With Dobson Done, Who's Next to Lead?

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With the recent resignation of Focus on the Family's James Dobson, many evangelicals are wondering who's next to handle the reigns of the conservative movement.

Dobson, 72, has been a driving force behind key issues important to the church, like the sanctity of life and marriage. He founded Focus on the Family more than 30 years ago to promote pro-family ideals and has spoken out on political concerns through his radio program.

Dobson's resignation, announced Feb. 27, is one more marker in an apparent changing of the guard for evangelical conservatives.

Click play for more with Julia Duin, a Washington Times reporter who recently wrote an article on the future of the conservative movement.

The outspoken radio host is not the only conservative leader recently to step back from the ministry he once founded.

Last year, CBN founder Pat Robertson, 78, took a step back from his ministry role when he named his son Gordon as CEO. And an ailing Rev. Billy Graham, 90, has handed the reigns to his son Franklin to lead the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Well-known "religious right" leaders have also died in recent years, including Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority political movement, and Pastor D. James Kennedy, leader of Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida.

Now the search is on for the next generation of leaders for some 70 million evangelicals in the U.S.

Some see Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California as a possibility figurehead. Warren delivered the invocation at President Obama's inauguration and was a strong backer of the state's Prop 8 measure to end same-sex marriage.

But he has been criticized for taking a less-traditional approach in his ministry.

"I don't know if he is the guy," John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, told the Washington Times. "He doesn't seem to be garnering a huge following, and he doesn't seem to want to be in the spotlight."

Other prospects include Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Gov. Mike Huckabee and Gov. Sarah Palin. All three have gained considerable approval among conservatives and are young enough to lead for decades.

Still, ministry leaders say Dobson will be hard to replace.

"He's not a minister, but a psychologist. That puts him in a unique category," said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Richard Land. "No one person will succeed him. You'll see a broader group of leaders with their own constituencies, but not a narrow band."

Land also warned opponents that despite the search for new conservative leaders, "evangelicals (are not) going away as a social force."

Source: The Washington Times

*Originally aired March 5, 2009

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