July 11th, 2011
10:56 AM ET
By John Blake, CNN
A quick word association test: when I say “evangelical leader,” what comes to mind?
A critic of gay rights? A fierce defender of “family values?” A media-savvy preacher who blurs the lines between religion and politics?
Evangelical heavyweights like Focus on the Family founder James Dobson pioneered that brand of leadership. He and fellow broadcasters like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were big players in church and national politics.
But Christianity Today profiles en emerging evangelical leader who's offering a different leadership model.
Jim Daly, the newish president of Focus on the Family, is steering the group in a new direction, according to a lengthy profile in the evangelical magazine by Sarah Pulliam Bailey.
Daly is trying to reduce the group’s emphasis on politics. He says he doesn’t want Focus to be driven by a “personality” but by a sense of mission because mission-driven groups have "greater staying power."
Daly told Christianity Today:
Daly’s predecessor, Dobson, may not share that point of view. The pugnacious Focus chief led the group to get involved in culture war issues such like opposing gay marriage and fighting back against the alleged “war on Christmas.”
Dobson, who founded Focus in 1977, once accused President Obama of holding a “fruitcake interpretation of the U.S. Constitution” and of deliberately distorting the Bible.
Dobson resigned as Focus board chairman in 2009. Bailey’s piece said that he was “asked to resign” at a board meeting. (Dobson declined several interview requests through an assistant, Bailey reported).
As the group’s president and chief executive officer, Daly's leadership style is being felt ways big and small. He has relaxed the dress code at the group’s headquarters - men can now go without a tie, and women don’t have to wear dresses, skirts and pantyhose.
He’s also hired Esther Fleece, a 28-year-old, to lead the group’s efforts to connect with the millennial generation on issues related to sex trafficking, poverty, and the environment.
Daly's ultimate goal: Returning the organization to its original focus on marriage and family advice, according to Bailey.
Daly said that one of the reasons he’s so focused on families is because of his own upbringing. He was born to alcoholic parents, entered the foster care system and endured the suicide of his father.
He told Bailey:
Some say evangelical leadership is experiencing its own hard knocks. There’s been a lot written about their efforts to connect with a generation of younger evangelicals.
Daly’s apparent strategy to do that apparently involves dialing back political activism. Should other evangelical organizations follow his example? Or is it dangerous for evangelical groups to cede any political ground given the issues at stake today?
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