules or educational packets for people [at the centers Focus is funding]?
JD: Oh yeah ... there’s two or three professional association groups that do most of that. Focus came along and kind of bolstered that and gave it a little more muscle for those who want to work with us. So there’s very tight criteria they have to meet in order to get [an ultrasound] machine and qualify.
Indy: You see this also in abstinence education, too, which again in many cases has been sort of grassroots, so it’s hard to judge all of them based on one of them. But you will sometimes see these abstinence groups going into classrooms and saying, “Don’t use a condom, it won’t protect you from STDs.” We all know that’s not true.
So I think, the thought is if they’re going to do this — at least present the facts to these kids, so that they are at least getting truthful information. Has Focus done anything in that area?
JD: You don’t find much on that, because that’s not an area we’re directly engaged in. Of course, we would take a biblical approach to human sexuality, meaning it’s best when — I think it’s hard to argue that you’re safest, you’re emotionally safe, you’re physically safer, if you save yourself for marriage and you’re monogamous in you’re marriage. Obviously, that would be true. ...
But I think both sides tend to find the weakest link of either’s perspective and use those as illustrations. I’d rather we look at the best examples of what’s being done on either side and try to refute those things, because I think there’s strength in those comparisons.
But when you look at our position on those things, there are groups in the U.S. that that’s their daily mission, is to go into schools and do abstinence education. We’ve done a lot of it out of the U.S. We’ve done abstinence education in South Africa and Latin America, and the only thing I can say to try to be fair, is that when we go back and do pre- and post-testing, the teachers particularly are amazed at the way the character rises in the kids. And that’s measured in a lot of different ways: completing homework assignments and attitudes toward the teacher.
And what we do is more of a character-based curriculum that also has abstinence attached to it, as a way to live your life. So it’s kind of a more well-rounded approach, called No Apologies. And that’s been a very effective tool — I think we’ve trained maybe 2, 2½ million kids in that program.
Indy: Mostly in foreign countries?
JD: Mostly in foreign countries, because it’s so difficult in the U.S. But even in that context, what I’ve been amazed by is the governments that want to work with us because they understand the importance of trying to help families, help kids make good decisions. Whether that’s the ANC [African National Congress] government in South Africa ...
Indy: Well, in South Africa they want to stop the spread of AIDS. Any way they can do that is great.
JD: Right, without a doubt. And so I’m sure they’re probably trying everything. And we found it amazing: Seventh grade is really the key. When we tested seventh-graders, 80 percent are not sexually active, [but] by eighth grade, 70 percent are sexually active. So that demarcation between seventh grade and eighth grade is really the breaking point for that decision-making. So anything we can do to forestall that would help with the fight on AIDS and the fight on teen pregnancy.
So you know, we’re all going to have different, perhaps, philosophical positions on that. But this is the way we come at it. We have had great success. Measurable success, and we’ll keep doing that.
ON INTELLIGENT DESIGN VS. EVOLUTION
Indy: OK, Focus has been a big proponent of teaching creationism, also known as Intelligent Design, in public schools. What actions is Focus taking now to promote that, and do you see that as a priority?
JD: Well, it’s not mainline marriage and parenting. We do think from a cultural engagement standpoint, we’re perplexed that in education we’re not really exploring different philosophies, different kind of expressions of the origins of man. I think Intelligent Design makes a very good case for that.
I find it frightening I guess that there’s such intimidation that if you don’t think in a monolithic way — universities, et cetera — then it’s unacceptable. Teachers are intimidated by even expressing an idea that perhaps Intelligent Design is a theory that is a possibility. I mean we have plenty of examples where teachers have written to us, where they’ve been either fired or threatened for mentioning it, — not even that they believe it, but that it’s possible that there is another theory other than evolution. That feels very police-state. So I would just say, what we feel is teach it all.
Indy: But, of course, you know there is a scientific formula for a theory. I mean it has to meet certain conditions.
JD: Oh, without a doubt.
Indy: So in order for it to be a theory, it would have to be — I mean it could be considered a hypothesis, perhaps, but ...
JD: Well, I don’t know. I mean, you do have some biologists like [Micheal] Behe and others that are well-known, who feel intelligent design is a theory. RNA, DNA, the complexity of that code, it’s like a computer code.
How does a computer code get created? By some type of intelligence by the name of Bill Gates, creates the code. Is it possible that there is code in DNA and RNA that is intelligently designed?
I think you can go round and round. I think the problem is that many that we know in the scientific community are clandestine believers. But they feel no freedom to express that. Those that have attempted to try to say, “Maybe evolution isn’t the only plausible explanation,” don’t receive tenure, get drummed out of the profession. Why wouldn’t you just remain quiet?
But I find that fascinating, that there seems to be an action to squelch other ideas. I think Darwin himself said, “In 100 years, if you don’t find intermediary fossil records, that perhaps my theory is not correct.” I find that fascinating, that Darwin himself said, if you don’t find the links between this and that, that maybe I don’t have it right. That would be an interesting thing to explore.
Indy: But they found a lot of links.
JD: Name one.
Indy: Gosh, I mean, there’s how many different stages of humans? I can’t even remember. But they keep coming up with more. I’ve seen several articles in the newspaper in just the last few years.
JD: The fascinating thing I keep seeing — and my wife is a biochemist — is they’ll find a tooth, and then they’ll create a skull around the tooth and they’ll call that a different species. It’s kind of fascinating, when you really get into it. Or the mandible is slightly different.
So the question in that regard, scientists and biologists would say: Is there adaptation occurring? I think people by and large agree with adaptation; whether there was new phyla created, new species created from old species, I think that’s where some in the scientific community are starting to question the accuracy.
Think of male, female of species. Out of this soup we had to create the male, female of some things to procreate. That to me seems rather far-fetched.
Indy: You have certain species that don’t have a sex.
JD: That’s what I mean, asexual. Did everything start as asexual? I mean, I don’t know. Those are deep questions.
ON PRAYER IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Indy: I wanted to ask you before we run out of time, Focus has long wanted prayer to be a part of the public school day. Do you think that crosses the line between church and state? Why or why not? The question being, do you think it does, and that just doesn’t matter? Or do you think it doesn’t?
JD: Public school?
JD: My thought [is] in the culture that we’re at, I would think student-led prayer should be embraced. Student-led prayer. I think, I can understand that parents who aren’t of a Christian persuasion, if their kids are forced to pray, I mean, that doesn’t seem appropriate, either. But if kids meet at the flag and they have clubs where they want to pray as part of it, or the football players initiate prayer before a game or something like that, I find it reasonable. Especially if the students don’t have to participate. I don’t why people would have a concern with that.
I spoke at a group, the Todd Becker Foundation up in Nebraska. This kid was, I guess, a senior football player, was out drinking with two of his football buddies. They crashed, he died — I don’t know if the other two did. And his brother started the Todd Becker Association. They go and they do school assemblies talking about drug and alcohol abuse on a Friday, then they invite kids: If you’d like to come to a Christian concert tonight at such and such a church, so there’s no — it’s if you want to come.
The ACLU has sent letters to all the schools where they’ve done this, intimidating the school district that, “We’re going to sue you in court if you continue to let the Todd Becker Association to speak at your schools.” You know what that says to me? That says to me, the ACLU is more interested in kids being addicted to alcohol and drugs, because my goodness, if they should believe in God, that’s worse!
Indy: Well, in fairness, the ACLU has also helped kids who did — I remember one girl in particular who had said a prayer in her valedictorian speech, and they defended her.
JD: I agree. But in that instance, to try to intimidate schools to keep the Todd Becker Foundation out, to try to help kids not to be taken down like Todd Becker was, by overindulging in drugs and alcohol. That just seems odd to me, that adults would be more concerned about what might happen if a kid goes to — gosh! — if this kid goes to a Christian concert Friday night. We’d rather have them out drinking and driving. That seems insane. I mean, that just seems insane.