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December 23, 1989|JOHN DART

The rise of the Religious Right coincided with the 1980 presidential election campaign and held the attention of the public through Ronald Reagan's eight years at the White House.

But as the 1990s approach, many conservative Christians are worried about lost momentum and are looking for leadership from a reluctant James Dobson and his thriving Focus on the Family Ministries based in Pomona.

When the Rev. Jerry Falwell announced last June he was folding his Moral Majority organization, the fundamentalist figure simultaneously tipped his hat to Dobson as a "rising star" on the Religious Right. Pat Robertson had dropped out of the news during the 1988 primary for the Republican presidential nomination. Both Falwell and Robertson have since worked hard to repair their respective television-and-college complexes in Virginia.

Dobson, a Protestant layman and psychologist, has built a wide Christian following through a radio program on more than 1,300 stations and through books, films and magazines. A recent survey found him second only to evangelist Billy Graham in influence among U.S. evangelical leaders.

Rolf Zettersten, senior vice president of Focus on the Family and author of a recently published biography of his boss, estimated this week that he was asked in "30 out of 40 interviews," mostly with the religious press, whether Dobson was interested in running for political office. "He's denied any interest repeatedly," Zettersten said.

Christianity Today, the leading evangelical magazine, this week quoted Dobson as denying any political aspirations, saying, "I don't want to lead the Religious Right." Dobson said the family's place in society has always been his focus "and that is the limit of my public role now." Dobson also said that only 1% of his ministry's budget in the last year concerned itself with legislative matters and only 6% was spent on public policy matters.

However, Zettersten said Focus on the Family next year may spend more than 1% of its $62 million annual budget on legislative concerns. The ministry has lately moved in that direction--establishing state coalitions, a monthly magazine and a Washington office run by Gary Bauer, formerly of the Reagan Administration. The office alerts conservative Christians to issues of abortion, television violence, homosexuality and alleged anti-Christian trends.

"The pro-life movement is splintered and doesn't work in concert," Zettersten said, "and in that vacuum they often look to James because he has a national audience."

However, Zettersten indicated that if Dobson were to willingly don the Religious Right's mantle of leadership, thus becoming a high-visibility target of critics, it would run against the ministry's new, quieter strategy.

"We used to bombard state and congressional offices with letters and phone calls on an issue, and we found legislators weren't listening," Zettersten said. Dobson, in concert with Falwell and other broadcasters, flooded lawmakers with angry calls in March, 1988, on a civil rights bill that drew objections from the Religious Right, but the tactic backfired.

"We decided we should try to talk (with officials) in a reasonable way behind the scenes," he said.


Christmas music floods the radio waves as the Dec. 25 nears, so it was not unusual that KLAC asked each disc jockey on the country music station to select Christmas lore and songs for the period between 4 p.m. Sunday and noon Monday, Christmas Day. But one deejay, Sharone Rosen, asked if she could include descriptions of Hanukkah as well in her segment. Rosen is not only a deejay but also cantor at Temple Beth Torah in Granada Hills. Her show will include Christmas music by the likes of Randy Travis and "country-style Jewish music" by Peter, Paul and Mary, the Weavers and the group Kosher County, according to a station spokesman.

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