James Dobson's War on America

A co-founder and one of seven original board members of the massive religious media empire Focus on the Family, Alexander-Moegerle worked for Focus President Jim Dobson for a decade, serving as a sort of Ed McMahon to Dobson's Christian Johnny Carson persona. Working side by side, the two delivered folksy family advice to millions of grateful parents and radio listeners. Beginning in 1977, Alexander-Moegerle helped build an empire that started as a two-employee operation in Arcadia, Calif., and witnessed Dobson's shift as he became one of Washington's power brokers.Now, using detailed documents and stories gleamed from his up-close and personal working relationship with Dobson, Alexander-Moegerle paints James Dobson as a , sexist, racist homophobe whose power-hungry drive is matched only by a willful, childlike personality that is at once insecure and rigid with an insistence that he is always right.Alexander-Moegerle fell from grace after he and his wife divorced amid what he says was highly inappropriate meddling by Dobson. Months later, Alexander-Moegerle began dating his new assistant, and, after a courtship, informed Dobson they planned to marry. Displeased with the new relationship, Dobson pressured him to resign in 1987, Alexander-Moergerle says.In his recently released James Dobson's War on America (Prometheus Books, $25.95), Alexander-Moegerle tells his story and chronicles Dobson's rise to power. The former Focus executive's 303-page, eye-opening account is a startling contrast to the carefully crafted public image of humble father, loving husband and revered Christian leader.In sometimes excruciatingly painful detail, Alexander-Moegerle paints Dobson as a controlling megalomaniac whose street-fighting techniques leave no room for compromise. The true Jim Dobson, Alexander-Moegerle writes, has a penchant for the good life, operates in secret, and "has come into late middle age an angry, contentious man who has declared an all-out war to take America back to the past."In a two-page written response, Focus Vice President Paul Hetrick maintains the book is full of inaccuracies and questions Alexander-Moegerle's motives, calling him a "disgruntled ex-employee."However, Alexander-Moegerle backs many of his assertions with documentation and specific examples. He details Dobson as a corporate octopus who has blacklisted other Christian broadcasters and destroyed their careers, and whose control over Focus on the Family's board of directors leaves him virtually untouchable. He also describes Dobson's dislike and distrust of another powerful Christian leader -- Pat Robertson.And, despite Dobson's message that men must "turn their hearts toward home," Alexander-Moegerle reports that Dobson set a frantic work pace and demanded his employees follow his lead. "I have never seen a man push so hard, and put in so many hours," the author said in a recent phone interview from his Southern California home.However, Alexander-Moegerle also carefully credits Dobson for offering helpful advice to stressed-out parents. "Jim's grave mistake was to enter the public arena," Alexander-Moegerle says. "He's not qualified, and doesn't have the skills or temperament for politics."Dobson -- whose $110 million ministry moved to Colorado Springs in 1991 -- preaches to millions through his daily radio show, his books, magazines, video and audio tapes and through newspaper columns and televised daily "news segments.""He has an enormous amount of power through his organization and his persona," says Jim Stafford, a senior writer with Christianity Today who has written about Dobson.Alexander-Moegerle believes his expose will ignite sparks of indignation, particularly from within the walls of Focus on the Family. But Stafford, who has yet to read the book, doesn't believe America's evangelical Christian community will take much notice."Jim Dobson's reputation among evangelical Christians is so strong, [the book] will be disregarded," Stafford says.Stafford describes Alexander-Moegerle and Dobson's split as a "sad, unresolved quarrel." Still, he agrees with Alexander-Moegerle's assertion that Dobson -- and other Christian leaders -- are too often regarded as untouchable."I think in general the evangelical world hasn't had a climate of accountability," he says. "There's been a tendency to bury complaints or criticism, and avoid scrutiny under the sense that the mission is so important that we don't have to ask those sometimes unpleasant questions."Despite his stature among evangelical Christians, Dobson has remained an enigma who usually refuses to cooperate with the secular press. Alexander-Moegerle counts Dobson's desire to set public policy but refuse public accountability among his "greatest flaws." He describes several reasons why Dobson insists on waging guerrilla warfare under the radar -- most notably, an almost "hysterical" aversion to the press and plain fear of the Fourth Estate."He perceives representatives of the media to be god-like in their power to influence the public and Mafia-like in their power to hurt him," Alexander-Moegerle writes. "Washington knows the power he's accumulated, but the mainstream media is just discovering him."However, Christianity Today's Stafford notes that many strong leaders -- whether they be of corporations or ministries -- are similarly elusive. "[Dobson's] a strong-minded person, but how answerable is any strong-minded leader of any very large organization?" Stafford notes.Alexander-Moegerle is not convinced."I don't think an American leader has the right to say ... 'O yes, I want power and I want to change the society, but I refuse to be scrutinized by the press.' I personally find that unacceptable."Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is blunt about Dobson's ability to duck negative publicity. "This guy, he gets free ride after free ride after free ride, and he's more powerful than Pat Robertson," Lynn says. "And, he wants to transform a generation of our children."However, in Focus' back yard, the just-released book is generating interest. The Pikes Peak Library District reported last week a waiting list eight names deep. For obvious reasons, it will not appear on Christian booksellers' shelves alongside Dobson-authored tomes.Prometheus Books Editor-in-chief Steven L. Mitchell says James Dobson's War on America has generated a "great deal of interest" from the press, and Vice President Al Gore's office has special-ordered two copies.While recognizing that many of Dobson's supporters will likely ignore the book or dispute its credence, Mitchell believes Alexander-Moegerle has thoughtfully chronicled an important movement from a first-person perspective."When a man involved in the co-founding of Focus on the Family came to us with concerns about where the movement is headed, it fascinated us," Mitchell says. "This book is certainly one that should be widely discussed."Americans United's Lynn has long followed Dobson's ministry with a critical eye, and says he was initially "more than a little skeptical" when Alexander-Moegerle first approached him asking for an interview. "I became increasingly convinced that here was a man who had experienced tremendous hardship by the treatment of Jim Dobson and his operation purporting to be for the family and Christ," Lynn says.Given Dobson's reputation, Lynn says the ministry is more likely to stonewall than rebut the issues raised. "You are not going to see Jim Dobson debate Gil Alexander-Moegerle on Nightline," he says. "It ain't gonna happen."Recently, Alexander-Moergerle appeared on Murphy's Law, a radio talk show hosted by Colorado Springs attorney and longtime Dobson critic John Patrick Michael Murphy. Murphy recounted the hostility Focus directed at him over his controversial 1996 statewide initiative to tax churches and other nonprofit organizations.Alexander-Moegerle described the strong response -- which helped ensure the measure's overwhelming defeat -- as classic Dobson behavior. "In Jim Dobson's world, there are no people who honestly see things differently, just bad people who see things differently," he says.Seven months after he resigned, Alexander-Moegerle attempted to sue Dobson for unfair dismissal. Then -- and now -- no policy exists barring divorced and/or remarried people from working at Focus, and indeed, several current board members and at least one senior vice president are divorced.Alexander-Moegerle says that, at the time, Dobson expressed fear that a rumor -- albeit false -- that Alexander-Moegerle divorced his wife in order to marry his "secretary" would harm the ministry. In a letter dated April 27, 1987, Alexander-Moegerle resigned. The rumor, Alexander-Moegerle says, was later circulated by Dobson himself as an explanation of why his longtime partner left Focus.According to Alexander-Moergerle, a California superior court judge dismissed the lawsuit because the court was required to uphold separation of church and state; the judge ruled that civil courts could not get involved because Focus on the Family is a ministry. Dobson later refused to appear before an ecclesiastical court to resolve the differences, leaving him without any recourse.Now an executive at Southern California Edison utility company, Alexander-Moegerle is steering his after-hours efforts into ensuring nonprofit ministries are legally held accountable to the same hiring and firing practices as private-sector employers."The abuses and conduct and corruptive behaviors are not acceptable in any private-sector employment situation," he says. "Why on God's earth are they acceptable in an organization that is said to be observed by God Himself?"


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