James Dobson, the voice of conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, will no longer host its flagship radio broadcast and is cutting formal ties with the organization that he founded more than 30 years ago, the evangelical group said Friday.
Dobson, 73, and the board of directors both agreed about the moves, which will go into effect at the end of February, ministry officials said. The decision to part ways was amicable and long anticipated, said Gary Schneeberger, spokesman for the Colorado Springs-based group.
Dobson has distanced himself in recent years from the organization he founded in 1977 and built into an influential force – both as a political powerhouse and provider of conservative family and moral advice. Dobson resigned as Focus on the Family president in 2003 and as chairman of the board in February.
“The Bible tells us that to everything there is a season – and Dr. Dobson’s season at Focus on the Family has been remarkable,” Jim Daly, Dobson’s successor as president, said in a statement. “He has done a superlative job in modeling the graceful transition of leadership from one generation to the next.”
Dobson did not issue a statement on his departure. Dobson’s “health and attitude are great,” Schneeberger said. Dobson suffered a minor heart attack in 1990 and a mild stroke in 1998.
Daly, however, made clear that Dobson “will continue to make his voice heard in the public square.”
“Dr. Dobson is a wordsmith, but one word I don’t suspect we’ll hear him using is ‘retirement,'” he said.
In announcing his resignation as board chairman earlier this year, Dobson said: “One of the common errors of founder-presidents is to hold to the reins of leadership too long, thereby preventing the next generation from being prepared for executive authority … Though letting go is difficult after three decades of intensive labor, it is the wise thing to do.”
Earlier this year, Focus on the Family laid off 8 percent of its work force, casualties of a donation shortfall. That came on top of another round of layoffs last year.
A child psychologist and author, Dobson has become more vocal about politics in recent years. He sharply criticized Democratic candidate Barack Obama in the buildup to the 2008 election, saying Obama distorted the Bible and had a “fruitcake interpretation” of the Constitution – characterizations Obama rejected.
Critics portray Dobson as part of an older generation of evangelical leaders whose influence is waning, and point to younger leaders who are taking up the environment and poverty as political causes.
Daly, 48, who has taken on a higher profile as Dobson has receded from the public stage, shares Dobson’s beliefs about culture wars issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, but hasn’t been as political. Daly complimented Obama for his efforts to promote responsible fatherhood but has said he disagrees with Obama’s policies on most other issues.
Dobson will stop writing the Focus on the Family monthly newsletter – which he used to plead for funds in lean times – and turning it over fully to Daly, Schneeberger said.
No decision has been made about how to fill Dobson’s absence as host of the daily radio show, which reaches an estimated 1.5 million U.S. listeners daily. Schneeberger said Dobson will appear as an occasional guest.
The radio program was a key vehicle for Dobson’s message, and replacing him could prove difficult, said Corwin Smidt, executive director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“It’s going to be hard to replace him given his centrality,” Smidt said. “That doesn’t mean Focus on the Family and its radio program can’t continue to be important. It suggests a challenge before them.”
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