By Warren Cole Smith
Evangelical News Press
COMMENTARY–About a year ago, at the 2007 Value Voters Summit hosted by the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., Dr. James Dobson was recognized for his lifetime of work with pro-family causes. After receiving an award, he made some remarks.
At that time, remember, Mike Huckabee was still in the race for the presidency, and all of the Republican candidates had spoken to the group earlier that day or the day before. So the air was politically charged, and everyone there was anxious to hear what Dr. Dobson was going to say. Dr. Dobson had already said he “under no circumstances” could support John McCain for the presidency. Would he repeat that assertion? There was an air of extreme anticipation in the air as he took the podium.
As I waited in the press gallery, though, I had other thoughts on my mind. I was remembering a day a few months earlier, on the very day Dr. Dobson denounced him, John McCain was holding a press conference in Charlotte, and I had a chance to interview him. I repeated Dr. Dobson’s scathing words to Sen. McCain and asked him for his response.
It’s hard to remember now, but a year and a half ago, when I asked that question of Sen. McCain, his campaign was all but dead. There were no hard-nosed national media folk following him around. This room was full of fawning local media who had been asking softball questions. So when I threw this inside fastball, you could almost hear an audible gasp. For a few seconds, Sen. McCain gave me a stare that made me believe every story I had ever heard about his temper. But, remarkably, he spoke softly, almost humbly: “Let me go on record as saying that I believe in redemption. I have many evangelical supporters, and I hope that Dr. Dobson will change his mind.”
Would this night of the Value Voters Summit be the night he changed his mind? Hardly. In front of 2000 religious conservatives at the Washington Hilton, he thundered, “I will not vote for the lesser of two evils, because at the end of the day, you’re still voting for evil.” The crowd — hungry for red-meat and most of them Huckabee supporters — rose to its feet in an extended standing ovation.
A year later, though, things have changed. I happened to be with Dr. Dobson in Minneapolis on the day Sen. McCain named Sarah Palin to be his running-mate. As soon as the announcement was made public, I asked him his reaction. “Very positive,” he said. A day later, meeting privately with a group of Republican power brokers on the eve of the Republican National Convention, Dr. Dobson admitted that he may have been wrong when he made his “under no circumstances” remark. Earlier (July 21, 2008), on his radio program, he said this: “I never thought I would hear myself saying this, but it’s where I am: While I am not endorsing Sen. John McCain, the possibility is there that I might.”
In Dr. Dobson’s October 2008 newsletter, his last monthly newsletter before the election, he stopped short of endorsing Sen. McCain, but he did say this: “While I will not endorse either candidate this year, I can say that I am now supportive of Senator John McCain and his bid for the presidency.”
What Dr. Dobson is essentially confessing is that as powerful as he is, he has not found a way to repeal the doctrine of original sin. It makes a glib sound-bite to say that “the lesser of two evils is still evil.” But the truth – the Gospel Truth – is that we are all sinful. We all have evil in us, and we are all capable of evil acts. All human choices are, at one level, choosing between the lesser of two evils.
The Apostle Paul put it this way: “For I delight in the law of God in my inner being, but I see in my body a different principle waging war with the law in my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin that exists in my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is infected by death?” (Rom. 7: 22-24)
I’ve certainly got my own issues with Sen. McCain. He wasn’t my first choice, or even my second choice. But given the evils of John McCain and the evils of Barack Obama, I will have no trouble pulling the lever for John McCain in November.
One more point: perhaps the most profound lesson – and the greatest irony – in The Great Dobson-McCain Controversy of 2008 is this: it’s likely that John McCain’s soft, humble answer – “I believe in redemption” – was steadier and closer to biblical truth than the theological fuzziness and political flip-flopping of the leaders of the so-called “religious right.”
The good news is that now, it appears, Dr. Dobson realizes that, too.
Warren Cole Smith is the publisher of the Evangelical Press News Service and a resident of North Carolina.