In April, I hardly noticed conference at all. It wasn't something that affected me at the time. This conference was different. Something happened a few weeks ago that gave the sudden realization that what these men say has a deep and profound impact on people that I love very much--like my parents. They are so influenced by these people that it is important for me to stay on top of it.
That's why I was devastated by Dallin Oaks' talk on how parents should treat their wayward children. I found the entire philosophy behind his approach offensive--it was manipulative, punitive, and divisive. His basic premise was that "The love of God does not supersede his laws and his commandments ... the same should be true of parental love and rules."
This includes parental interactions with their adult children, in fact the biggest example that Oaks used for "wayward" children was cohabitating adults, which by default includes those in lifelong same sex relationships according to those who don't recognize gay marriage. Needless to say, this has been a source of contention with my parents as I talk about my future already. I'm scared by how this conference talk might complicate future discussions.
Dallin Oaks talks about the gifts from God that are universal or unconditional, but then states that some gifts are conditioned to obedience. The same approach should be taken in parenting. Some things should always be given--like food to children still at home. Other things are conditioned on children doing what parents want, again, including adults.
"Following the example of an all-wise and loving Heavenly Father who has given laws and commandments for the benefit of his children, wise parents condition some parental gifts on obedience ... To pose an even more serious question, if an adult child is living in cohabitation, does the seriousness of sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage require that this child feel the full weight of family disapproval by being excluded from any family contacts, or does parental love require that the fact of cohabitation be ignored? I have seen both of these extremes, and I believe that both are inappropriate."
Oaks goes on to say that parents should use personal revelation to determine where to draw the line in between those extremes. He counsels parents to apply the principles in the parable of the good shepherd who left the ninety and nine to go after the one who was lost. While at the surface this seems compassionate, it is very condescending to those adult children to have their parents going about making the decision on how to interact with them based on trying to manipulate them into believing and acting a certain way. While parents ought to be respected for their experiences, sacrifices, and insight, adults are not children who must be trained by their parents with rewards for "good" behavior and punishments for "bad" behavior.
Oaks goes on to say that parents who love their children should not support "self destructive" behavior, which he defines as behavior that violates the Mormon commandments. I found the bitter irony in the statement depressing. I have never been on a more self destructive path then when I was trying to fulfill the Mormon commandments. At various times I was on the brink of suicide or self defeating mental and emotional behavior. I was depressed. I couldn't deal with anxiety or stress of any kind. I was a mess. When I began to live a healthy life and started doing what was best for my mental health, I had to abandon many LDS ideals. According to Oaks, my parents should punish me for this by withholding something from me.
As if the rhetoric thus far wasn't divisive enough, Oaks concludes with these chilling words: "When family members are not united in striving to keep the commandments of God there will be divisions. We do all that we can to avoid impairing loving relationships, but sometimes it happens after all we can do. In the midst of such stress we must endure the reality that the straying of our loved ones will detract from our happiness, but it should not detract from our love for one another or our patient efforts to be united in understanding God's love and God's laws."
So my adult decision--no matter how mature they are--will detract from my parents happiness. Never mind the fact that doing what they want me to do (marry a woman) would inhibit my happiness and bring me back to self deprication. So my parents can't choose to be happy that I'm happy simply because I became happy in a way that was different than them? And all of this "stress" could cause our relationship to be impaired? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is responsible for destroying families across the Earth. They will be held accountable for that grave sin before God.
Think about the healing, instead of the rifts, that Oaks could have brought to families if he had closed his talk like this: When family members do not believe the same things or make the same decisions, there may be painful divisions and stress. But families can be united in their love for each other despite those differences. Parents can experience the joy and blessings that come from their choices regardless of the decisions their children make. In the end, the love that binds families together is stronger than the influences that would pull them apart.