Yawning Bread. December 2006

Neither honesty nor religious tolerance needed


    

 

 

The week between Christmas and the New Year is usually a slow news period, particularly on the political front. Governments try not to put out initiatives during this period perhaps because they deem their citizens too preoccupied with having fun, or more likely, ministers themselves are on holiday. At home, there's nothing coming out of our own government except bland holiday greetings from the Prime Minister's Office.

Expecting a slow period, I have saved up some political news for Yawning Bread from earlier in December. Admittedly, they are not earth-shaking events, nor are they even Singapore-related -- they're from America -- but in the spirit of Christmas, they are news bits generated by the religious right's wingnuts.

* * * * *

We all know James Dobson, don't we? He gets a small paid advertisement daily in 'Today' newspaper, meant to elevate his image as some sort of guru on family relationships. Dobson (left) heads the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, a fundamentalist Christian organisation that goes around destroying families that happen to have gay members. It does this by telling parents that their gay sons and daughters are sinners, or by telling gay boys and girls to hate themselves. The resulting tension in personal relationships is so destructive, some vulnerable teens run away from home or commit suicide.

Earlier this month when Mary Cheney, the daughter of the US Vice-President, announced that she was expecting a child with her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, Time magazine invited James Dobson to comment. Somehow that invitation grew into a guest column in the US edition of the magazine.[1] 

Rather than adopt a condemnatory tack -- it wouldn't do because Dobson couldn't afford to antagonise Dick Cheney and the Republican Party -- Dobson couched his position in terms of "concern". He was "concerned" that Mary Cheney was being irresponsible by bringing a child into this world without a father and that the child's growth would be compromised.

Dobson claimed that "the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father."

To back up his argument, Dobson cited 2 highly-respected researchers in the field of child psychology.

"The unique value of fathers," wrote Dobson, "has been explained by Dr. Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School in his book Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. Pruett says dads are critically important simply because 'fathers do not mother.' "

Further on, Dobson said, "According to educational psychologist Carol Gilligan, mothers tend to stress sympathy, grace and care to their children, while fathers accent justice, fairness and duty."

To round off his essay, he said, "Traditional marriage is God's design for the family and is rooted in biblical truth. When that divine plan is implemented, children have the best opportunity to thrive." (See box).

Then a funny thing happened. Both scientists, Pruett, professor at New York University School of Medicine, and Gilligan, who had previously taught at Harvard and Cambridge, objected to Dobson trying to cite them.

 

     

 

Absolute rubbish, of course. I've said it many times before: so-called traditional marriage is a very recent invention, not more than 200 years old, and for millennia, including today, children have thrived in all sorts of cultures, with all sorts of family structures... so long as there's been love and care.

 

"You cherry-picked a phrase to shore up highly, in my view, discriminatory purposes," Pruett told Dobson in a letter. "This practice is condemned in real science, common though it may be in pseudo-science circles. There is nothing in my longitudinal research or any of my writings to support such conclusions (about same-gender families)."

Gilligan was "mortified". She sent him an email demanding that he "cease and desist from quoting my research in the future."

"Not only did you take my research out of context, you did so without my knowledge to support discriminatory goals that I do not agree with," she said in her letter. "What you wrote was not truthful and I ask that you refrain from ever quoting me again and that you apologize for twisting my work."

There is nothing new in Dobson's attempt to put scientific gloss on his religiously-motivated claims. As noted by Wayne Besen on the website of his organisation Truth Wins Out [2], the very same week that the Time magazine issue broke, Angela Phillips, author of The Trouble With Boys and professor at Goldsmiths College in London, said she was "incensed" to find she was misquoted in another Dobson article.

In June this year, Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, said Focus on the Family twisted her study on lesbian teen suicide. "The research has been hijacked for somebodyís political purposes or ideological purposes and thatís worrisome," Saewyc told CBC news.

And as noted in an earlier article in Yawning Bread, Robert Spitzer, another noted psychologist, has also been upset that Focus on the Family often cited his work in misleading ways. [3]

 

Faced with stark evidence that Dobson's guest column was way below journalistic standards of integrity -- never mind Christian exhortations to be truthful -- Time magazine invited Jennifer Chrisler to write a counter-essay [4]. Chrisler is the Executive Director of Family Pride, the largest LGBT family advocacy group in the US, and the mother of twin boys with her wife Cheryl Jacques. You'll see an except of the essay in the box on the right, where Chrisler addresses the claim that 30 years' of research has shown that children "do best" with heterosexual parents.

"It is true that there is 30 years of research," Chrisler wrote, but it showed the opposite of what Dobson claimed. "The fact is that research findings on these issues overwhelmingly testify to the success of gay families as nurturing environments for children's growth and development." [5]

Well then, what kind of Christian organisation is this that wallows in such dishonesty?

* * * * *

 
One of the "firsts" that came out of the US midterm elections last November was the victory of a Muslim candidate for the House of Representatives. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, will take his seat in January 2007.

On 28 November 2006, a radio show host and syndicated columnist, Dennis Prager (right) vented his spleen at the prospect of Ellison taking his oath of office upon the Koran. "He should not be allowed to do so," said Prager, "because the act undermines American civilization."

How?

"Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress."

In a nutshell, Prager told Ellison, "America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath."

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) took issue with Prager's stand, calling his views "intolerant" and "ugly". In its public statement, the ADL pointed out that,

... the U.S. Constitution guarantees that, "no religious test shall ever be required" to hold public office in America. Members of Congress, like all Americans, should be free to observe their own religious practices without government interference or coercion.

Pragerís patriotic prattling is misinformed on the facts, too. No Member of Congress is officially sworn in with a Bible. Under House rules, the official swearing-in ceremony is done in the House chambers, with the Speaker of the House administering the oath of office en masse. No Bibles or other holy books are used at all. Members may, if they choose, also have a private ceremony with family and friends. At these unofficial ceremonies, Members frequently solemnize the event by taking an oath while holding a personal family Bible.

I shall, however go back to quoting Prager. The ADL's statement is too sober; it isn't as much fun as Prager's words.

"Ellison's doing so will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones," Prager continued, "as Islamists, rightly or wrongly, see the first sign of the realization of their greatest goal -- the Islamicization of America. "

He demanded Christian conformity: "When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization."

Then invoked the Al-Qaeda attacks on New York: "If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11."

My word! Such catastrophe from having the Koran at an unofficial ceremony.

It may amaze you, but Prager is not Christian; rather, he's an Orthodox Jew. However, his political views are based on seeing America as the safekeeper of (what he believes are morally-superior) Judeo-Christian values, an exceptional country meant by his god Yahweh/Jehovah to fight off everybody else. Thus, he sees a clash of civilisations upon the slightest pretext.

He and others like him imagine themselves besieged by people of other religions, atheists, secular humanists, scientists, feminists, gays, Asians, Africans, communists, socialists, gun-control proponents...

Before we laugh too loudly at the madness that erupts from fevered minds of rightwing America, Singaporeans should also know that such people can be found here too. There is a branch of Focus on the Family here. We have charismatic mega churches here. We have pastors (and letter-writers to the Straits Times) who also play fast and loose with science and who declare to their congregations their intention to change Singapore from a secular state and a multi-religious society into "a nation of righteous Christians". [6]

As a popular hymn goes,

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, 
with the cross of Jesus going on before. 
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; 
forward into battle see his banners go!

© Yawning Bread 


 

Excerpt from Jennifer Chrisler's essay in Time magazine:

It is true that there is 30 years of research about families headed by lesbian and gay parents. However, Dobson claims that the resulting data shows that "children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father." To say that Dobson is misinformed here would be inaccurate. He is simply lying. The people who are misinformed by these untruths are the readers of his material and those who publish his work without appropriately verifying his assertions. The fact is that research findings on these issues overwhelmingly testify to the success of gay families as nurturing environments for children's growth and development.

In terms of specific examples, Dr. Nanette Gartrell, former Harvard Medical School faculty and current Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, has conducted research on lesbian-headed families since the early 1980s. Gartrell's findings have proven that "in social and psychological development, the children [of lesbian parents] were comparable to children raised in heterosexual families." In addition, Dr. Charlotte Patterson, Professor of Psychology as the University of Virginia and respected family and child researcher, has determined that "there is no evidence that the development of children with lesbian or gay parents is compromised in any significant respect relative to that among children of heterosexual parents in otherwise comparable circumstances."

In addition, professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association and the National Association of Social Workers have all issued position statements supporting same-sex parents. The Child Welfare League of America says, "It should be recognized that sexual orientation and the capacity to nurture a child are separate issues." The American Psychological Association goes even further "Not a single study has found children to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by gay and lesbian parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children's psycho-social growth. Gay and lesbian parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide healthy and supportive environments for their children."

 

Footnotes

  1. Time magazine, US edition, 12 Dec 2006, Two Mommies Is One Too Many
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  2. See http://truthwinsout.org/news/?p=45   
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  3. See the article Here's proof that homosexuals can change!  
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  4. Time magazine, 14 December 2006, Two Mommies or Two Daddies Will Do Fine, Thanks  
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  5. I would also draw your attention to the article New Jersey court orders legislature to provide for same-sex unions. I mentioned there that the Supreme Court of New Jersey had heard similar claims about the unique suitability of heterosexual parents in raising children, but were more convinced by the scientific literature presented before the court showing no difference between same-sex and opposite-sex parenting couples.
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  6. See the article COOS pastor wants a nation of righteous Christians  
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Addenda

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