By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
He grew up in a home without a dad. So far as politics goes, he says, "The question I have is where can we meet on common ground." He says he wants to find "a kinder, gentler way" on the abortion issue." His official title is president—of Focus on the Family.
Check out the Washington Post's interview with Focus President and CEO Jim Daly about his trip to the White House on Friday for Father's Day festivities. Daly's consistently kind words for President Obama are a revolution from James Dobson's decades-long reign at Focus. But with Dobson still hosting Focus's flagship daily radio show and overseeing its sister political group, Focus on the Family Action, can Daly really de-politicize the ministry in the public eye?
How unexpected that the Obama-evangelicals story line is evolving from one about the president's ability to overcome the Democratic Party's image as secular and hostile to evangelical interests (with Focus praising him, he's surely succeeding) to one about Focus's ability to overcome its right-wing image (jury's still out).
Highlights from the Daly interview:
What did you think of the fatherhood presentation this afternoon?
It was outstanding. There wasn't anything lacking in the president's presentation. He reaffirmed the importance of fathering and the damage done when fathers are lacking in the home. And it's something that is core to Focus on the Family as well. Thought it was gracious for the White House to extend an invitation to Focus on the Family. We're certainly going to have enough areas to disagree on certain policies. But one of the things I want to do as president of Focus is when there is common ground that we can pull together and say, "This is good. This is a good thing." And personally, I am 47, like the president. I also didn't have a father. So I can identify with what he describes as that hole in your heart. Anything we can do to help kids fill that void, I applaud. It's something we're trying to do every day at Focus and I think it's wonderful for the government to also lend its support in that way.
Tell me about your plans for Focus on the Family. How do you plan to change the organization or keep it the same?
On the social issues, there is consistency. I am pro-life, I am pro-traditional marriage. At the same time, I'm also a person who looks for the conversation. I do want to talk to people who wouldn't necessarily agree with me. That doesn't offend me. I'm kind of a results-oriented person. I'd really like to solve some problems. The question I have is where can we meet on common ground. Like today, it's like OK, can we lift the issue of fatherhood and make a difference in the country together? I think it's a good thing for the country. The country benefits. I don't know on the tougher issues like abortion, like traditional marriage, or homosexual marriage, what can be done there. But it's a democracy. We get our voice out there, and that's my goal—to be part of the process.
In that way, there won't be a great difference. I think the difference will be the dialogue—engaging people who may disagree in a more aggressive way—in a good way.
What did you say to the president?
We shook hands, and I thanked him for the day. And I thanked him for putting attention on this issue of fatherhood and mentioned that, like him, I am 47, and I was raised without a dad. He had made a comment during his presentation that when he called his daughters during the campaign, they would answer with one word. I said, "I was glad to hear you say that because my sons are a similar age and do the same thing, so I'm glad it's not me."
He actually said congratulations for becoming president of Focus. I thought that was gracious, and I appreciated that acknowledgment. We have to remember that we're all human beings. We're all made in the image of God, and I'm sure everybody is trying hard and, to the degree that we can help in any way, that's what we want to do. . . .
What about on abortion. You were quoted in the Denver Post as saying, "When those who are left, right and center all say, 'Let's make abortion rare.' Let's simply meet at the starting point. Let's shove off the rhetoric and get together on a practical matter." What did you mean by that?
What I meant is that I would like to sit down with those who may be pro choice when they say, "Let's make abortion rare." I obviously am pro life and would like to see that practice ended because I think in our humanity we can find better solutions to bringing children into the world. From what I understand, there are far more parents looking for infants than there are abortions. It would be nice to create a national database of parents waiting for kids.
[We need to find] a kinder, gentler way to approach this topic and see if we can make abortion rare without, as pro-lifers, abandoning our desire to see it eliminated altogether. That would be a great starting point. The very fact that those who support abortion would say, "We would like to make it rare," says something about the fact that they must not feel good about it. So let's start the dialogue.