Focus on Family head resigns

DENVER — Conservative evangelical leader James Dobson has resigned as chairman of Focus on the Family, but will continue to play a prominent role at the organization he founded more than three decades ago.

Dobson notified the board of his decision last Wednesday, and the 950 employees of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based ministry were informed that Friday morning, said Jim Daly, the group’s president and chief executive officer.

Dobson, 72, will continue to host Focus on the Family’s flagship radio program, write a monthly newsletter and speak out on moral issues, Daly said.

Dobson’s resignation as board chairman “lessens his administrative burden” and is the latest step in a succession plan, the group said. Dobson began relinquishing control six years ago by stepping down as president and CEO.

While Focus on the Family emphasizes that it devotes most of its resources to offering parenting and marriage advice, it is best known for promoting conservative moral stands in politics.

Dobson has gotten more involved in politics in recent years. He endorsed Republican John McCain last year after initially saying he would not, and also sharply criticized Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

Gay-rights and liberal groups issued statements warning that Dobson is not leaving the scene. Americans United for Separation of Church and State portrayed the move as Focus on the Family “merely rearranging the deck chairs on its big, intolerant ship.”

D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist who studies evangelicals and politics, said that although Dobson will continue to be Focus on the Family’s public face, his board resignation is significant because “he no longer has his hands on the levers of power” there.

At the same time, Focus officials have acknowledged difficulties in raising money from younger families critical to its future. The economy also has hurt. Last fall, Focus on the Family eliminated more than 200 staff positions, its largest employee cutbacks ever.