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Did we just go there?

Yes indeed, we did.

In a county where “don’t ask, don’t tell” was standard practice long before the military officially adopted it, we’ve gone where small town newspapers often are reluctant to go.

We’ve published a story this week that for some is a double whammy. Not only have we reported on the topic of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, but we’ve done so in the context of how one of the county’s most significant religious groups, Mennonites, are coping with issues associated with the LGBT community as related to their confessions of faith.

There were concerns expressed in our newsroom about doing the story. Were we reporting, or were we creating news where none really existed?

The answer is decidedly yes, this is news that deserves to be reported.

We typically stay away from national news stories unless there are clear implications for Marion County. We didn’t report on the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, but when last year Marion County issued a marriage license for a same-sex couple, national became local and we reported it.

When the county’s Mennonite Brethren-affiliated Tabor College applies for an exemption from federal nondiscrimination rules, that’s news. It’s a story that frankly we missed in January, but when the Internet started humming this past week with a story that misconstrued the reason for Tabor’s request, it was news again.

Our decision gained added support from a Mennonite World Review article in November about an openly gay Tabor student who has chosen to transfer to Mennonite Church USA-affiliated Bethel College, which he apparently believes will be more suited to his goal of becoming a Mennonite pastor.

We chose to bypass an investigative-style report focused on past incidents to instead address the broader issue of communities of faith, which include our neighbors and friends, working to reconcile their beliefs with their responses to the LGBT community, members of which live, work, study, play, and worship right here in Marion County.

Tabor College president Jules Glanzer gave a candid and insightful interview, and said the college had fallen short at times of its stated intent to deal sensitively and compassionately with LGBT issues. We know of individuals who would readily agree with that.

Glanzer’s job is to present Tabor in the best possible light, and we know that if we wanted to go digging, we could find someone willing to engage in “he said, she said” arguments about falling short; people who likely would criticize our story as being too favorable to the powers that be.

They may be right, but that’s not the story we’ve decided is news at this moment. Through our research, we determined the story was larger than individual cases.

The story is really about all of us. The range of divergent responses reflected in the story of Mennonite branches is a microcosm of questions we all should ask and conversations we all should have about our responses to LGBT issues.

Nothing about it is as simple or skewed as the drivel posted on social media makes it out to be. That’s not a forum conducive to the serious, respectful conversations that should be taking place among friends, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow worshipers.

If there’s a lesson to be found in the story of our Mennonite neighbors, it could be the manner in which they strive to connect principles of faith with the realities of living, enough so that they’re engaging in discussions such as this. Obviously, they all don’t come up with the same answers; hence, the difficulties that have ensued. There may be no common resolution to be found, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

When people in our county are buzzing about something controversial, that’s a news story, and we’ve reported it. However, as news editor, it would be disingenuous of me to fail to admit that this is a news story I hope more people will talk about, even if it’s agreeing to disagree without being disagreeable.

As a society, we’ve lost a lot of civility that once was found in political and social discourse. The only way to reclaim that is person by person, and this is as good a place to practice that as any.

— david colburn

Last modified Dec. 10, 2015

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