Bullying from the pulpit
LDS Church leaders last weekend reemphasized moral creeds and obligations for the faithful. I always applaud church members for their devotion and their endless number of good acts. Despite having left the church years ago, I'm proud of my culturally Mormon upbringing, my extensive Mormon family and my Utah roots.
However, the church's semiannual General Conference reminded me of why I left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and how words from the pulpit can still harm my family, as well as so many others.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an apostle of the church, spoke about family, the value of life, and the importance of loving everyone all worthy subjects. He also spoke about bullying and the "permanent" psychological damage that bullying can cause children by making them feel "worthless, unloved, or unwanted."
Then, in what seemed an about-face, Oaks changed themes. After describing a long list of supposed social ills, he said that church members should "assume" that "children raised by parents of the same gender" are "disadvantaged" and "victimized" by this circumstance. He did not bother to properly support his claim, apart from vague references to an unnamed "scholar" or a supposed "New York Times article."
The obvious reason for his reticence about sourcing, of course, is that there is no reputable research supporting such an assertion. Across the board, peer-reviewed studies on same-sex parents show that such couples raise happy, well-adjusted children (according to such unassailable sources as the Child Welfare League of America, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and the American Academy of Pediatrics).
Oaks is right that children of same-sex couples are disadvantaged in at least one crucial respect they have to live in a society with people like Oaks, whose attitude, statements, and actions devalue and denigrate their families.
These children cannot escape hearing others routinely belittle and condemn the people they love and depend upon most. Imagine the harm being done to children with same-sex parents by people who do not approve of their families. Can you imagine carrying around that burden as a child? (Ironically, the one recent study that suggests children of same-sex couples may suffer shortcomings the deeply flawed Regernus Study also traces the source of those problems to intolerant community reaction to their families.)
In fact, for an authority figure with as much power and influence in our community as Oaks to imply to millions of church members that children of same-sex couples should be pitied and "assumed" to be "disadvantaged," and that children in those relationships are somehow "victimized," is to engage in the worst kind of bullying.
At its simplest, bullying is the exploitation of a power imbalance to make someone feel less than, or inferior to, others. This past weekend, Oaks told members of his church that it is acceptable to consider children of same-sex couples inferior to other children. To what end? To what benefit?
Next time, I hope Oaks uses his power and influence for the betterment of our society by choosing instead to declare how we as a society can work to build, protect, and assist all kinds of families.
Oaks' own mother was widowed and his family certainly would have been better off receiving support and praise from society than condemnation and bullying. As Oaks said himself in the very same sermon, "[children] need decision-makers who put their well-being ahead of selfish adult interests."
Weston Clark is a stay-at-home dad for his son, Xander, adopted by Clark and his partner.