The Biggest Lie from the First Presidential Debate

Deep down, I envied the thirteen-year-old who sat across the table from me. As we finished our lunches that afternoon, one of the (many) topics we had discussed was 2016’s first presidential debate, which took place only days before.

When the debate ended that prior Monday evening, I was left scratching my head. Statistically speaking, the two individuals showcased that evening are the two most unpopular major-party candidates in modern American history. Realistically, one of them will be our nation’s next Commander-in-Chief. To quote Whitman, “the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” As an adult, mine is the difficult lot of deciding which “verse” to cast on my ballot in November: I must consider the issues, weigh the positives and the hesitations, and then decipher how to approach the ballot box.

“You’re lucky that you’re only thirteen!” I said. “You don’t have to make sense of this year’s presidential election.”

Because he was too young to vote, I assumed that this student wouldn’t be burdened by the same sense of weight with regards to this election. But as we continued to talk about the issues in-depth, I could tell that I had assumed incorrectly. This middle-schooler knew well that the decisions our leaders make today will inevitably have an impact on his opportunities tomorrow. He longed for solutions which honored all human life: the unborn, the immigrant, the minority, and the downtrodden. Most poignantly, he wondered why negativity was so pervasive in this particular election, and what it said about the nation in which he lived.

I suddenly felt overwhelmed. A single question haunted me. “Considering where we are today as a nation…is there any redemptive angle to take in this discussion?”

If you’re a parent, teacher, or fellow student minister who works with teenagers, you’ve probably asked a similar question yourself.

Fortunately, I believe the answer to said question is a resounding “YES!”

There’s great hope to be found in the words of Colossians 1:19-20, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” The good news of the gospel is that every story is a story of redemption; “all things” are being reconciled by the blood of Jesus. Seeds of gospel redemption have been sown all throughout Creation…even in the social and political quagmire we presently face as a nation. Ours is the task of digging through the “muck” which so often hides those seeds from view: bringing gospel-hope to bear in our spheres of influence, most notably in the lives of the young people whom God has entrusted to us.

Considering the recent presidential debate, we have a lot of “muck” to clear away.

The Biggest Lie from the Presidential Debate

The biggest lie from the first presidential debate was a simple yet damning message, one which wreaks havoc on so many students: “Your worth is grounded in your works.” Stated differently, “Your identity is defined by what you’ve done in the past and what you’re planning on doing in the future.”

During the debate, each candidate attempted to make a case as to why he or she was the optimal choice to usher in a new age of American prosperity. The candidates did more than outline ambitions for the future; each made a case for his or her presidential worthiness. Perhaps Sec. Clinton captured the underlying sentiment best: “You [the voters] have to judge us, who can shoulder the immense, awesome responsibilities of the presidency, who can put into action the plans that will make your life better.” In many ways, those watching the debate were challenged to equate each candidate’s trajectory and ambition with his or her intrinsic value.

But the debate did not consist of “positive” communication only; there was plenty of mud to be slung over the course of the evening. The ethics of each candidate were regularly called into question: Sec. Clinton’s infamous email misconduct, and Donald Trump’s discrimination-related lawsuits and alleged tax evasion.

The message from each candidate was clear and simple: “My opponent’s past makes him/her unfit to be president.” There’s no room for grace within such an assessment; the past is the past, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

In many ways, the discussion surrounding the presidential debate is a microcosm of the reality into which our students are daily plunged: a subculture in which acceptance can be achieved only by hiding and pretending, and in which worth is established through accomplishment alone. Because of this subculture’s universal prevalence, so many of our students struggle in secret with addiction, depression, shame, and guilt. Many others sense the ever-present burden to “work harder,” stopping at nothing to add achievements to college résumés and, in the process, prove their worth.

No wonder a recent survey cited that 54% of high school students suffered from moderate to severe depression, and that 80% of the same population suffered from anxiety.

It’s a powerful fallacy we’re up against. Fortunately for us, the Truth has far more power than the counterfeit.

Redeeming the Present Political Discussion

Political pundits love to evaluate a candidate’s claims on the debate stage in light of a larger body of truth. We commonly refer to this pattern as “fact-checking.” In our ministries to students, God has charged us to “fact-check” our culture, which too often equates a person’s worth to his or her works. And as we bask in the glorious words of Colossians 1:19-20, we have the privilege of setting the record straight:

Young people, your worth is grounded in Jesus’ work for you. Your identity is defined by what He’s done in the past, and on the future reconciliation which was secured by the shedding of His blood.

There’s only one way to be freed from the trap of works-based righteousness: remembering that the Righteous One of heaven did all the work necessary to permanently bestow his worthiness to us. Regardless of the blunders we’ve had in the past. Regardless of any accomplishment or failure we may have.

The future of our nation may be uncertain, but our reconciliation in God’s Kingdom is as secure as it’s always been. Regardless of which candidate we elect in November, King Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand. Hebrews 10 says that He has “made perfect for all time those who are being sanctified,” and that in so doing His enemies will be made His “footstool.” There’s nothing on earth that can alter that reality! No past mistake. No future accomplishment. Not even the results of this election.

That’s a redemptive angle if I’ve ever heard one. I can’t wait to share it with the next student who asks.

How have you redeemed the 2016 election cycle in your conversations with teens?


A veteran of vocational student ministry, Davis Lacey now serves as the Lead Planter and Pastor of Autumn Ridge Community Church in Ellijay, GA. He is also a member of the Rooted Steering Committee. He holds the MTS and MDiv degrees from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as an Engineering degree from Mercer University. He is married to his childhood sweetheart Charis, and the two of them love having adventures with their two children: Evelynn and Haddon.

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