Protecting kids

Offering a safe, healthy, nurturing environment for children and families is one of the biggest attractions of small-town living. In fact, it may be the greatest asset rural communities possess for pursuing a viable future. However, defining what constitutes a safe environment is as subjective as defining what constitutes fine art: ?I know it when I see it.?

The truth is, people see ?safe? differently. That reality takes us to the heart of the recent debate in Hillsboro about the appropriate location?or even the existence, for that matter?of restaurants that may want to offer alcoholic drinks to their clientele.

The most vocal viewpoint infers that the best way to maintain a safe environment is to legally disallow anything that is perceived to threaten it. That approach has merit when there is pervasive agreement on which activities and behaviors constitute threats to personal and public welfare. Our criminal code would be a primary example of achieving that kind of consensus.

The crux of the issue in our context is that while alcohol abuse may achieve that kind of consensus (hence the legal prohibitions related to exhibiting such behavior in public), alcohol consumption does not. Even within the local religious community, which has been the locus of vocal objections, there is significant diversity of conviction and practice.

Using a ?Christian? perspective to frame alcohol consumption as a morally inferior behavior does a disservice to the vast majority of people, including other professing Christians, who exercise moderation in that area. Further, we believe it is a misapplication of Christian values itself. The air of pious judgmentalism that so often surfaces in such exchanges accomplishes little but build attitudinal barriers between people?the very barriers the biblical Jesus sought to dissolve during his time on earth.

To be sure, there are good reasons not to consume alcohol: the possibility of having a genetic vulnerability to addiction, the negative impact on personal health generally, the stewardship of financial resources?or even as a silent protest against the social carnage caused by abuse, or to challenge the prevailing assumption in our society that alcohol consumption is required for a ?good time? or to express one?s adulthood.

But could it be that morality-based efforts to ban or severely restrict alcohol consumption in local restaurants?ironically, an environment where the practice is closely monitored?only enhances the allure of crossing into ?forbidden territory? as young adults forge their transition into adulthood?

As parents and caring citizens, perhaps we best protect our youth by giving them a foundation for developing healthy decision-making skills: in this case, open and honest dialogue about the pros and cons concerning alcohol use. That approach seems superior to drawing lines in the sand regarding a lifestyle choice that is morally ambiguous at best. ?DR

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