What Will Focus on the Family Look Like in the Future?

Over the last few years, James Dobson has been slowly relinquishing control over Focus on the Family and, earlier this year, stepped down as the organization’s chairman.  To be sure, Dobson remains the face and primary voice of the organization and remains as committed as ever to pressing his right-wing agenda, but eventually he will step aside completely and control will be handed over to Jim Daly, FOF’s President and CEO.

And when that does happen, it looks as if we can expect some changes at the organization, at least in terms of tone, according to this lengthy profile of Daly in the Denver Post:

The secret of Jim Daly’s success, he says only half-jokingly, is “low expectations” … Daly is as low-key, quick with a self-effacing joke and seemingly lighthearted as Dobson was authoritative, intense and formidable in defense of Christian values.

“I cannot be Dr. Dobson. I’m hoping for a different pair of shoes,” Daly said. “He’s black and white — a scientist. That’s a good thing. He’s provided clarity for the culture. For me, it’s more about having a conversation with people.”

Dobson rarely engaged directly and publicly with political opponents, although he sometimes met them behind the scenes. Daly expects to be more open.

“We’re in a democracy. How do we express Christian ethos in a way that draws people into the discussion?” Daly asked. “We are the church. We have to be more understanding and not expect the world to act like the church. We also don’t accept the church acting like the world.”

Dobson had first handed over the Focus presidency to interim leader Don Hodel, then 68, in 2003 and then hand-picked a 44-year-old Daly to serve in that position in 2005.

It took Daly some time to feel comfortable in the new role.

“I literally laughed when they said they were considering me,” Daly said. ” ‘Oh, no,’

I said. ‘You’re making a mistake.’ I wasn’t elated. I went home that night with a feeling of heaviness.”

Jim also saw his wife Jean’s “deer in the headlights” look at the thought of following Dobson’s wife, Shirley, an elder stateswoman of conservative Christianity in her own right.

“At Jim’s investiture ceremony, I could not stop sobbing,” Jean said. “I thought I had to be Shirley Dobson. Jim told me, ‘I have no expectations of you.’ And, nothing’s changed for me.”

A few months ago, when the 72-year-old Dobson resigned as chairman of the Focus board, completely surrendering any administrative role over the 1,000-person staff, Daly and the new generation of leaders truly came into their own.

Dobson was no longer the boss, just the voice of the flagship radio broadcast.

When Dobson stepped down, he said a few words on the occasion. And then Daly spoke.

“What we want to see are more families like Barack Obama’s,” Daly said.

“Everybody’s jaw went clunk, including Dr. Dobson’s,” Daly recalled, laughing. “But we can respect what Obama does well. We can focus more on the positive. And I respect his family.”

Daly says he is results-oriented, not an ideologue.

“When those who are right, left and center all say, ‘Let’s make abortion rare,’ let’s meet at that starting point,” Daly said. “Let’s shove off the rhetoric and get together on practical matters.”