Guest Post: Policy, Practice, and Preventing Abuse
Guest post by Jessica F., who is studying educational psychology, international development, and religious studies. She lives in England with her husband and four children.
I wanted to share my feelings about the take Elder Oaks gave concerning child abuse, and I am a huge advocate for child protection but I think that the talk painted a picture that is not accurate of church pro-activeness on the subject, and created a spiritual situation for the impoverished that is not based off the scriptures or compassion.
The LDS church ACTIVELY fights AGAINST international attempts to define child rights.
I interned at BYU with Kennedy Center and the World Family Policy center at BYU in 2001/2002. We were to search UN documents and find sections that would threaten the traditional family. There was a huge amount of fear discussed, and I believed it until I started to get more involved in international development. Most of what happens at the United Nations on the international legal level is done off the radar of the general public, and really off the American news media focus.
Sex trafficking is a huge issue, often in places where the church is not established but millions of girls are trafficked to the first world including the US and Europe. The church could set up education programs in those areas, they could tell parents not to sell their daughter into sex slavery, provide education and food for poor families so they do not feel pressure to sell their daughters for money.
If the church was serious about preventing child abuse at church
Then I think that their policy and programs would look very different. The church does not have a church hotline that individuals can report abuse or rape, and bishops get no training in this area. There is a hotline for bishops to call if they know about it. I received more training to prevent child abuse in an in-service as teacher for a non-profit than bishops get. Bishops unlike myself are dealing with spiritual welfare and projections of eternity; I just pass that information on to school authorities. I cannot imagine trying to counsel victims without serous training in this regard, or why not establish a policy of paying for professional counseling right a way. Men and women go to years of school to counsel people correctly and I think that this would be a major step forward in dealing with abuse and establishing healthy boundaries between the family and the bishop. Establishing back ground check on all individuals who work with children or youth could also be extremely helpful in preventing abuse; most churches do it.
If the church was serious about reducing the number of abortions, then they should be willing to support responsible sexual education programs in the public health sector. It should also allow women all over the world equal opportunity to reliable birth control.
International Aid and Human Suffering
In the story Elder Oaks told about the mother in the Philippines not having enough food to feed her children, he quoted the mother telling children that being hungry is okay because it builds faith in Jesus. I was really hoping that this story would end with his correction of this assumption, and providing food. But sadly that was not the way it went. The assumption was supported and no food was reportedly given.
And these stories abound in General Conference. There was a story about a family where the father and brothers left for years and years to go work on another island to pay for the tickets to be sealed in the temple. Stories like this paint a very unhealthy picture of what is expected of members to sacrifice when we build billion dollar malls in Salt Lake. Billions of dollars could feed every hungry member for years, and send every temple recommend holding family to the temple. It is NOT okay to not feed people because they feel that they can find Jesus or to separate families for years and years so that they can go to the temple.
Unfortunately in my work in international development the picture that the church paints of its involvement in humanitarian aid is not accurate. They do contribute but it is on a very small scale. The church does not release its financials, but by its own reporting it donated about 1% of its income to humanitarian aid over the last 20 years. Just for comparison that is less than $5 per member per year (I am not including the donations made by members). And Wal-Mart in the same time period donated 1.1%, Avon 3.3%. I do believe that the church thinks it is spending its money on good things, but I see them as very first world problems and an over concern with keeping up appearances. Contributing to the problem, all fast offering are now centrally wire transferred to SLC from each ward. And often bishops in developing nations do not get adequate support for the need of their wards, and often the needs surpass the income of the ward. Income inequality in the first world compared to the developing world was 1:4 before WWII and now it is 1:75. Even in the United States there is incredible need that goes unfilled. I have heard stake presidents and bishops in my stake tell (during stake conference) the members that they would not be eligible for fast offering or the bishops store house, because they wanted to send 100% of fast offerings to SLC. And this was a very poor stake. Thankfully this did change with the next stake president. There are international medical aid associations that work with the church, but not funded by the church and the church is not generous and frustrating to work with often forcing bishops to rotate through who gets food for what months and what children get basic dietary supplements. In a lot of the world the issue is malnutrition and not starvation, which is often hidden but extremely damaging.
In my opinion the LDS Church is NOT a major player in international aid or development, despite what is often expressed. It is not just the LDS church, but a general lack of western religion to concern itself with the growing disparity of wealth distribution and human suffering. But the LDS church is extremely wealthy and organized and could play a major role, but for some reason it does not.
I believe that we have an obligation to protect children and vulnerable people all over the world. And I believe in the power of the church to be a major contributor to the solutions. But we have to change our focus and renew our commitment to follow Jesus Christ, and to feed all of his sheep. I believe in the power of people to change the world and the power of religion to provide the organization to get us there.