I’ve made this point before, but I recently made it again on a WNYC (New York City’s National Public Radio station) podcast called “On the Divided Dial.” (It was repackaged and rereleased last week). I appreciate journalist Katie Thornton willingness to put my James Dobson and Christian radio story in her reporting. Listen below. I come in around the 29 minute mark.
Not everything I said in the interview made it into the final production. I told Katie Thornton that as a result of listening to James Dobson, my working class, non-college-educated father, a former Marine, a general contractor, a staunch disciplinarian of his children, and, at times, a pretty scary guy became a better father and husband as a result of his born-again experience. And James Dobson helped him do that. In other words, the story of James Dobson’s ministry is not as flat as some historians make it out to be . Feminist historians of evangelicalism have done a nice job of complicating the picture of American evangelicalism by showing the way the movement has treated women. But I don’t think I’ve ever read a scholarly historical treatment of Dobson that takes seriously the experience of my father and many others like him. (If there is such a book, I am eager to learn about it). Such a book would require taking seriously the influence Dobson, and Christian radio writ-large, had on working-class families.
This is the complicated work of the historian, right? No one has a simple, black and white history. It is always complicated, complex — and moreso when we’re still relatively contemporary to the history. Evangelical media of the late 20th century is more than power, politics, and patriarchy … though all of those are present, too.