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Jim Daly's alleged moderation

Dan Schultz raises a good question. Why would NPR give Focus on the Family's Jim Daly a free pass on conflating religious freedom with his desire to impose his own religious beliefs on the broader culture?

I don't know, but it probably doesn't hurt that Daly's a whole lot nicer than James Dobson ever was. Perhaps Focus's friendlier makeover has had a real effect on how its statements are sometimes received. Writing about this charm offensive earlier this month, Samuel Freedman quotes Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has classified some antigay groups as hate groups but not Focus:

The public’s stance has moved away from these groups. You see that with the rapidly rising acceptance of gay marriage. And when public opinion moves away, they have two choices. They can moderate and move toward the middle, as Focus on the Family has done, or they can grow more shrill and radical.

But "moderate" isn't the opposite of "shrill." Tony Perkins isn't particularly shrill. Is Jim Daly moderate? Freedman himself rightly stops short of arguing that he is, summarizing what's going on in Colorado Springs as a "change in Focus’s style, if not its substance." It's a seriously positive thing to see a group this high profile stop acting like such a bully. In the NPR interview Dan highlights, Daly's tone is measured and respectful. That's good! It also says very little about whether Focus's actual views are moderating, which remains an open question.

Elsewhere, Libby Anne's blog discusses one area in which Focus's views seem as retrograde as ever: gender roles in marriage. Here's Jim Daly, alleged moderate: "Find God’s way—don’t find your own way, like feminism’s solution. The feminists didn’t stop to think." Sheesh.

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Civil Dialog

However strongly one may feel about Focus' position - does referring to someone's views as "as retrograde as ever" facilitate civil dialog?  Would not "Focus's views, despite the change in tone, have not substantively changed" communicate what you are trying to say without assuming a fighting posture, or making the other side feel compelled to take up such a posture?  How is referring to someones position as "retrograde" informative or illuminating?

That "Daly's tone is measured and respectful" is indeed good.  Let us have that all around.

I guess I don't see

I guess I don't see "retrograde" as a particularly combative or insulting word. It's certainly negative--and it communicates concisely and colorfully my opinion that Focus's views on gender roles continue to push hard against the flow of positive progress. I fear that all the focus on civility can sometimes discourage us from speaking opinions plainly and sharply, even as it encourages us not to call each other names or fight dirty. I'd like to take the second and pass on the first--and to treat civility as one goal among many, not the singular aim of public debate.

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