Christmas is for children. Bright lights, decorations, toys, sweets and the humble start to Christ’s life all inspire the child in us, and the children around us. In this conference past, Elder Dallin H. Oaks presented his “Protect the Children” talk wherein he encouraged us to unite in protection of children. The funny thing is, at the end of his talk, I didn’t feel inspired to protect children. I have pondered this, and come to a conclusion as to why I did not feel edified or inspired to protect children. Here it is:
I have seen children living in poverty. Real poverty is shocking. On a trip to India a few years ago, my husband and I chose to unofficially “adopt” one family during the time we were there. The poverty was overwhelming, and we coped with it by focusing on this one family. They literally lived on a specific section of sidewalk, used the gutter as a toilet, and relied on hand outs for food. There were three children and I guessed them to all be under the age of five. The eldest was partly toothless, as were the younger siblings. The toothlessness was caused by malnutrition, so we chose soft foods such as bananas to give to them to eat. Between the three children were 2 pairs of underwear. I knew this because the undies, a skirt and a shirt were the only clothes they had in combination. In this, the children took turns being naked for a day. I cried when we left India, fearing what would become of these children. This memory will always be with me.
So, when Elder Oaks began speaking, acknowledging United Nations statistics regarding children in significant duress, I wanted to like his talk. I wanted to be inspired and directed to do more, feel more, and to save children. I sought peace and reconciliation for the children who have been wronged. But instead, I only heard an affluent man sitting in judgment, and who absolved himself of accountability by declaring that his only duty was to “witness” Christ:
I speak from the perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ, including His plan of salvation. That is my calling. Local Church leaders have responsibility for a single jurisdiction, like a ward or stake, but an Apostle is responsible to witness to the entire world. In every nation, of every race and creed, all children are children of God.
Although I do not speak in terms of politics or public policy, like other Church leaders, I cannot speak for the welfare of children without implications for the choices being made by citizens, public officials, and workers in private organizations. We are all under the Savior’s command to love and care for each other and especially for the weak and defenseless.
This confused me. He is declaring that we need to do more to help children, but acquitted himself of actually doing anything at the start of his talk. In doing this, he became a judge, rather than someone who was engaged in rectifying an issue. But aren’t we, as witnesses of Christ, supposed to be actively engaged in His work? Why is Oaks free of this duty? Because of his calling?
Further, after citing the statistical number of children worldwide who are “victimized each year through prostitution and pornography,” he chooses to declare that “From the perspective of the plan of salvation, one of the most serious abuses of children is to deny them birth,” and cited global declining birth rates. Birth control is a greater sin than child prostitution? And abortion is a greater sin than child pornography? This is what Oaks is telling us. Rather than addressing methods or organizations and groups wherein we can enlist to defend, protect, or save children who are victims, Oaks demonises women who make personal, reproductive choices, alluding to birth-control using women as just as damnable as those who engage in child prostitution and child pornography.
To be reasonable, Oaks did not specifically mention birth control. However, he did note that it was a sin to not allow children to be born, and only “one” cause for the declining birth rate abortion. This suggests that he finds more than one factor in birth rate declination, and given the church’s historical (i.e., Oaks era) stance on birth control, it is easy to presume that at least one other factor is the use of the birth control pill. Although the official stance of the church is that “The decision of how many children to have and when to have them is a private matter for the husband and wife,” it seems that Oaks is unwelcome to the formal declaration, and thus, he paired birth control with child prostitution.
Specific to abortion, Oaks made a fair statement that abortion is sometimes promoted as a matter of government policy. China’s one-child policy is famous for this, but other countries burdened with unemployable masses make it policy to suggest abortion. But this is also where Oaks’ reasoning goes astray. He states: “Other abuses of children that occur during pregnancy are the fetal impairments that result from the mother’s inadequate nutrition or drug use.”
I concede that illicit and irresponsible drug use during pregnancy is sometimes negligent, reckless, even selfish. But I find it equally careless of Oaks to presume that a pregnant mother’s diet, especially a woman in a third world country, should be ranked as an abuse. I can’t help but envision the family in India. Was the mother married to the father? Probably not, if only because if you can’t feed yourself you probably can’t afford a marriage license. I am okay with poverty-ridden people choosing food over a government marriage license. In this East Indian family, there was a father, a mother and the three children. All hungry, all united. Powerfully, they all smiled constantly. They were grateful for everything. She treated her children lovingly. The children were clean, and she sometimes asked for soap, to wash themselves and their clothes. I refuse to label her as a child abuser simply because she could not afford to eat consistent, medically-inspired foods, pregnant or not. Shame on Oaks for suggesting poverty in and of itself as a kind of personal, insidious child abuse.
Lastly, Oaks does the same routine we have all heard before about abortion. In following his anti-aborton stance, he added: “There is a tragic irony in the multitude of children eliminated or injured before birth while throngs of infertile couples long for and seek babies to adopt.”
This paragraph is more telling than at first glance. Consider “or injured before birth.” It seems with this short phrase, Oaks is stating that “injured” children are undesirable to infertile, adoptive couples. Though this is partnered with his anti-abortion (“eliminated”) stance, there is room for an interpretation wherein Oaks finds abortion acceptable when there is a chance that the child is “injured,” because the child is labelled as undesirable to -otherwise- adoption-friendly couples. Regardless, it just doesn’t sit right, any way you look at it.
Better still is the tired pairing of abortion shame with infertile couples. This is such an old argument that I cannot understand why it is still being made. Consider kmillecam’s post, My Choice . She highlighted genetic issues that are exceptionally emotionally and economically draining on any couple, including adoptive couples. So here’s the thing: It is exceptionally expensive to care for children with chromosome abnormalities. Whilst a birth mother may have medical insurance that may (or may not) cover her natural child, for chromosomal abnormalities, an adoptive couple gains no insurance benefit for adopting newborn children with “pre-existing” medical conditions which are inevitably discovered within weeks of birth, and before most adoptions can be finalized. This means that most adoptive couples, no matter how keen they are to become parents, can’t afford the medical costs, and can’t gain medical insurance in association with developmentally challenged children who have been adopted.
Infertile couples aren’t stupid enough to assume that making abortion illegal will solve all of our parenting woes because of excessive medical costs in association with the adotpion of a child with any pre-exsisting medical condition. Many of us are pro-choice because we understand this. Many more of us are pro-choice simply because we respect women and understand the frusteration of fertility-related issues, infertile or otherwise. We understand that adoption is about women helping women, and that adoptions do not increase as a result of institutional decisions regarding other women’s bodies. Likewise, it would be easy to jump on a socialized medicine bandwagon here and assume that socialised medicine covers every medical need. But it does not. Hence, the policy as noted by Oaks, of some countries with socialized medicine to suggest abortion in place of adoption, because the cost of treatment is not covered or is too much of a financial burden even for the government.
I no longer wonder why this talk did not edify me, did not inspire me to align myself with Oaks in declaration of protecting children. The talk really had very little to do with protecting children. Oaks ignored obvious financial obligations of adoptive couples, labeled infertile couples, unfairly ranked all infertile couples as the primary victims of abortion, judged women in committed relationships who live in proverty, paired birth control with child prostitution and matched abortion with child pornography, whist sitting on a stand declaring himself only as a “witness.” In short, Oaks labelled women who are poor, infertile, use birth control or consider abortion to be just as evil as people who engage in child prostition and child pornography.
I find that offensive. And it has nothing to do with protecting children.
P.S. This talk has already been addressed at the Exponent with a post by Jessica F., wherein she highlighted some institutional issues in regard to the church’s international policy regarding children. It is worth a read if you seek for suggestions on preventing child trafficking.
Anything still nagging you about last October Conference, for good or for bad?