Soulforce History with Focus on the Family

Even before starting Soulforce in 1998, our founders Mel White and Gary Nixon engaged Focus on the Family and its founder, fundamentalist power broker James Dobson, with a week-long Fast for Understanding in 1994. Mel received national attention for his hunger strike, met with Focus on the Family staff, and eventually exchanged letters with James Dobson asking him to stop his inflammatory rhetoric against LGBTQ people.

Soulforce began more extensive public engagements with Focus on the Family with a rally in front of Focus headquarters in Colorado Springs on May 1 and 2, 2005. Focus on the Family shut down for the day of the rally rather than face the estimated 700 protesters camped out on their doorstep. The events ended with Soulforce activists being arrested for attempting to deliver 10,000 letters telling James Dobson and his staff how their words and actions were hurting LGBTQ people and families. This protest is featured in the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So.

This was followed up in 2006 by the 1000 Watt March, Vigil, and Concert, which featured families made up of LGBTQ people and allies walking from the Colorado state capitol building in Denver, 70 miles to the headquarters of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. The march concluded with Soulforce supporters surrounding the building like the Israelites marching around the walls of Jericho. Soulforce then held a celebratory rally and concert in front of Focus headquarters, led by Judy Shepard, actor Chad Allen, and Broadway star Billy Porter.

Soulforce publications and video productions on Focus on the Family have included “A False Focus on my Family,” and “What the Science Says—and Doesn’t Say—about Homosexuality,” written by then-Soulforce Executive Director Jeff Lutes, a family therapist. Because of James Dobson’s background in psychology, Focus on the Family has often represented their claims that children do not do well in families headed by lesbian and gay couples, and that lesbian and gay people could change their sexual orientation, as clinically supported positions. In 2006/2007, Soulforce promoted public statements by researchers like NYU’s Judith Stacey about Focus on the Family’s misuse of their research to support these false claims.

In February 2007, Soulforce activists Dotti Berry and Robynne Sapp were arrested in Focus on the Family’s headquarters for a sit-in in which they requested to meet with James Dobson. This was part of the “Focus on the Facts” campaign, which confronted the misuse of psychological research in favor of Focus on the Family’s anti-LGBTQ agenda. Dobson had misrepresented social science and the Christian faith in a Time magazine article denouncing Mary Cheney’s decision to have a baby with her partner, Heather Poe.

In 2009, Focus on the Family sold its Love Won Out “ex-gay” conferences to Exodus International, which subsequently closed in 2013.

In 2009, James Dobson resigned from his position as Focus on the Family’s Board Chair, after disagreements with its new Executive Director, Jim Daly, who has taken a less combative approach to so-called “culture war” issues. Daly has been quoted as saying “homosexuality is not a super sin,” and apologizing for Christians who say they “love the sinner and hate the sin” in referring to LGBTQ people, but really “hate the sinner.”

In 2012, after years of refusing to meet personally with Soulforce activists, Focus on the Family allowed Equality Riders into its headquarters for a tour and meeting with organization officials. Riders met with Focus on the Family’s Vice President of Communications, Gary Schneeberger, and Glenn Stanton, Director of Family Formations. The Soulforce Equality Ride meeting was mentioned in a positive New York Times article suggesting Focus on the Family was changing its rhetoric.

Daly has not changed Focus on the Family’s stance on marriage equality, however, saying that it should be explained to gay and lesbian couples that, “Marriage is just not in the cards for you.”

Shortly after the closing of Exodus International last year, Daly also released a statement continuing to defend “ex-gay” therapy.

Focus on the Family is also one of several organizations, including the National Organization for Marriage and the Christian Broadcasting Network, which meets as a part of the “World Congress of Families.” Their most recent gathering in Moscow in 2013 included a meeting with Russian legislator Yelena Mizulina, who sponsored the onerous anti-gay “propaganda” bill, which has led to violence and arrests against LGBTQ people in Russia.

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