Profiles on the Right: Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family banner

Focus on the Family (FOTF) is the largest evangelical parachurch organization in the United States. It has affiliate offices around the world, maintains a massive web presence, and produces several programs that air on Christian radio stations internationally.

Founded by James Dobson in 1977 and based in Colorado Springs, CO, Focus on the Family has fought against global LGBTQ equality for decades. The organization’s “director of family formation studies,” Glenn Stanton, has described homosexuality as abhorrent: “It’s a particularly evil lie of Satan because he knows that it overthrows the very image of the Trinitarian God in creation, revealed in the union of male and female.” One FOTF analyst, Jeff Johnston, has described homosexuality as “Satan roam(ing) the earth like a lion, using sexual and relational brokenness to destroy individuals, families, churches, groups, [and] businesses.”

FOTF operated CitizenLink (formerly Focus on the Family Action), a political advocacy group that “equip[s] concerned citizens to make a difference in politics and culture on behalf of life, marriage and the family.” CitizenLink’s name has since change to Family Policy Alliance with an updated mission “to advance biblical citizenship, equip and elect statesmen, promote policy and serve an effective alliance, all committed to a common vision.”

It has promoted the “ex-gay” movement since 1998, when it partnered with (now-defunct) Exodus International on a national advertising campaign arguing that gays and lesbians could change their sexual orientation. From 1998 to 2010, FOTF collaborated with Exodus and the National Organization for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) on a series of “ex-gay” conferences called “Love Won Out.” The organization also created Spanish-language versions of “Love Won Out” for Latin American audiences. In 2012, Exodus’ executive director, Alan Chambers, backed away from previous claims of a “cure” for homosexuality. FOTF then shifted its support to Restored Hope Network, Exodus’ hardline successor.

FOTF’s “True Tolerance” project warns parents that anti-bullying programs that mention LGBTQ students are a plot by “gay activists” to “obtain the leverage they need to push homosexual advocacy messages into public schools.” FOTF also maintains a “Day of Dialogue” project, which was originally designed to counter the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) annual Day of Silence.

FOTF filed with the IRS as a non-church 501(c)(3) nonprofit until the 2015 fiscal year. After a lengthy process with the IRS in 2016, the IRS accepted a church-status request from FOTF. The group’s status is now considered to be a “church, convention of churches or association of churches.” The change in status exempts them from some regulations non-profits have to adhere to as well as the requirement to file publicly available tax documents. Although the IRS initially pushed back against the request, FOTF’s attorneys responded arguing that Focus “satisfies all or most” of the IRS’ list of church characteristics and accused the IRS of violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Paul Batura, vice president of communications for FOTF cited “constituents’ privacy” as one of the main reason for applying for the designation.

In June of 2017, FOTF invited Vice President Mike Pence to speak at an event celebrating its 40th anniversary. From the stage, Pence promised that President Trump was an “unwavering ally” to FOTF and was also committed to opposing abortion rights and defunding Planned Parenthood. Later that year, the State Department gave an affiliate of FOTF a $49,505 grant to help implement its global abstinence-only “purity pledge” program under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to combat HIV/AIDS.

For more details, see American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism.

Updated: 5/9/2018.

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