Posted by ProgExMo
Elder Dallin H. Oaks recently gave a talk titled, “Protect the Children”, during the Saturday session of the October 2012 General Conference broadcast. In this talk, Oaks described many ways children suffer abuses around the world, and how these abuses are the result of “selfish adult interests.”
Oaks touched on the tragic situations common among children in third-world nations, such as high infant mortality rates due to malnutrition and preventable or treatable disease, and children being forced to fight in wars as soldiers or exploited in prostitution and pornography. He even addressed wealthier nations’ children, some of whom suffer both physically and mentally from neglect, prenatal damage, insufficient health care, poor education, and dangerous living conditions. However, in what could have been a wide-scale call to action for humanitarian aid — as the Church has done for political campaigns — he chose to associate these kinds of epidemic abuses with the “disadvantages” of children born into or raised by non-traditional families.
While the subject matter (the welfare of children worldwide) is a worthy cause for greater awareness and concern, this is ultimately not the focus of Oaks’ talk. He shamefully used this subject as a means of reinforcing the presumed importance of heterosexual marriages and nuclear families, by claiming that any other family arrangement can have devastating consequences to child welfare and development. In first presenting humanistic concerns for the dire conditions in third-world nations, he bridged the general suffering of these children with the assumed suffering of those in non-traditional families. He conflated the severity and type of suffering as being equal across all non-ideal living situations. This gives his audience the impression that children raised by single or gay parents are being victimized or otherwise disadvantaged to the same extent as those who are starving in Africa or being trafficked into slavery.
Oaks began his talk with two overt logical fallacies in an attempt at manipulating his audience to unquestioningly accept his position. The first is an appeal to emotion where he said, “We can all remember our feelings when a little child cried out and reached up to us for help… Please recall those feelings as I speak about our responsibility to protect and act for the well-being of children.“ Invoking compassion and empathy in this way has the effect of encouraging his listeners to feel, rather than think about what he’s saying.
He immediately followed this with a second fallacy, an appeal to authority. Oaks reminded his audience that his position as an “Apostle is responsible to witness to the entire world” and that he speaks “from the perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ, including His plan of salvation.” Later in the talk, he also mentioned his “service on the Utah Supreme Court.” However, none of his authoritative positions qualified him to speak on child welfare, childhood development, social services, sociology, psychology, statistics, economics, history, medicine, or scientific research of any kind. Yet, by appealing to his assumed existential authority, he presented himself as a knowledgeable and trusted source, and proceeded to touch on every one of the aforementioned fields of study.
Oaks tried to mitigate some potential backlash by claiming not to “speak in terms of politics or public policy” but he “cannot speak for the welfare of children without implications for the choices being made by citizens, public officials, and workers in private organizations.” While this would normally be seen as an honest and forthright acknowledgement of the implications of his talk, it is undermined by his later criticism of specific laws and policies that he deems immoral or promoting immorality. What is a true believing Mormon to do when a leader of the Church, who claims authority to speak for a perfectly moral and loving god, condemns such laws and policies? Oaks’ attempt at distancing himself from politically charged rhetoric seems disingenuous.
Throughout his talk, Oaks referred to adult selfishness as being the underlying cause of children’s suffering. Whether it be the exploitation of children, abortion, or divorce, among others. Though this is by no means a new theme, Oaks capitalizes on the audience’s emotions on another level: guilt and shame. By demonizing any action that puts the needs of the parent ahead of the immediate needs of the child, one is left with the impression that staying in an emotionally neglectful or combative marriage is preferred over filing for divorce, for the sake of the children. This attitude toward the needs of the parent(s) ignores the potential for the longterm benefits of having two separated-but-emotionally-stable parents for the sake of a marriage certificate.
Special thanks to go my wife and partner, Eileah, for her continual support, encouragement and her critical mind.
Tags: Abortion, Authority, Birthrate, Children, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Dallin H Oaks, Divorce, Family, General Conference, human-rights, infant mortality rates, LDS, Logical Fallacy, Marriage, Mormon, Mormonism, Parenthood, Politics, religion, Selfishness, Traditional Marriage