Letter from Focus on the Family: Takes Lighthouse Trails with a “healthy dose of salt” & defends contemplative Gary Thomas

LTRP Note: This weekend we received a letter from a Lighthouse Trails reader who sent us this response he received from Focus on the Family regarding their promotion of contemplative Gary Thomas. Our reader gave us permission to post the letter he received.

 Dear _____________, 

Greetings from Focus on the Family!  Thank you for your recent e-mail; it’s a pleasure to get back to you. 

We appreciate the time you took to share an excerpt from a publication by another organization, “exposing” various authors including marriage expert Gary Thomas.  By coming to us with your concerns you have expressed a vote of confidence that we do not take lightly.  In return, we would mention that we are familiar with the group you’ve quoted; it’s not the first time we’ve heard such allegations, it probably won’t be the last, and we take whatever we hear from that quarter with a healthy dose of salt. 

Our Comment: To read some of these “excerpt[s]” that FOF is referring to, please read our article, Serious Concerns for Focus on the Family Marriage Conference.  

FOF: We would emphasize that featuring someone on our radio broadcast or as an event speaker, or highlighting certain of their books on our online resource center, should not necessarily be construed as a “blanket endorsement” by our ministry of that individual’s entire body of work. 

Our Comment: Gary Thomas has not been featured on one radio broadcast or one event – he is a regularly featured author/speaker at FOF, and his books have been sold there for years.

FOF: That being said, after careful review our staff has found nothing within the pages of Sacred Marriage and Sacred Parenting (Mr. Thomas’s best-known works) that contradicts the Christian faith or our ministry’s general approach to marriage and child-rearing issues.   

Our Comment: Focus on the Family has been aware of the concerns that Lighthouse Trails and many other believers have had regarding Gary Thomas’ books, including Sacred Marriage, for several years. We received a letter from Tim Masters, in the Office of the Chairman in May of 2006: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/fofletter06.jpg after one of our articles. Many of our readers have shared with us letters of similar content they received from FOF.

In Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas favorably references Mary Ann McPhereson Oliver and her book, Conjugal Spirituality several times throughout his book. Conjugal Spiritualityis a primer on tantric sex (the union of mystical experiences and sexual activity) and other mystical practices.

In Sacred Parenting, we find more of Gary Thomas’ resonance with contemplative/emerging  type authors. In this book,  he favorably references Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer and her book, Parenting as a Spiritual Journey,several times. Rabbi Fuchs-Kreimer is  Director of the Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She also teaches courses in Muslim-Jewish Dialogue. Fuchs-Kreimer hopes to see more of Islam showing up in America: “To my sensibility, the image of a Muslim community center going up in lower Manhattan is a sign of hope, a very real manifestation of faith in the future of America and of Islam.”  Fuchs-Kreimer also promotes the ancient wisdom and emerging/progressive spirituality as you can watch in this video. 

While McPherson Oliver and Fuchs-Kreimer certainly have the freedom to write and believe what they want, their spirituality hardly seems condusive to biblical Christianity that Focus on the Family claims to abide by.

FOF: As a matter of fact, we feel strongly that these books can be of tremendous help to those who choose to take advantage of the messages presented.  We are not in a position to address the contents of allof Mr. Thomas’s writings, of course – or those by other authors that may have been mentioned in the “exposé” in question – but this much we can tell you:  there is and always has been a strong tradition of practices such as contemplative prayer in the Christian church that has nothing to do with mantras and Eastern meditation.  To confuse the two, as some people apparently do, is to jump to an unwarranted conclusion based on a misunderstanding of certain features they appear to share in common.  In other words, we would suggest that there is a matter of semantics at play – one person may claim the phrase “contemplative prayer” is exclusively associated with Eastern religions, but another may use the term simply to mean a sincere heart attitude and desire to commune with the Lord on a deeply personal and intimate level.  We tend to choose the latter. 

Our Comment:Ironically, in FOF’s response here, they put mantras on the side of eastern meditation (and rightfully so); BUT Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Pathways(p. 185), tells readers to repeat a word for 20 minutes (that’s a mantra). Focus on the Family also promotes Richard Foster who also promotes the use of a mantra type word or phrase. In fact, repeating a word or phrase is the crucial element of contemplative spirituality (and Hinduism as well). Contemplative pioneers Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, and Thomas Merton would agree.  

FOF: We hope this brief reply is helpful in clarifying our perspective.  Thanks again for contacting us, and for your interest in our ministry.  If there is some other way on which Focus might be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to let us know.  God’s blessings to you! 

Craig Johansen  Focus on the Family

Our Comments: The response by FOF Craig Johansen above isn’t the first time he has said these types of things to concerned people. Here is another response he wrote that we found on the Internet. Quite similiar. http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=204957806187712

Focus on the Family has admitted that they take Lighthouse Trails with a “dose of salt”  (i.e., do not take seriously at all). Maybe it’s time they start taking the contemplative issue seriously. Maybe it is time they start listening to the voice of biblical reason rather than the voice of the mystics who ultimately lead down an interspiritual, panentheistic path.

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