Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Sacred Duty by Rasband & Wilkins Book Review

Yesterday I finished A Sacred Duty by Ester Rasband and Richard Wilkins. This was a 1999 publication from a 1996 experience of Wilkins' with the UN in Istanbul at the Habitat II conference. Now, yes, this doesn't sound very exciting, but this book had me so interested that I couldn't sleep. It didn't help that I read it right before bed!

I minored in International Development at BYU ('98), so it was fun reading and thinking about where I was and what I was doing as this story unfolded. In fact, I took a class where re read a lot of UN docs (I think that's what they were) in '97 or '98, so I wondered if I'd read anything influenced by this Istanbul conference.  The book is easy to read, as Rasband provides a simple narration with inserts by Wilkins.

From the beginning, page 9, I recognized that the book was trying to share that the UN basically sets the "community standard" for the world in regards to what is socially acceptable and what is not. I became familiar with the term "community standard" some time within the last decade when I met JoAnn Hibbert Hamilton who worked so hard to maintain a conservative community standard in my own community. She passed away just last month.  It's amazing that once we accept a certain standard, whether at a close community level, or at a world-wide level, those standards and values do eventually become common practice and even law.

On page 10, Wilkins felt that by going to the UN he would become the "whipping boy" for the traditional family. I thought that was pretty funny; really, with what he was doing, he indeed felt like a lamb before the slaughter. (Interestingly, although he felt like a minority, when he got there and met people, there were plenty who believed as he did, they were just thwarted by those parties with more power, influence, and money.)

On page 11 he says, ". . . but my prayers were more in the nature of 'Please, I don't want to go' than they were 'I'll go where you want me to go.' I suppose I was fiddling on the roof [like Tevye]." Oh how I could relate! I felt like I went out on a limb when I started this blog.  I so did not want to, but I felt the Lord needed another voice from the average Mormon woman. There were too many dissenting, rebellious voices out there and I thought, what will people not of our faith think of us if all they see are those other voices?

On page 24 it was interesting how people didn't think these UN documents made any difference. The representative from India even said, ". . . My nation doesn't really intend to enforce any of this. We negotiate and sign these agreements because we want to go home. . . ." How often do we take that approach?

Around page 40 is a really good summary of how the UN policies and practices and infiltrations came to be and where the power and influence comes from.

On 43 this question came to my mind, Who defines good? God or wo/man? That determines practice. On just Sunday, my neighbor shared that she was talking to her atheist brother about something and he questioned, "Well who says?"  She rebutted, "Well our Heavenly Father. It's God's laws" and he silenced, showing that there may just be a particle of faith left in him. If we're not going by God's laws, everything is arbitrary. His laws are the only stability.  Also related, on page 45 where Wilkins is trying to decide what he'll really stand for he decides, "he had better be true to a source of truth over and above his own perception" because God is the only one with the full picture.

On 44 I was reminded of the movie, The Giver (I haven't read the book, only seen the new movie). I think the only way the state could be allowed to be in charge of family & children would be if people didn't have emotion, which was exactly what happened in The Giver.

Also on 44 I was reminded of My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding where the wife says, "The man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants" because the book suggests that influence is the great power. So, just as a wife has great influence on her husband, whatever group has the biggest influence in the UN, in this case, will have the most power.

I enjoyed on page 62 how Wilkins compared himself to Jonah. Here he wanted to run away, but he went in and did what needed to do.

It's interesting in 1996 that the Women's Caucus wanted (page 64):

1. Women must make the important decisions regarding resource allocation. Men, they said, are incapable of making those decisions because they simply could never understand.
2. Alternative forms of sexual partnerships must be recognized.
3. Women must have ready access to pregnancy termination.
4. We must have government-sponsored day care.

I didn't realize (or remember) in 1996 that these things were being lobbied for at an international level. I know they are things we face now. Perhaps because they were brought to the table in 1996 is the reason we do face them now.

I remember in that class where we read those political documents hearing a story about women in Africa who were fed up with the men in their communities. The men sat around intoxicated, so the women were the breadwinners and caregivers; the men were useless. In that case, I can see women fully needed to be in charge of financial and pretty much all other decisions, but not all men are like that. There are still good men out there who do fulfill their God-appointed responsibilities, and we should let them.

On 64-65 there's an account of a woman speaking of how "women could be freed from this conflict [of family & profession] by a combination of twelve ours a day of government-sponsored day care, distribution of labor-saving devices, and a proliferation of fast food restaurants (so women could feed their children on the way home from day care)." She received a "thunderous ovation." I'm guessing that woman didn't have children because there is no emotion in this. I don't know anyone who wants such a sterilized, segregated family life. There is no joy, no connection in this.  But then again, when you read the history pages (around page 40) you realized that a lot of this compartmentalized thought has come to the world from people who have been hurt and neglected by their parents, so they see the world through their dysfunctional, sad paradigm, but the paradigm of happy, connected families is not represented, and eventually overthrown.

I do understand the hardships of raising a family; it's not fun (sure it can be), but it's work and it's learning. However, just because it's hard, does not mean it's not valuable or not necessary.

68 - "Be careful. . . before you discard thousands of years of tradition. Do not do it quickly or without great care. The family is the basic unit of society. It is central to our communities. If our problems are to be solved, they are to be solved in the families of the world. Do not adopt policies that will lead to disintegration of our families. We must, instead, strengthen them."

69 - From a delegate of one of the Arab countries to Wilkins, "'Where have you been?' To have support for traditional families from a Western nation was more than the developing countries had hoped for. . . . These delegates felt new hope that anyone form the Western world was on their side." How sad that non-Westerners feel that the Western world has abandoned the traditional family, when few really have.

83 - "At one point a group of Muslims asked Richard: 'Why do you do this? What is in it for you? Is this based on your political belief, or is this based on faith?' Richard responded quickly. The answer is easy. 'Both,' he said. 'I think it is best from a political perspective because history tells us and shows us that societies that recognize religious rights and parental rights, that work to retain the values that religion teaches---clearly those societies create more stable regimes. But ultimately, I'm doing it because I believe it is what my God wants me to do.'"

Pages 97-98 are the most beautiful in the entire book. Wilkins believes that the people at the conference clung to his words because he shared the words from the "prophet of the God of Abraham." They were all fighting to maintain the standards of the same God; they were united. Wilkins felt such great love for all the people, and wanted a better world for everyone, and the way for the better world was to follow the words in The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

Even with those he once saw as enemies to his cause, he now believed, "I wanted them to understand that unborn children are our brothers and sisters, and if I used to want to regulate abortion because I thought it was "bad," now it was because I loved those children. I knew that those who saw me as their enemy were concerned about the women---and I was moved by that, but I wanted them to know that I loved both the children and the mothers.
I remembered what President Hinckley had said about those "burdened with same-sex attraction," and I grieved at how heavy that burden must be. At the same time I understood that as caring as it was to want gratification for those so burdened, it was not what was in their best interest. God had something more, something better than that for them.
It all came down to comprehending something as basic and obvious as life. I saw that it was all about life giving, life sustaining, and life nurturing. It is the only part of Godhood that we can begin to understand here, and if one is not engaged in it one's entire life loses its most important aspect of meaning.  [Emphasis added.]
What a testimony! I love how Wilkins turned everything to LIFE and the bigger picture. To understand that bigger picture, we really need the Gospel (which he recognized others believing and loving at the mosques, so obviously this is not something unique to Latter-day Saints). I haven't really struggled with the abortion issue, but, honestly, understanding homosexuality is beyond me. I just don't even know what to say about it.  I know it does not follow God's plan and will not lead to further progression in the eternities, but why the trial? Why do people feel this way? What's the cause? I'm at the point where I understand that I don't understand and cannot be quick to judge. OK, enough of that.

The epilogue concludes with a conference the next year where the Habitat II conference was overlooked. Wilkins recognized, "The price of liberty, it seems really is eternal vigilance" (104). No matter how we'd all like to have this be a done deal on God's side supporting His laws, it never ends; the fight goes on and we have to keep representing Him.

So, even though on the outset, this book sounds like it would be boring, it's actually fascinating and full of miracles! Because I read it, I even understand better how God views His children.