Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family
FOTF logo.svg
MottoHelping Families Thrive
Founded1977; 42 years ago (1977)
California, United States
FounderJames Dobson
95-3188150 (EIN)
Area served
Key people
Jim Daly, President
$95,209,896 (2011 FY)[1]
640 (as of 2013)[2]

Focus on the Family (FOTF or FotF) is an American fundamentalist Christian organization founded in 1977 in Southern California by James Dobson, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.[3] It promotes social conservative views on public policy. The group is one of a number of evangelical parachurch organizations that rose to prominence in the 1980s. As of the 2017 tax filing year, Focus on the Family declared itself to be a church.[4]

Focus on the Family's proclaimed mission is "nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide".[5] It promotes creationism,[6] abstinence-only sex education,[7] adoption only by heterosexuals,[8] school prayer, and traditional gender roles. It opposes pre-marital sex, pornography, drugs, gambling, divorce, and abortion. It lobbies against LGBT rights, including LGBT adoption, LGBT parenting, and same-sex marriage.[9] Focus on the Family has been criticized by psychiatrists, psychologists, and social scientists for misrepresenting their research in order to bolster its religious ideology and political agenda.

The core promotional activities of the organization include a daily radio broadcast by its president Jim Daly and his colleagues, providing free resources in line with the group's views, and publishing magazines, videos, and audio recordings. The organization also produces programs for targeted audiences, such as Adventures in Odyssey for children, dramas, and Family Minute.

History and organization

Focus on the Family's former logo.
Focus on the Family's Visitor's Welcome Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

From 1977 to 2003, James Dobson served as the sole leader of the organization. In 2003, Donald P. Hodel became president and chief executive officer, tasked with the day-to-day operations.[10] Dobson remained chairman of the board of directors, with chiefly creative and speaking duties. In March 2005, Hodel retired and Jim Daly, formerly the Vice President in charge of Focus on the Family's International Division, assumed the role of president and chief executive officer.[11]

In November 2008, the organization announced that it was eliminating 202 jobs, representing 18 percent of its workforce. The organization also cut its budget from $160 million in fiscal 2008 to $138 million for fiscal 2009.[12]

In February 2009, Dobson resigned his chairmanship,[13] He left Focus on the Family in early 2010, and subsequently founded lk as a non-profit organization and launched a new broadcast that began airing nationally on May 3, 2010. He is no longer affiliated with Focus on the Family.

On June 23, 2017, Vice President Mike Pence attended the organization's 40th anniversary celebration; at the event, he praised founder James Dobson, stated that President Donald Trump is an ally of the organization, and added that the Trump administration supports its goals (including the abolition of Planned Parenthood).[14][15][16] Pence's attendance at the event, along with Focus on the Family's stances on LGBT rights, were criticized by the Human Rights Campaign.[17]

In its IRS Form 990 for Tax Year 2015, dated October 26, 2017, Focus on the Family for the first time declared itself a "church, convention of churches or association of churches", claiming that it was no longer required to file the IRS disclosure form and that the sources and disposition of its $89 million budget were "Not for public inspection." Tax Attorney Gail Harmon, who advises nonprofit organisations on tax law, said she found the declaration "shocking", noting that "There’s nothing about them that meets the traditional definition of what a church is. They don’t have a congregation, they don’t have the rites of various parts of a person’s life."[18]


Marriage and family

Focus on the Family sees its primary ministry as helping couples "build healthy marriages that reflect God's design", based on what it sees as "morals and values grounded in biblical principles."[19] The group strongly opposes same-sex marriage.[20]

Love Won Out

Focus on the Family formed Love Won Out, an ex-gay ministry, in 1998 and in 2009, it was sold to Exodus International. In June 2013, however, Exodus ceased activities, and it issued a statement which repudiated its aims and apologized for the harm their pursuit caused to LGBT people; see Exodus International § Closure.

Wait No More

Focus on the Family's Wait No More ministry works with adoption agencies, church leaders and ministry partners to recruit families to adopt children from foster care.[21] The program co-sponsors several adoption conferences throughout the country each year. Since November 2008, more than 2,700 families have started the adoption process through Wait No More.[22] In Colorado, the number of children waiting for adoption dropped from about 800 to 350, due in-part to the efforts of Wait No More.[23] Focus on the Family's efforts to encourage adoption among Christian families is part of a larger effort by Evangelicals to, in their perception, live out what they see as the "biblical mandate" to help children.[24] Focus on the Family supports banning adoption by homosexual or unmarried cohabiting couples.[25]

Option Ultrasound Program

Focus on the Family's Option Ultrasound Program (OUP) provides grants to qualifying crisis pregnancy centers to cover 80 percent of the cost of an ultrasound machine or sonography training. As of October 31, 2014, the program has provided 655 grants to centers in all 50 states and Bucharest, Romania.[citation needed] Focus on the Family began OUP in 2004 with the goal of convincing women not to have abortions. FOTF officials said that ultrasound services help a woman better understand her pregnancy and baby's development, creating an important "bonding opportunity" between "mother and unborn child".[26]

The Option Ultrasound Program reported in 2014 that it has helped prevent more than 270,000 abortions since 2004. A study released in February 2012 shows that ultrasounds do not have a direct impact on an abortion decision.[27] In 2011, FOTF President Jim Daly announced that while FOTF will continue to fight for the overturn of Roe v. Wade, in the meantime he would like to work with pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood who state they want to make abortion "safe, legal and rare" towards the shared goal of making abortion less common.[28] Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) introduced a sonogram bill in 2011 and – citing Focus on the Family – told Congress that "78 percent of women who see and hear the fetal heartbeat choose life." She was later corrected by Focus on the Family, which released a statement saying they did not release such data.[29]


Boundless.org is Focus on the Family's website for young adults[30] featuring articles, a blog, a podcast, and a conference. The website covers topics such as singleness, dating, relationships, popular culture, career and sex.[31] Boundless.org recommends online dating as a means for Christian singles to find potential spouses.[32]

Day of Dialogue

The Day of Dialogue is a student-led event which takes place April 16. Founders describe the goal of the event, created in opposition to the anti-bullying and anti-homophobic Day of Silence, as "encouraging honest and respectful conversation among students about God's design for sexuality." It was previously known as the Day of Truth and was founded by the Alliance Defense Fund in 2005.[33]

National Day of Prayer

The National Day of Prayer Task Force is an American evangelical conservative Christian non-profit organization which organizes, coordinates, and presides over Evangelical Christian religious observances each year on the National Day of Prayer. The website of the NDP Task Force states that "its business affairs are separate" from those of Focus on the Family, but also that "between 1990 and 1993, Focus on the Family did provide grants in support of the NDP Task Force" and that "Focus on the Family is compensated for services rendered."[34] Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson, was chairwoman of the NDP Task Force from 1991 until 2016, when Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, assumed the post.[35]

Other ministries

Focus on the Family has additional ministries. Many are aimed at specific demographics including teenage boys and girls, children, college students, families, young adults, parents, while others are aimed at specific concerns, such as sexual problems, entertainment, and politics. Many have their own regular publications.

Political positions and activities

Focus on the Family's 501(c)(3) status prevents them from advocating any individual political candidate.[36] Focus on the Family's magazine Citizen is exclusively devoted to cultural and public policy issues. FOTF also has an affiliated group, Family Policy Alliance, though the two groups are legally separate. As a 501(c)(4) social welfare group, Family Policy Alliance has fewer political lobbying restrictions. FOTF's revenue in 2012 was USD $90.5 million, and that of Family Policy Alliance (formerly CitizenLink) was USD $8 million.[37][38]

Focus on the Family supports teaching of what it considers to be traditional "family values". It supports student-led and initiated prayer and supports the practice of corporal punishment.[39] It strongly opposes LGBT rights, abortion, pornography, gambling, and pre-marital and extramarital sexual activity.[40] Focus on the Family also promotes a religiously-centered conception of American identity and the support of Israel.

Focus on the Family maintains a strong stand against abortion, and provides grant funding and medical training to assist crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs; also known as pregnancy resource centers) in obtaining ultrasound machines. According to the organization, this funding, which has allowed CPCs to provide pregnant women with live sonogram images of the developing fetus, has led directly to the birth of over 1500 babies who would have otherwise been aborted.[41][42] The organization has been staunchly opposed to public funding for elective abortions.

FOTF's bookstore at their headquarters contains a variety of material on Christian living, Bibles, etc.

Focus on the Family broadcasts an eponymous national talk radio program. The program has a range of themes, such as fundamentalist Christian-oriented assistance for victims of rape or child abuse; parenting difficulties; child adoption; husband/wife roles; family history and traditions; struggles with gambling, pornography, alcohol, and drugs.

Focus on the Family has been a prominent supporter of the pseudoscience[43][44] of intelligent design, publishing pro-intelligent design articles in its Citizen magazine and selling intelligent design videos on its website.[45][46] Focus on the Family co-published the intelligent design videotape Unlocking the Mystery of Life with the Discovery Institute, hub of the intelligent design movement.[47]

2008 Presidential campaign

In the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Focus on the Family shifted from supporting Mike Huckabee, to not supporting any candidate, to finally accepting the Republican ticket once Sarah Palin was added to the ticket. Prior to the election, a television and letter campaign was launched predicting terrorist attacks in four U.S. cities and equating the U.S. with Nazi Germany. This publicity was condemned by the Anti Defamation League.[48] Within a month before the general election, Focus on the Family began distributing a 16-page letter titled Letter from 2012 in Obama's America, which describes an imagined American future in which "many of our freedoms have been taken away by a liberal Supreme Court of the United States and a majority of Democrats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate."[49] According to USA Today, the letter "is part of an escalation in rhetoric from Christian right activists" trying to paint Democratic Party presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama in a negative light.[50]

Focus on the Family Action supported Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) in his successful December 2, 2008, runoff election win. The organization, according to the Colorado Independent, donated $35,310 in radio ads to the Chambliss runoff campaign effort. As the Independent reports, the Focus-sponsored ads were aired in about a dozen Georgia markets. The commercials were produced in the weeks after Focus laid off 202 employees – some 20 percent of its workforce – because of the national economic crisis.[51]

Opposition to same-sex marriage

Focus on the Family works to preserve its interpretation of Biblical ideals of marriage and parenthood, taking a strong stance against LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage. Dobson expressed great concern for the institution of marriage in a 2003 letter to the Christian community. In reference to the same-sex marriage movement, Dobson says that the institution of marriage, "is about to descend into a state of turmoil unlike any other in human history." Focus on the Family believes that marriage should be defined as only being between a man and a woman. Dobson supported the failed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman, preventing courts and state legislatures from challenging this definition.[52]

In the same letter, Dobson says that traditional marriage is the cornerstone of society, and he states that the goal of the gay and lesbian movement is not to redefine marriage but to destroy the institution itself. "Most gays and lesbians do not want to marry each other…the intention here is to destroy marriage altogether." Dobson argues that, without the institution of marriage, everyone would enjoy the benefits of marriage without limiting the number of partners or their gender. Focus on the Family views allowing same-sex marriage as "…a stepping-stone on the road to eliminating all societal restrictions on marriage and sexuality."[52]

Focus on the Family asserts that the Bible lays out the correct plan for marriage and family. Dobson says that "God created Eve to complement Adam physically, spiritually, and emotionally". Dobson also uses the biblical figure Paul to affirm his views on marriage. He states that Paul maintained that men and women mutually complete each other, and to exchange a "natural relationship for an unnatural one is sinful".[52]

In reference to same-sex marriage and same-sex couples with children, Dobson states, "Same-sex relationships undermine the future generation's understanding of the fundamental principles of marriage, parenthood, and gender." He also stated that the alleged destruction of what it considers to be the traditional family by permitting same-sex marriage will lead to "unstable homes for children".[52]

Focus on the Family became more active in the same-sex marriage opposition movement after the Supreme Court of Canada declared that restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 2003.[52]

Dobson spoke at the 2004 rally against gay marriage called Mayday for Marriage. It was here for the first time that he endorsed a presidential candidate, George W. Bush. Here he denounced the Supreme Court rulings in favor of gay rights, and he urged rally participants to get out and vote so that the battle against gay rights could be won in the Senate.[53]

In an interview with Christianity Today, Dobson also explained that he was not in favor of civil unions. He stated that civil unions are just same-sex marriage under a different name. The main priority of the opposing same-sex marriage movement is to define marriage on the federal level as between a man and a woman and combat the passage of civil unions later.[54]

Civil rights advocacy groups identify Focus on the Family as a major opponent of gay rights. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights and hate group monitoring organization,[55] described Focus on the Family as one of a "dozen major groups [which] help drive the religious right's anti-gay crusade".[56] The SPLC does not list Focus on the Family as a hate group, however, since it opposes homosexuality "on strictly Biblical grounds".[57]

Focus on the Family is a member of ProtectMarriage.com, a coalition formed to sponsor California Proposition 8, a ballot initiative to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples, which passed in 2008,[58] but was subsequently struck down as being unconstitutional by a federal court in Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

Misrepresentation of research

Social scientists have criticized Focus on the Family for misrepresenting their research in order to bolster its own perspective.[59] Researcher Judith Stacey, whose work was used by Focus on the Family to claim that gays and lesbians do not make good parents, said that the claim was "a direct misrepresentation of the research."[60] She elaborated, "Whenever you hear Focus on the Family, legislators or lawyers say, 'Studies prove that children do better in families with a mother and a father,' they are referring to studies which compare two-parent heterosexual households to single-parent households. The studies they are talking about do not cite research on families headed by gay and lesbian couples."[61] FOTF claimed that Stacey's allegation was without merit and that their position is that the best interests of children are served when there is a father and a mother. "We haven't said anything about sexual orientation," said Glenn Stanton.[60]

James Dobson cited the research of Kyle Pruett and Carol Gilligan in a Time Magazine guest article in the service of a claim that two women cannot raise a child; upon finding out that her work had been used in this way, Gilligan wrote a letter to Dobson asking him to apologize and to cease and desist from citing her work, describing herself as "mortified to learn that you had distorted my work...Not only did you take my research out of context, you did so without my knowledge to support discriminatory goals that I do not agree with...there is nothing in my research that would lead you to draw the stated conclusions you did in the Time article."[62][63][64] Pruett wrote a similar letter, in which he said that Dobson "cherry-picked a phrase to shore up highly (in my view) discriminatory purposes. This practice is condemned in real science, common though it may be in pseudo-science circles. There is nothing in my longitudinal research or any of my writings to support such conclusions," and asked that FOTF not cite him again without permission.[65]

After Elizabeth Saewyc's research on teen suicide was used by Focus on the Family to promote conversion therapy she said that "the research has been hijacked for somebody's political purposes or ideological purposes and that's worrisome", and that research in fact linked the suicide rate among LGBT teens to harassment, discrimination, and closeting.[66] Other scientists who have criticized Focus on the Family for misrepresenting their findings include Robert Spitzer,[67] Gary Remafedi,[65] and Angela Phillips.[67]

Football advertisements

In 2010, Focus on the Family bought ad time during Super Bowl XLIV to air a commercial featuring Heisman Trophy winning Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam. In the ad, Pam described Tim as a "miracle baby" who "almost didn't make it into this world", and further elaborated that "with all our family's been through, we have to be tough" (after which Pam was promptly tackled by Tim). The ad directed viewers to the organization's website.[68][69]

Women's rights groups asked CBS not to air the then-unseen ad, arguing that it was divisive. Planned Parenthood released a video response of its own featuring fellow NFL player Sean James.[70][71] The claim that Tebow's family chose not to perform an abortion was also widely criticized; critics felt that the claim was implausible because it would be unlikely for doctors to recommend the procedure because abortion is illegal in the Philippines.[69][72] CBS's decision to run the ad was also criticized for deviating from its past policy to reject advocacy-type ads during the Super Bowl, including ads by left-leaning groups such as PETA, MoveOn.org and the United Church of Christ (which wanted to run an ad that was pro-same-sex marriage). However, CBS stated that "we have for some time moderated our approach to advocacy submissions after it became apparent that our stance did not reflect public sentiment or industry norms on the issue."[73]

Focus on the Family produced another commercial which ran during the second quarter of the January 14, 2012 Denver Broncos-New England Patriots AFC Divisional Playoff broadcast on CBS,[74] featuring children reciting the Bible verse John 3:16.[75] The game, given the months of preceding hype and media exposure for Tim Tebow (who now played for the Broncos), was seen by more than 30 million viewers, making it the most-watched AFC Divisional Playoff in more than a decade.[76] The ad did not generate nearly the amount of controversy that surrounded the Super Bowl commercial. It did gain some national media attention, and president Jim Daly stated in a press release that its purpose was to "help everyone understand some numbers are more important than the ones on the scoreboard."[77]

Recognitions and awards

In 2008, Dobson's Focus on the Family program was nominated for induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame.[78] Nominations were made by the 157 members of the Hall of Fame and voting on inductees was handed over to the public using online voting.[79] The nomination drew the ire of gay rights activists, who launched efforts to have the program removed from the nominee list and to vote for other nominees to prevent Focus from winning.[80][81] However, on July 18, 2008, it was announced that the program had won and would be inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in a ceremony on November 8, 2008.[82] Truth Wins Out, a gay rights group, protested the ceremony with over 300 protesters.[83]

International associates and regional offices

New Zealand

Focus on the Family New Zealand is an organisation promoting a conservative Christian ideology. It has a similar agenda to the Focus on the Family organisation in the United States. Focus on the Family supported a Citizens Initiated Referendum on the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961.[84]

Other countries


The Singapore branch of FotF came under criticism in October 2014 over allegations of sexism and promoting gender stereotypes during their workshops on managing relationships for junior college students. The workshop received a complaint from both a Hwa Chong Junior College student, as well as negative feedback from the college management as being 'ineffective' and will stop by the end of the year.[86]


The Administration Building is one of four on the headquarters campus

The Focus on the Family headquarters is a four building, 47-acre (19 ha)[87] complex located off of Interstate 25 in northern Colorado Springs, Colorado, with its own ZIP code (80995).[88][89] The buildings consist of the Administration building, International building, Welcome Center and Operations building (currently unused), and totals 526,070 square feet.[90]

Focus on the Family moved to its current headquarters from Pomona, California, in 1991,[91] with 1,200 employees. In 2002, the number of employees peaked at 1,400. By September 2011, after years of layoffs, they had 650 employees remaining.[92] Christopher Ott of Salon said in 1998 that the FOTF campus has "handsome new brick buildings, professional landscaping and even its own traffic signs" and that "The buildings and grounds are well-maintained and comfortable. If there is any ostentatious or corrupt influence here, it is nowhere in sight."[88]

While visiting the Focus on the Family complex, a couple had asked the staff if handling the sightseers in the main building was a distraction. The staff told the couple that it was a distraction; afterwards the couple donated $4 million to have a welcome center built. A visiting family donated 7 miles (11 km) of wood trim from the family's Pennsylvania lumber business so FOTF could build its administration building. As of 1998, James Dobson, in his welcome center film, compares his decision to build the headquarters in Colorado Springs to the founding of the temple in Jerusalem.[88]


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