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For Daly, focus on family is personal crusade
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
December 16, 2009
5 MIN READ TIME

For Daly, focus on family is personal crusade

For Daly, focus on family is personal crusade
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
December 16, 2009

Despite his busy schedule as president of Colorado

megaministry Focus on the Family, Jim Daly makes it a priority to leave the

office in time to arrive home by 6 p.m. to spend time with his wife and two

young sons.

But, as a recent conversation with his 9-year-old

demonstrated, he confesses that the balancing act isn’t always easy.

“He says to me, ‘Hey, Dad, you’re really not focusing on

your family’ and he gave me a big smile,” Daly said, wincing, as he recalled

the trip to drop his son off at school on the way to the airport.

“I said, ‘I’ll

be home tomorrow night and we’re going to wrestle in the basement’ and he said,

‘Good enough!’”

For Daly, the emphasis on family is not just a job, nor

simply a ministry, but a personal crusade. The 48-year-old father spent much of

his childhood in Southern California’s Morongo Valley as an orphan after both

his parents died by the time he was 12. Now, he’s striving to not only be a

good father himself but to encourage others to look at adoption, heal a

marriage or help a struggling teenager.

Daly, who attends a Colorado Springs church linked to the

Calvary Chapel movement, describes God as the ultimate father figure. One of

his favorite Bible verses is from Psalms, which describes divine protection for

the fatherless and widows.

“He’s for the

widow and orphan; he’s a father to the fatherless,” said Daly, who became a

Christian in high school during a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp. “Those

verses all meant a lot to me.”

RNS photo by Nick Kirkpatrick

Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, speaks at the 2009 Values Voter Summit in September in Washington.

With Daly as Exhibit A, Focus on the Family has developed “Wait

No More” conferences to encourage Christians to consider adoption for children

who are languishing in foster care. Colorado officials credit Focus with

helping reduce the number of children awaiting adoption in the state from 875

to 550 over two years.

Yet Daly says he’s not satisfied with the drop: “We want to

keep on that number until someday it’s no child is waiting.”

As Daly adjusts to recent layoffs at Focus and breaks new

ground with expanded outreach efforts, he’s sticking with the ministry’s

well-known conservative positions on social issues.

In November, he signed the

Manhattan Declaration, a document that opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and

limits on religious liberty.

Now that founder James Dobson has stepped down as president

and chairman of the board, and plans to yield the microphone at his daily radio

talk show in February, Daly is slowly becoming the public face of the Colorado

Springs evangelical ministry. Yet Daly, who hasn’t decided how to fill Dobson’s

radio role, said he views himself as succeeding, not replacing, the well-known

broadcaster and psychologist.

“People have

often said, ‘Are you going to fill his shoes?’ and I laugh, first of all, and

then I say, ‘No one will fill his shoes,”‘ he said. “I’m asking the Lord to

just give me a new pair of shoes.”

One thing observers have already noticed is the two men’s

different styles. Where Dobson was unapologetically outspoken and sometimes

partisan, Daly is more winsome and more likely to seek out those with whom he

disagrees.

“They’re both

committed to the same principles and the same ideas,” said Tony Perkins,

president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, who also signed the

Manhattan Declaration. “They just may approach them from a different way.”

Daly, who worked at Focus for 16 years before ascending to

president four years ago, has also opened other new doors, reaching out to

20-somethings that make up more than 10 percent of his staff and seeking civil

dialogue with people who typically disagree with his ministry’s conservative

Christian stances.

At the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington this fall,

Daly shunned the traditional podium and invited Esther Fleece, his assistant on

millennial relations, to join him onstage on side-by-side bar stools.

“(W)hen you look at that group, the value voter group, a lot

of them are middle-aged or older and they’re reinforcing one another’s

worldview and perspective, which is one I believe in,” said Daly. “But we’ve

got to engage and raise up the next generation of leadership.”

Fleece said the speech was a display of Daly’s “very

relational” personality: “He doesn’t talk at people. He talks with people.”

Those talks extend to groups that have been at political

loggerheads with Focus, including the Gill Foundation, a Colorado-based gay

rights organization that has been on the opposite side of the ministry’s

political arm in state political initiatives.

Though he differs with many of President Obama’s political

positions, Daly sees promise in the White House’s fatherhood initiative,

writing that “we need more men to follow his commitment to being a husband and

father.” Daly said Obama’s experience of growing up with an absentee father “resonated”

with his own story.

“We don’t have to give up our principles,” he said in an

interview, “in order to have a discussion with people.”