I started the 1999 book, Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America, by Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson. Cal Thomas is a conservative syndicated columnist, author, and TV personality. And Dobson for a long time pastored Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thomas and Dobson were both prominent figures in Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. By 1999, however, they were disputing the notion that politics was enough to save America.
I’d like to use as my starting-point something that Cal Thomas says on page 30:
“The aphrodisiac of political power descended on Lynchburg, Virginia, with the impact of an asteroid. Politics was a better means to noble ends than the hard and invisible efforts mandated by Scripture. Who wanted to ride into the capital on the back of an ass when one could go first-class in a private jet and be picked up and driven around in a chauffeured limousine? Who wanted the role of a servant when one could have the accolades given to leaders? Who wanted the pain of Good Friday when one could have the acclaim of the masses on Palm Sunday?”
There are a number of things that I should say to balance that quote out. First of all, Thomas and Dobson are not suggesting that Jerry Falwell did not care for such values as humble service. Thomas narrates, for example, that Falwell was quite generous in helping the poor, and that Falwell gave scholarships to Liberty University to young people in the inner-cities in order to encourage them to do well in school. Second, Thomas and Dobson emphatically deny that they are opposed to Christians being involved in political activity. They just don’t think that political activity is enough to save America. After all, as one of them (I think it was Thomas) notes, Bill Clinton as President rolled back the anti-abortion policies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. If we are relying on politics to turn America around, then we’re not placing our faith in something that’s overly reliable.
At the same time, the impression that I got in my latest reading was that Thomas and Dobson hold that Christians should prefer substance over flash. When Ed Dobson was on Phil Donahue’s show defending the right of the Boy Scouts to expel an Eagle Scout who was an atheist, yes, he had his moment of fame (though, as he notes, his wife soon brought him down to earth when she asked him to take the garbage to the dump!). And, after Falwell took over PTL due to the disgrace of Jim Bakker, Dobson could have been on that network and become a famous Christian superstar. But, ultimately, Dobson chose a path that many would characterize as rather low-key: he became the pastor of a church.
Thomas and Dobson wrote this book in 1999, and they say that the failure of Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes in the 2000 Presidential race is evidence that moral change will ultimately not take place through politics. The thing is, though, that George W. Bush in 2000 won the Presidency, and from that point on we have seen policies that arguably advance the Christian conservative agenda. Bush appointed conservative justices to the Supreme Court. There are states that ban homosexual marriage, and there are states that limit abortion.
Where do Thomas and Dobson stand now? Thomas is still a conservative columnist, and he has spoken favorably of a law that requires a pregnant woman to see her unborn child through an ultrasound before she has an abortion. On some level, Thomas appears to acknowledge a role for public policy in encouraging morality. At the same time, the Cal Thomas who questioned whether the religious right can save America has not disappeared. In a beautiful column that he wrote after the death of Jerry Falwell, Thomas said that Falwell’s true legacy was his university, and Thomas told the story of how Falwell provided a scholarship to an inner-city student.
Regarding Dobson, while Dobson appears to be a political conservative (at least on social issues) in Blinded By Might, he voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because he felt that Obama was closer to the teachings of Jesus (see here). And, due to his Lou Gherig’s disease, Dobson cannot speak and write as he once did, but he says in this beautiful video that he’s learning that it’s as important to influence one person as it is to influence thousands, and that each person has a purpose. That’s substance!