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The next question: child sexual abuse

Former Eastmoor United Methodist Church pastor Bob Priest evidently touched a few nerves with his letter to the editor two weeks ago.

Priest cited the example of Jesus accepting people deemed unacceptable by religious authorities of the day as a call for Christians to be nonjudgmental toward people with non-heterosexual orientations. He offered an interpretation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, one embraced by many Biblical scholars, that it was not a story about the evils of homosexuality, but rather was about inhospitality.

Last week and this, other Christians have responded with detailed Scriptural references calling homosexuality a sin, rebutting Priest’s claim about the message of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and in some instances acknowledging that while Christians are obliged to embrace sinners, they are not obligated to accept the sin.

It’s not possible to seek understanding on an issue unless one knows clearly where people stand. These letters, all from people of faith, serve that purpose. Whatever the dialogue moving forward will be, the question of whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trangendered individuals find rejection, tolerance, or acceptance in the community will almost certainly continue to be with us.

So what’s the next step? Is there a next step?

I don’t have ready answers to those questions, but the letter exchange has sparked a question I believe is worthy of pondering, and it’s this:

Why does the LGBT issue apparently create the motivation for people to speak out publically, at least as reflected in letters we receive, while giving a quite different and serious sex-related issue a pass?

At the very top of the list of 18 prohibitions against various kinds of sexual behavior found in the book of Leviticus is this:

“No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations.”

It’s a Biblical reference to a serious issue our society has acknowledged, regardless of one’s faith: child sexual abuse.

It’s a serious issue in Marion County, where officials tell us the rate of child sexual abuse cases is among the highest in the state, a fact we’ve reported more than once.

Specific cases we’ve reported illustrate a well-established fact about child sexual abuse: It is by far most common within families and relatives, rather than strangers.

We’ve reported such cases, and we won’t stop doing so, believing that public awareness serves as a deterrent to those considering doing harm to children. We want perpetrators to know they’re not safe here.

But public response to stories of child sexual abuse has been quite different than what we’ve seen the past two weeks with letters about the LGBT issue.

We’re routinely condemned in some circles for reporting child sexual abuse, particularly when a story makes the front page. Why can’t we bury it inside? Why would we print something that reflects badly on the community, something that people might see and perhaps judge us harshly as a result? Why do we report such a private thing at all? It’s clear there are those that want to keep the issue tucked away and quiet.

What we haven’t gotten in response to those reports are letters decrying the criminal and moral evil being perpetrated on helpless children. We don’t get letters calling for increased support to address the problem.

Hence, the question, posed to everyone regardless of personal religious beliefs: Why does the LGBT issue appear to generate more public reaction and response in terms of letters to the editor than the issue of sex crimes against children? Why will people get up in arms to publically defend or defame same-sex relationships between consenting adults, yet remain largely silent about coerced acts against innocent children?

Perhaps it’s because we all agree that child sexual abuse and what should happen — put the offenders in jail and get children and families the help they need. We have officials and programs and laws and prisons supported by the entire community to do this. Given the higher rate in our county compared to others, one can argue we should be doing more, but I don’t know anyone who would argue against what should be done. It’s just a shame that I don’t see community members deluging us with letters when they’re made aware of the problem. When we should be doing more, silence doesn’t help.

There’s no such common agreement, however, on issues surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and others who are not heterosexual, as evidenced by our letters. And when viewpoints vary, people want their views to be heard, even embraced, by others. So they speak out.

Will there be a day in which LGBT individuals feel safe and secure to be themselves in our communities? Don’t ask, don’t tell has been the standard for a long time. Some want that to change, others don’t.

The only answer to that question will be determined over time. The answer could be elusive, and no matter what one believes, the pursuit of that answer will be challenging. Such is the nature of issues with opposing positions.

As recent events and our letter writers have shown us, the discussion has commenced. It’s not going to go away in the months and years ahead.

Brendan Kraus had a specific position he addressed in the letter we published last week, different than that of Bob Priest. I’m taking the liberty of lifting one of his phrases out of context, beyond his specific stand, because I can think of none better for how people with similar and differing views should proceed from here: “This is a topic we should continue to discuss openly and lovingly. We need to get this right.”

— david colburn

Last modified Nov. 16, 2017

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