January 21, 2005

Listening to Dr. Dobson: What a Concept!

The press, and to a lesser extent the Blogosphere, is going bonkers over the claim that Dr. James Dobson of "Focus on the Family," is attacking SpongeBob and other cartoon characters.

I've listened to Dr. Dobson over the years, and although I'm no follower, I've always thought him to be a human and thoughtful person, whose worldview happens to rest upon a deep religious faith. Dr. Dobson is not given, in my experience, to taking nutty positions.

So it was with a pound of salt that I looked at news items like this:
US conservative groups are up in arms over a music video featuring children's TV heroes such as the cheerful cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.

Focus on the Family and other groups say the video - a remake of the Sister Sledge hit, We Are Family - is a vehicle for pro-gay propaganda.

The video's makers plan to mail it to US schools in the spring to promote tolerance and diversity.

They say the attack is based on a misunderstanding.

The video also features children's favourites like Bob the Builder, along with characters from Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

But James Dobson, founder of right-wing Christian group Focus on the Family, singled out SpongeBob at a black-tie dinner in Washington in the run-up to President Bush's inauguration, the New York Times said.

SpongeBob - who appears on the children's cable channel Nickelodeon - is seen as an icon for adult gay men in the US, apparently because he regularly holds hands with his sidekick Patrick.

His creators deny that he is gay, but he is not the first such character to cause controversy.

In 1999 conservatives claimed handbag-carrying Teletubby Tinky Winky, an import from the UK, was a bad role-model.

This coverage has also led to mockery and outrage on various blogs such as this one:

I love it when religious nutjobs reveal themselves to be ... religious nutjobs.

Today's lesson from the gospel according to the looney is that SpongeBob is trying to seduce young people into the evils of homosexuality.
There are also newspaper editorials such as this one in the LA Times, bordering on hysteria:
So SpongeBob SquarePants is gay. You think your small children, who may be glued to the TV set this morning, were just enthralled by a talking yellow sponge in suit pants. You'd be wrong. Actually, they are being brainwashed by a vast network of gay cartoon characters bent on destroying civilization as we know it.

We ought to listen and read before we condemn so glibly and with such hostility. Focus on the family sees it this way:

From the outset, let's be clear that this issue is not about objections to any specific cartoon characters. Instead, Dr. Dobson is concerned that these popular animated personalities are being exploited by an organization that's determined to promote the acceptance of homosexuality among our nation's youth.

We applaud the ideal of championing to children the value and dignity of every human life as well as respect for our differences. What we vehemently object to is using these beloved characters to help advance an agenda that's beyond the comprehension of 6 and 7 year-old children, not to mention morally offensive to millions of moms and dads.

The video in question is slated to be distributed to 61,000 public and private elementary schools throughout the United States. Where it is shown, schoolchildren will be left with the impression that their teachers are offering their endorsement of the values and agenda associated with the video's sponsor. While some of the goals associated with this organization are noble in nature, their inclusion of the reference to "sexual identity" within their "tolerance pledge" is not only unnecessary, but it crosses a moral line.

We believe that it is the privilege of parents to decide how, when and where it is appropriate to introduce their children to these types of sensitive issues. The distribution of this video trumps the authority of mothers and fathers and leaves it in the hands of strangers whose standards may very well be different than the children they teach.

By calling it to light this video and its affiliation with this larger organization, we are attempting to do for parents what their busy lives often prevent them from doing themselves--connecting the dots.

Whether one agrees or not with what Focus believes to be the correct Biblical view of homosexual conduct, there is no reason why a compulsory public school should be indoctrinating young children on such matters and encouraging them to reject their parents' views.

In any case, concern with such indoctrination, even when conducted by cartoon characters, is not the province only of "nutjobs," "crackpots," or extremists. It's a legitimate public issue. Dr. Dobson's position is rational and worthy of discussion, certainly more so than those of Barbara Boxer, Dennis Kucinich, or Janeane Garofalo.

It's easy to jump to conclusions, especially when they are based on stereotypes, such as that of the fundamentalist know-nothing.

Dr. Dobson's views on homosexuality are actually similar to those of most traditional Christians, as set forth here in response to a question from a gay person:

In response, I want to begin by telling you how strongly I feel about the mandate we have as Christians to love and care for people from all walks of life. Even those with whom we disagree. Even those involved in lifestyles we believe to be immoral. My first reaction to your honest sharing of yourself is a sense of acceptance for you as an individual. I mean that sincerely.

Regardless of what the media may say, Focus on the Family has no interest in promoting hatred toward homosexuals or any other group of our fellow human beings. We have not supported, and will never support, legislation aimed at depriving them of their basic constitutional rights -- rights they share with every citizen.

On the contrary, we want to reach out to gay and lesbian people whenever and wherever we can. If I had the time, I could describe for you many situations in which we've done exactly that. It's a commandment we've received from the Lord Jesus.

Beyond that, I have to acknowledge that you and I have a very different understanding of Scripture. It is my firm conviction that sex outside of marriage (whether homosexual or heterosexual) is not permitted by those who call themselves "believers."

Yes, I'm aware that some biblical scholars have conducted elaborate studies to show that Scripture takes no decisive position on the issue. This is neither new nor surprising. Biblical studies have been done to support a wide variety of unbiblical ideas!

But from our perspective, the truth remains clear. You've obviously been over that ground, and I will not use this reply to belabor the point.

Let me simply say that the same Scriptures that condemn homosexuality and premarital heterosexuality also tell us to accept those who are in violation of these ordinances. Jesus was more compassionate toward the woman caught in the very act of intercourse -- a capital offense in those days -- than He was toward the hypocrites in the church. This is our model and our mandate.

Whether one agrees or disagrees, this is hardly a crackpot view, but rather a traditional one.

Let's have more tolerance and effort to understand views from this important quarter in American public life.

No comments: