R&L: Many Christians are not comfortable with Capitalism as an economic system, often blaming the “system” for such things as poverty and social ills. Often this fear of Capitalism leads many to endorse forms of Socialism as more Christian. What are your views concerning Capitalism?
Dobson: On the world stage of varying economic philosophies, I believe that Capitalism has been shown to be the best economic system for improving the living conditions of mankind. It is not perfect, just like Democracy is not a perfect system of government, but they are by far the best systems given the nature of man. The main reason for the overwhelming success of Capitalism is that hard work and personal discipline are rewarded in many ways. The weakness of Socialism is that the reward mechanism for hard work is missing. It offers no incentive for creativity and “sweat equity.” Communism and Socialism destroy the God-given motivation of man because they penalize creativity and effort. Instead, they reward mediocrity, slovenliness and apathy. By contrast, free-enterprise works hand in hand with human nature.
R&L: You have been quoted as saying that the family is one of the last surviving institutions of our society. Clearly you see the family as being foundational to the social order. Could you elaborate on this for us?
Dobson: As I understand the Scriptures, there are three primary social institutions that are ordained by God: the government, the church and the family. The family is the foundation on which everything else rests. The United States is engaged in a culture war in which the family is under assault.
If we weaken the family, we weaken all of society. The family provides the basis in a culture for social order and stability, and you either have those benefits or you have chaos and anarchy. That is why I feel so strongly that we must support and defend the family against those who would rip it to pieces. If you undermine it, if you tamper with those underpinnings, you threaten the entire superstructure.
R&L: “Family Values” is now a popular rhetorical theme, but there seems to be little content to it. How do you define the term?
Dobson: First, I prefer the phrase traditional family values. Everybody likes to talk about this phrase, especially at election time. Every politician will tell you that he or she is in favor of traditional family values, but very few stop to define it or even tell you what they mean by this phrase. I list four components for understanding traditional family values:
First, is the value of bearing and raising children. I believe that it is worth a man and woman’s time to invest themselves in the next generation; to inculturate them, to teach them the principles we hold so strongly, and to introduce them to Jesus Christ. I think that it is not a waste of time to invest yourself in your children’s lives. Many today seem to feel that children are a drain on our natural resources; that they are part of the over-population problem, and that we really ought to severely limit the number of children we bring into the world. Children are what families are really all about. Not everybody is blessed with them, but I feel that they are a tremendous blessing.
The second component is the permanence of the marital union. It doesn’t always work this way, but marriage was intended as a lifetime contract. This is the way it works best. Families are meant to be permanent.
The third component is essential: the sanctity of all human life and the worth of the individual. I don’t believe that there are some people who are more valuable in the sight of God than others. We are all endowed by the Creator with certain basic rights. This means we have a level playing field. So, the child who is retarded, the child who won’t produce, the child who is not particularly gifted, the blind child, the handicapped–all of us, regardless of the circumstances in which we are born, are of equal worth and should be treated that way. This includes the value of the unborn child. He or she is one of us too. We need to cultivate a true reverence for human life.
Fourth, are the spiritual underpinnings from which everything else flows. For my family it is the Christian understanding of who we are, and why we are here. It is a faith that there is a God of love and that we have certain responsibilities to Him and each other. This wisdom is communicated from one generation to the next through the family.
R&L: Does the government have a role in supporting and strengthening traditional family values? In what ways do you see government helping or hurting families today?
Dobson: There is so much that government can do to strengthen or weaken the family. In general, I would say that most current government policies are harming American families.
Our current tax system has a major impact on the family. My mother died not too long ago and while sorting through her things I came across records from 1949. My father was a college professor then, and the family was at the median income. In 1949 my dad paid $2.49 every two weeks for federal tax.
This low tax burden allowed my mother to stay home and devote all her time to her family. Today, people at the median income will pay anywhere from 20% to 30% of their income, perhaps 40% by the time you add in state taxes, local taxes and other costs. This has a tremendous impact on the family. It has served to undermine the financial stability of the family.
Second, I would have to point to no-fault divorce laws which came in the early 1970’s. The divorce rate has doubled. Families are being split-up at an incredible rate.
Third, there exists a government bias against the stay-at-home mom. I think this has weakened the culture. I have never felt that it is my responsibility to tell mothers that they should not have a career, or that they ought to stay home. I never tried to do that. My concern is that if they want to stay home they simply cannot afford to do so given the present economic climate. When Congress makes no provision for tax shelters and other incentives for stay-at-home moms, they are showing a bias against those who would chose to do that.
R&L: What about the current welfare system and its impact on the family?
Dobson: I am convinced that the welfare state has been a disaster, that Congress has created a monster. To be honest I don’t know exactly where we ought to go from here. I have done a lot of thinking about it. We have created such a problem that there is no easy way to straighten it out. We can’t stop feeding children who come into the world.
Take the recent decision in Congress regarding the provision of daycare. As I understand it, it will force mothers to go work for the minimum wage, and then turn around and pay someone else to care for their children. This doesn’t make sense to me. I feel very strongly, as does George Gilder, who has spoken on the impact of the welfare state, that the Great Society programs have greatly weakened American families. Social liberals have imposed governmental action, supposedly for the best of motives, but it has had a devastating effect.
R&L: Focus on the Family and its subsidiary organization The Family Research Council are becoming more and more active in politics and political issues. In your opinion, what is the theological and scriptural basis for Christian political activism?
Dobson: We have firm convictions about this issue. Some people have said that we have become more political. That’s not really true. We are doing exactly what we were doing ten years ago. We spend about 4% of our budget on all aspects of all public policy involvement. We have been at this a long time. The reason we appear to be more involved now than in the past is due to our increased visibility.
The theological basis for Christian political activism is well founded in Scripture. We are called to be salt and light; we are called to influence and confront the culture. Jesus did not tell us to retreat from the real world, nor did he tell us to hide our light under a bushel.
As Lincoln said, this is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people, it is not a tyranny, it is a representative government. If Christians do not engage in the public policy debate and actively engage in the running of their own country, then they default, by their own absence, they yield the political process to those who hold very different views.
I regret the fact that many Protestant churches have disengaged from the public policy arena. This was most evident at the recent Beijing Conference on Women. Many churches are so afraid of being political that they have allowed the march of human events to go on without them. This is a great mistake.
R&L: The United Nations Conference on Women’s Rights held at Beijing has received much attention. Your organization has sent observers. What is your assessment of the conference?
Dobson: We are extremely concerned about what took place in Beijing. I don’t know anytime in history when 185 nations sent 50,000 people to speak about feminist dogma and radically redesigning the way men and women relate to one another. The reports out of Beijing have confirmed our worst fears about it. There was a plan of action that has come out of it that is going to be implemented, apparently by the executive branch of the U.S. government without going through Congress. The conference endorsed many things we oppose–abortion, homosexual rights, and other anti-family measures. We are very grateful to the Vatican for keeping it from being any worse than it was. They fought a valiant battle there.
R&L: Many believe that the decline of our culture is due, to a large degree, to moral decay. In your opinion what measures are necessary to bring about a moral revival?
Dobson: I wish I knew the exact answer to that. I know if a revival comes it will start at the bottom; it cannot be imposed from the top. Spiritual renewal virtually never starts with the government. Ultimately it starts in the hearts of men and women.
I do know that if our people do not begin to re-assert their Judeo-Christian roots and go before God in true repentance and appreciation to Him, I do not see any hope for where we are going as a nation.
It is extremely important for the church to lead in this regard. The church must not lose its nerve. We must not water down the message. Whether it is popular or not, there are certain truths in the Scriptures to which I believe people will respond.
R&L: In addition to the Bible, what sources do you personally rely on to help shape your views on family, politics and social issues?
Dobson: I try to think of myself as a student of history. I draw much of my understanding of human nature and our present culture from past human experience. Throughout human history the exact circumstances may change, but basic human nature remains the same. Indeed, many of the issues we are dealing with today are not unique.
In addition, I am often inspired by the people I come in contact with through my ministry at Focus on the Family. Some of the most interesting and insightful Christian leaders have come through this ministry at one time or another. I am stimulated by the thoughts of people like Chuck Colson, Bill Bennet and Gary Bauer. I thought when I started this ministry it would be all giving, but as it turned out, it has been a great help to me personally.