Jordan Riak's letter to the Editor, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 16, 1998
Subject: Child abuse at the Faith Pentacostal Church
To the Editor:
I was both saddened and outraged to read about the systemic abuse of children at the Faith Temple Pentecostal Church. The rationalizations offered by pastor David Hemphill and the involved parent are surpassed in their absurdity only by the DA's reluctance to charge a crime. Had the child beaten and knocked down the parent at church, we'd hear a loud public clamor for swift, harsh punishment. That child would be hauled off to the county juvenile facility within the hour. But when the child is the victim, nobody knows what to do. Or seems to care. Parental behavior is sacrosanct until a felony is committed. We have to wait until the child is in the hospital or dead. Then the law, in all its majesty, swings into action; everybody knows exactly what to do.
I believe children must be afforded the same protections under law against being assaulted and battered that are taken for granted by every other class of citizen. Sidestep the issue of violent treatment of children, and everything that is said about the problems of youth in general, and violence in particular, is just hollow, self-serving rhetoric.
Critics will insist you cannot change incompetent parenting by criminalizing it. (Odd how those who are so ready to criminalize children's behavior are so permissive toward child-abusing adults!) Well, they are half right. You do cannot change the heart of the spanker, nor, for that matter, of the wife beater, the bigot, the polygamist and the drunk driver by passing laws. But you do change their behavior. And the upcoming generation will be less likely to engage in behaviors it hasn't witnessed and experienced. That's how, in a civilized society, the law teaches, and how major social reforms take root and become the norm.
Today, husbands can no longer physically chastise wives, employers can no longer whip apprentices, the flogging posts have been removed from the parade grounds and the prison yards. Children alone remain beatable. Until we muster the moral courage and intellectual honesty to address this outrage, we will continue to live with its consequences. Children are not born wild, evil, or "innately depraved" as we have been taught for centuries. In fact, they are innately responsive to tenderness and affection. Tragically, this precious capacity is often squelched by unimaginable rejection and cruelty perpetrated in places like Faith Temple Pentecostal Church. That's why children need to be protected. They need the most vigorous protection of all because they are the most vulnerable of all, and because the consequences of their early mistreatment are irreversible.