Focus On The Family's President On Group's Work

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Jim Daly took over as president of Focus on the Family, one of the most prominent Christian evangelical organizations in the U.S., in 2005. Daly discusses his work, the organization's views on divisive issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration reform.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

Another story we're following is the standoff between the White House and some religious organizations over whether to provide contraceptive care in their health insurance plans. The White House announced a compromise on Friday, which would require insurance companies to pay the cost instead. Well, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has rejected the White House offer. So, too, have other religious organizations, including one of the most influential evangelical groups, Focus on the Family.

For a long time, Focus on the Family was synonymous with the culture wars of the '80s and '90s, but its current president, Jim Daly, who took over from James Dobson back in 2005, wanted to change the tone of the debate. Yes, abortion and same-sex marriage are still issues Focus on the Family fights to end, but Daly also wanted to depoliticize the group and take it back to its core mission: to focus on families.

His own life's story shouldn't have worked out the way it did. His mother died when he was 9. His father was an alcoholic who died a few years later. And at age 15, Daly was an orphan in and out of foster care. And he says he could never have imagined he'd one day head up one of America's most prominent Christian organizations.

JIM DALY: It threw me for a loop because I'm not perfect. I didn't come from a perfect family. And yet at the same time, in my heart, I felt the Lord saying: It's OK, I own it all. I own the broken parts, and I own the perfect part. And I think, today, I think so many families represent what I went through.

RAZ: Let's just sort of talk broadly about Focus on the Family. What did you set out to do when you took over? I mean, did you have a specific idea to kind of maybe depoliticize the organization a little bit?

DALY: Well, you know, the thing about the politics of morality, you know, a lot of people talk about we should keep these things separate, but so much in the public square deals with morality: the issue of abortion, the issue of marriage. And those things are not things I'll be backing up on. I believe, as Christians, we live in a democracy, and we need to participate in this. And I think those voices need to be heard just as those who oppose those things, their voices should be heard.

RAZ: Jim, let me ask you about same-sex marriages. You are well aware - and we just had this ruling in California about Proposition 8. It seems that the momentum is sort of moving in favor of accepting same-sex marriage across California, Washington state, this past week. If, in fact, this is something that let's say within the next five or 10 years will become an accepted right nationally, what then for you? I mean, your position doesn't change, but how do you sort of deal with that?

DALY: I think, you know, I took a lot of criticism in an article in Christianity Today for saying if you look at the research, those under 40 particularly are heavily in favor of supporting same-sex marriage.

RAZ: It's a fact.

DALY: And I get that. And I was, unfortunately, I guess, one of the Christian leaders that at least admitted that. But you do need to have your eyes wide open. I think it is detrimental, and I think it will devastate and deconstruct traditional marriage in ways that we can't even anticipate right now.

At the same time, man, I understand it. I understand the idea that two people, loving adults, consenting adults, what right does somebody have? I get that argument, and we don't wish ill on anyone. And that's one of the things that is unfortunate in this debate, that there's a lot of hot rhetoric that goes back and forth. We're trying to stand on principles that we live our lives to as Christians, and we look at Bible. We're trying to do that. We're trying to voice an opinion in the public square.

RAZ: One of the things that you have focused on is a program called Wait No More to encourage adoption. And I read that in Colorado, you've been able to lower the number of children in foster care from 900 to 365, which is quite an achievement. How did you do that?

DALY: Yeah. You know, with the help of churches in Colorado and it really came down to a woman I met who does placement on foster adoption in Colorado. And at the time, we had about 800, 850 kids that were waiting. This is - these are the kids, and I was of them when I was 9 years old, where parental rights have been terminated. They're just sitting in the system and they're waiting, hoping every night when their head hits the pillow, will I be adopted. And for me, what it mobilized in my heart was the idea that the church should be involved in this. This is our great tradition.

RAZ: You know, reading about this, I was thinking about the family issues that you focus on. And I was curious about immigration, because one of the arguments that people who support immigration and the rights of so-called illegal immigrants is that if you repatriate these folks, it's going to break up families. And I haven't seen a lot of what Focus on the Family has said about this issue. Have you thought about that?

DALY: Well, we don't have a formal position because it's really not our area of expertise. But from my perspective as a Christian, I think we need to do what scripture says, and that is to extend a hand toward the alien in our land. And we need to show some compassion and find resolution to this.

RAZ: That's Jim Daly. He is the president of Focus on the Family. That's one of the most prominent Christian evangelical organizations in the country. Jim Daly, thanks for coming in.

DALY: Guy, it's been great to be with you.

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