I've just started reading Jesus Machine by Dan Gilgoff - it's a book that traces the history of James Dobson and how his Focus on the Family empire was built and how he's come to hold such political power.
I'm only into the early chapters, but I read a story about Dobson this morning that got me to thinking and wondering. Apparently, Dobson's father prophesied that Dobson Jr. would be wildly successful in his mission to carry God's word into the world. Dobson's dad, before dying of a heart attack in his 60s, said he had talked with God and God had told him that he would continue his great work through his son.
I had a little flash of insecurity upon reading that passage. I thought, well, what if God IS on the side of Dobson and IS blessing his efforts and spreading HIS word through people like Dobson?
It seems like ventures like Whosoever or other more "liberal Christian" organizations struggle to get their message out or struggle to be heard or struggle to get money or struggle to articulate their message clearly -- on and on it goes, struggle after struggle. While doors swing open wide for Dobson and those like him. Money, support, political cache, TV and radio programs - the list of success go on an on and on.
Now, as a good Southern Baptist, I was always taught that when you're doing God's will things work out for you - all these things are added unto you when you're seeking God's righteousness. Struggles cease and God smooths the way so God's will can be accomplished.
So, it got me to wondering - is it truly a sign of God's blessings on your ministry to be wildly successful in the world? To have those barriers drop like the walls of Jericho? Dobson seems to move in the world with such ease - successful at everything he attempts - making money all the way. Dobson is certainly effective at business and spreading a message, but it is truly God's message? Would Dobson be just as successful if he had a passion for selling ice cream or insurance as he is for selling God? Is Dobson really a man of God or is he just a shrewd businessman who would succeed no matter what the product? Did God really speak to Dobson's father or was this wishful thinking from a dying man who regretted not doing as much as he might have been able to do?
But, then I'm reminded of Jesus who eschewed popularity, money, fame, political cache and all that Dobson has garnered in his lifetime. Jesus struggled constantly - no money, little support - but his message seemed to stick - even into our modern times.
If Jesus had all the same technology and advantages we do, which kind of organization would be he running, Focus on the Family or Soulforce? The Christian Coalition or Whosoever? If he had the chance that we have in this modern world to have a high, powerful, profitable platform from which to proclaim his message - would he use it?
Is this truly how God works in the world - through the powerful, the rich, the well-connected, the wise entrepreneur? Or does God still work through the lowly, the disenfranchised, the outcast, the poor and politically disempowered?
Or, am I limiting God? Is this a both/and situation instead of an either/or? Does God find ways to work through both situations? But, geez, why does "our side" have to struggle so much to get what we believe God has shared with us out into the world? Why is it so easy for a message of exclusion to be get out into the world and a message of inclusion to struggle so badly to be heard?
But, perhaps that's always been the way as human beings split off into tribe after tribe after tribe, warring against one another. Perhaps messages of exclusion have always had the power to resonate deeper than messages of inclusion. Messages of exclusion have a greater appeal to our sense of being special - that we have something that someone else doesn't and that sets us apart from "them." Messages if exclusion feed our need to feel superior - like we have some special knowledge or blessing that "they" don't have. Messages of exclusion appeal to our baser needs - that need for our own individual ego to survive any assault.
Inclusion feels like assimilation - like no one is special because we recognize that we are all special. There's no opportunity to stand out in the crowd or have our cake and eat it too. There's no way to get ahead, be the grand poobah or rally any kind of special recognition if we are all included in God's grace. If we are all destined for glory, then who do we attack to get ahead? Who can we shove out of line if we're all headed for God's realm?
Indeed, it's easy to see why messages of exclusion garner so much of the world's adoration, the world's support and the world's money. It makes us feel special. It makes us feel superior. It makes us feel "right" while consigning others to the hell of being "wrong."
My original question in all of this: Is Dobson's worldly success and ease of getting that success proof that he is indeed doing God's will in the world?
I'm still pondering.
I'd love your thoughts!