I recently got a call from a Christian radio station, asking if I they could interview me about the presidential election.
At first this struck me as odd, since I’ve never billed myself as a political commentator. Charles Krauthammer, I ain’t. Though I envy his poker face. But then they said, “We’re hoping you can help parents explain this crazy election season to their kids.” And I thought, oh! Maybe that’s something I could do!
The interview was pretty interesting, so I thought I’d summarize what came out of it for all y’all. (I’m not Southern, but “all y’all” is both fun to say AND delightfully redundant.)
Okay – you pretend to be the interviewer.
“Say, Phil … your work with vegetables has no doubt made you an expert on the American political process. How can we help our kids survive this crazy election season?”
That’s a good question, thank you for asking. I’ve got four thoughts:
1. Don’t drown your kids in politics.
When we’re living through such colorful times, It’s tempting to stay constantly tuned in. That might mean leaving the TV on with Fox News or CNN blaring all day to keep up on the latest.
Don’t. It really isn’t good for our kids. Here’s why: Anything that is constantly present – a constant topic of conversation – becomes wildly amplified in perceived importance. Example: If the golf channel is on in your home 24/7 and golf magazines cover the coffee table, nothing in the world will seem to your kids as important as golf. And before you laugh at all the golf maniacs, how about all those home makeover shows? Are they on non-stop in your home? Or is it car customizing shows? ‘Bama football? Antiquing?
Any interest of yours that becomes omnipresent in your home will assume a disproportionately large position in the worldview of your kids.
And, of course, the same is true of politics. If this election season becomes an everpresent voice – especially when it’s draped in the apocalyptic language of “saving America” or “losing America” – the arena of politics will grow to frighteningly overwhelming size in the eyes of your kids. They will believe all of the hyperbole that we adults are (usually) able to filter out.
Tune-in at night, after your kids are in bed. Or just check the headlines on your phone. Don’t make this political season the “most important thing in the world.” Really. It isn’t. But more about that later.
2. When you ARE watching with your kids, use what you see to teach your kids about our political process.
There is something to be learned in all this, but it isn’t the crazy statements being made by both sides. It’s the process itself. What is a convention? What is a delegate? What’s the electoral college? Why do we elect presidents this way? Why are all these people yelling? Turn the volume down low, and just talk to your kids about the process itself. If you don’t have the answers yourself … that’s what Wikipedia is for.
If your kids are older, engage them in the bigger issues behind the election. The loss of middle-class jobs, for example, is effecting countries all over the world. Immigration is a hot-button issue everywhere, not just in the U.S. of A. Engage these issues thoughtfully with your kids, so they’ll know what all the yelling is about.
3. Point out the demonization of the “other side,” rather than joining in.
One thing is certain this year. Hillary Clinton will be painted as the devil incarnate. AND so will Donald Trump. Extremism sells newspapers and gets ratings. If you’re watching the news with your kids, they will hear candidates being demonized. Don’t join in. In fact, speak up to point out what is happening. Do you agree with all of Hilary Clinton’s policies or decisions? Of course not. But is she the devil incarnate? No. She’s a human being, loved by God, trying to do the best she can based on her own personal values and upbringing. And the same is true of Donald Trump. Even with the hair.
The demonization of opponents is a “YUUUGE” problem in American culture today, going way beyond politics. ANYONE we disagree with is the devil. Or at the very least, Hitler. Hearing grown-ups describe opponents like this is extremely damaging to our kids – especially if we want them to view others through the eyes of Christ. There is but one devil, and his name isn’t Hillary OR Donald. And he has no need for political office. That’s not how he rolls.
We need to show our kids how to disagree without being disagreeable. How to criticize policies without criticizing those who propose them. We need to show our kids that all people are worthy of love, even if all ideas are not.
4. And finally… teach your kids (and remind yourself) that politics isn’t the primary way Christians are called to change the world. Love is.
Not that Christians can’t be involved in politics. We can. Not that change can’t happen through legislative process. It can and it has. But God did not become man to show us how to vote. He became man to show us divine love, and then to teach us to do likewise. Christians lose the Gospel when we become known more for how we vote than how we love.
“But if we can change the laws, we can change the culture.” Ehhh… not really. Any good student of legal history will tell you that laws don’t shape culture, culture shapes laws. Laws couldn’t end slavery until cultural views about slavery reached a tipping point. The civil rights movement was born in churches and on street corners, not in courtrooms or law schools. 1973’s Roe v. Wade reflected massive shifts in cultural opinion about sex and reproduction that occured during the 1960s. The shifts in opinion came first. The law followed.
And this is what our kids need to know more than anything else during this season of political insanity. At the end of the day, our politics flow out of our culture. And the way we are called to engage our culture is through love. God can accomplish his will regardless of who is in the White House. Seriously. I’m not making that up.
Love your neighbor.
It’s really quite simple. And much easier to explain than the electoral college.
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