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Dobson sees plenty of work ahead to counter family decline in U.S.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The battle is as intense as ever — more intense, in fact.

James Dobson voiced disappointment over “the continued deterioration of the family” in an interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of Focus on the Family’s founding.

“It’s in worse shape now than it was when I started,” he stated frankly.

“Look at the census reports from last May. The percentage of households headed by cohabitating adults increased 72 percent. The households headed by single fathers increased 62 percent. The households headed by single mothers increased by 25 percent. The households involving nuclear families fell below 25 percent in the first time in history.

“Those statistics speak for themselves,” Dobson, 66, told the Gazette. “We are continuing to lose ground.

“We’re one organization. You can’t get your arms around 260 million people in this country,” Dobson said, noting that Focus on the Family also has become a worldwide ministry. “We recognize the limitations of that. If you measure yourself by the human family, there’s no way you’re going to feel good about yourself” in having an impact.

“On the other hand,” he reflected, “we get 250,000 letters and phone calls a month. And the response of the people who contact us gives us much more credit than we deserve.”

In an interview with The New York Times, Dobson said, “Wherever you choose to stick the thermometer, you can see that we are a nation in a great deal of trouble … unraveling at a faster pace than ever. … I was very concerned in 1977 about the disintegration of the family and felt that I had to do what I could to support it and to assist with the task of raising children. I still have that passion, but now it’s in the context of what I would describe as a moral free fall.”

Fewer than half of evangelical Christians voted in 2000, Dobson also told The Times, while citing polls showing that still fewer believe in moral absolutes and some studies which show evangelicals divorcing at higher rates than others.

“There are huge numbers of people who consider themselves deeply religious folks but who can’t spare 20 minutes every other year to influence our representative form of government,” he told The Times. “I find that breathtaking.”

Another challenge facing the ministry, Dobson acknowledged, is that its income was down for the first time last year and has remained flat this year, which he described to the Gazette as “one of the more serious economic shortfalls we have experienced for a while.” Since October 1999, donations have been about 2.4 below budget. The downturn could stem from the economy, donor fatigue from Sept. 11’s terrorist attacks or other causes, ministry officials told the Gazette.

Focus calculates the average age of its audience at 47, a fact it also is addressing, while buoyed by the fact that its Internet sites for parents, collegians, youth and other segments are increasing in usage.

One recent initiative, Heritage Builders, is seeking to provide materials for parents to help pass down their faith from one generation to the next. An upcoming initiative, a newsletter called Focus on Your Child, meanwhile, will feature editions targeted to families with children in various age ranges, such as 9-14.

Along the way, Dobson has suffered a minor heart attack, in 1990, and a mild stroke, eight years later, and is now following a daily exercise regimen and other doctors’ orders. “Since Dec. 13, 1993, I’ve only missed exercising four times,” he told the Gazette. “Three of those were when I had the stroke. The fourth was because I flat-out forgot.”

Any notion of being a celebrity, Dobson told the Gazette, is an illusion. “First of all, it’s very temporary, and you can lose it in an afternoon,” he said. “Secondly, it’s not to be taken very seriously. I don’t say that falsely humble. I just am keenly aware I’m an ordinary man with ordinary flaws and some of them pretty pronounced, and I’m just doing the best I can to deal with an awful lot of hurt that’s going on out there.

“I think there’s been a divine ordination on what we try to do, and God has blessed it, and that’s the greatest gratification of all,” he told the paper. “I think I could [retire someday] and not feel lost, like some people do. I think there will come a time for that, and I believe I will know it when the time comes…. But at this moment, I’m heard every day by 220 million people in 117 countries, and it just does not seem that this is the time.”

With a mission statement as timeless as ever — “To cooperate with the Holy Spirit in disseminating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible, and, specifically, to accomplish that objective by helping to preserve traditional values and the institution of the family” — God alone knows Focus on the Family’s future.

“I wish I could say that I knew where the Lord was leading when I started Focus on the Family, but that is not true,” Dobson said. “I simply felt he wanted me to prepare a regular broadcast and to speak to family related issues. Everything that has happened since then has been a surprise and a labor of love.”

Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defense Fund, a religious liberty organization Dobson helped launch with other evangelical leaders, said, “I shudder to think where our country would be today without the courage of James Dobson to stand up for what is right.”

“Sometimes he can be a little controversial,” Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson told the Associated Press during Focus on the Family’s 25th anniversary celebration July 25-28 in Colorado Springs and Denver. “If you’re going to wrestle with principalities and powers and the forces of evil, of course you’re going to be controversial.”