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YMCA Members Object To Dobson Mag

Harris Y asked to pull religious right publication

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Several members of the Harris YMCA are upset that the organization is making available a publication from an ultra-conservative group that is a leading force in the religious right. The magazine, Focus on the Family (FOF), is published by a ministry of the same name founded in 1977 by Dr. James Dobson. Harris Y members Page Lee and Kristin Rogentine-Lee (no relation) say the publication promotes a narrow, fundamentalist view of Christianity and is unrepresentative of and offensive to members with differing beliefs.

Lee and Rogentine-Lee say Dobson has every right to espouse his beliefs, but they believe it is inappropriate to distribute his magazine at the Y, where many do not share his anti-gay, anti-abortion viewpoints. It's especially important since, they say, membership dues are used to pay for the publication.

"I am a lifelong Democrat, active in local politics," Lee said. "I feel like I don't belong at the Y when I see Dobson's publication prominently displayed and sanctioned." The two women are not alone in their disapproval, they say, as other members have destroyed or defaced the magazine.

Both women expressed their misgivings about the FOF publication recently to the YMCA's district vice president, Mike Bachman. They also suggested to Bachman that the YMCA distribute more progressive Christian publications like Sojourners.

In response, Bachman said he would forward their concerns to the YMCA's volunteer, 12-member "Christian Emphasis Committee," which will review the issue and make recommendations when it meets in August. Bachman told CL that any opinions included in publications available at the Harris YMCA do not necessarily represent the views of the Harris YMCA.

Jennifer Durkin, the Y's communications director, stressed that there are many kinds of magazines available at the YMCA, including secular publications such as Newsweek and Sports Illustrated, as well as liberal Christian publications such as Daily Word and Alive Now.

She added that there's no companywide standard on what kind of publications the YMCA offers, and that each branch makes its own decisions. As for whether or not membership dues pay for publications, Durkin said, "They are subscription-based publications, and that is considered an operational expense. But I can't directly link membership dollars to that. We have different revenue expenses, and magazine subscriptions fall into our operational budget.

"Our mission is to serve all of our members, and sometimes that's hard to do," Durkin continued. "We certainly wouldn't want anything to alienate our members or make them feel not welcome, and that's why we're listening to what they have to say."

Lee said she recognizes and respects the YMCA's Christian mission. "But it seems they could find a way to do it that didn't involve politics," she said. "I guess I'll just have to wait and see what happens in August."

sam.boykin@cln.com

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