The Christian faith is intrinsically connected to politics. It always has been. As we disciple our families, it is helpful to consider citizenship as a spiritual discipline, a habit of devotion. After all, politics is deeply concerned with the allegiance and affections of the heart.
Political influence can be powerfully used for either good or evil. This is one of the basic plot lines of 1& 2 Samuel, 1& 2 Kings, and 1& 2 Chronicles (any narrative portion of the Bible, really), as well as basically all world history. Jesus and his early followers framed much of Christian language in the political language of the day, and it wasn’t by accident that the sign over Jesus’ head at the crucifixion read “King of the Jews.”
As a parent, I’m increasingly aware that citizenship is a discipleship issue that I need to be addressing with my kids – particularly since cultivating ‘a habit of devotion’ is something our culture is definitely doing through the history they learn, the patriotic songs they sing, and the Pledge of Allegiance they repeat daily in school from a very young age.
Even the laser show at Stone Mountain here in Georgia is little more than nationalistic propaganda around common patriotic American themes with lots of glitz and Southern flare.
I’m not saying that patriotism is bad. I’m definitely not saying America is bad. I am saying that we need to put patriotism within its proper place, or like all affections, it can become an idol and we can be all too easily mislead.
When it comes to discipling my children as political beings, there are three basic truths that I want my children to understand.
- As humans, my kids are image bearers of God, along with every other human that has been, is now, or will be.
I want my kids to know that they are incredibly special. But they are no more special than any other person. Genesis 1:27 elevates my kids to an incredibly lofty position; they are made “in the image of God” – but it puts them no higher than any other human.
I don’t want my kids to think that they are inherently better in any essential way from other humans. We have our differences, but those differences don’t impact our inherent worth or value before God.
It’s important to keep this in mind because one of the greatest weapons of the enemy is to get us to objectify others in ways that reduce their humanity. I want my kids to be aware when categories or stereotypes are being used to dehumanize people. This is what the Nazis did to the Jews, what whites did to black people (and often still do), and what all nations do to one another during wartime.
Increasingly, we need to be aware of the language surrounding people coming to this country. It’s hard to refuse an image bearer of God food, safety and shelter – but it’s becoming all too easy for us to cast aside the “immigrant,” especially the “illegal.”
- As Christians, my kids are part of a family and a kingdom that transcends (but includes) time and space.
When we are united to Christ in salvation, we are also bound to one another. In John 17, Jesus prays that we would be one even as Jesus and the Father are one. In Ephesians 2:19, Paul says we are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul even goes so far as to claim our being adopted into God’s family was one of the whole points of Jesus’ ministry: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
There are many implications of our adoption, but the one I want to highlight here for my kids is this: because of Jesus’ redemption, we need to view and treat other Christians as family.
And because the church is future as well as past and present, that means we have to treat every non-Christian we meet as a potential brother or sister in Christ. This has massive ramifications when we apply this to our political interactions and influence. There is no “us/them” for the Christian – only an “us/hopefully-soon-to-be-us.”
Hospitality is incredibly important to my wife and me, and I want my kids to practice hospitality as well, as a part of their Christian witness.
What if we saw every immigrant as either a discipleship or evangelistic opportunity? In my work with the Persian-speaking church, I regularly get to be discipled by immigrants to the USA from Iran. They have taught me so much about our common Father. I have also seen how open to the Gospel many immigrants are. We’ll pay tons of money to travel all over the world for the opportunity to share our faith with other people groups. Are we really going to prevent them from coming here so we can bear witness in our own backyards?
- As Americans, my kids have certain rights and responsibilities – but that these rights and responsibilities are overruled by 1 and 2 above.
Just because something is legal in America doesn’t mean it’s actually okay or even a good idea. This is perhaps the most difficult and yet most important truth that I want my kids to know – especially my daughter who (like me) is very much a rule follower and likes defending her rights.
We are governed by laws, but these laws are not the ultimate authority, and human laws can be changed. We respect our leaders. We pray for our leaders. We follow our leaders – but only insofar as they are in step with our King and our Father and in line with the love behind truths 1& 2 above. I want my kids to know that while the Constitution is important and certainly influential, it is not Scripture.
Also, just because something is best for America doesn’t mean it’s actually okay or even a good idea. Just because we have a right to something doesn’t mean we can shirk our responsibilities as image bearers and children of God. What’s best for us individually or America as a whole should not come at the expense of others.
How this can inform our parenting (or discipling other youth)
I want to offer four suggestions based on personal experience.
First, we need to make sure that we are cultivating the spiritual discipline of citizenship for ourselves. We aim for proper understanding of our earthly citizenship alongside our heavenly citizenship. We need to meditate upon what it means to be imagebearers and ponder what it means to be a child of God. As the Spirit convicts us of sin, we need to confess, repent, and seek to do better. As the Spirit leads us to new paths to relate to others, we need to courageously and faithfully obey.
Second, we need to take the time to teach our kids these truths and intentionally disciple our kids in their attitudes towards others. Take note when they are stereotyping. Gently correct when they are dehumanizing others in their words or deeds. Kids are deeper thinkers than we often give them credit for, and you’ll be surprised how much they can teach us about relating to people who are different.
Third, as a part of your discipleship, take steps to experience the truths above. I encourage you and your family to actually meet some immigrants. Become their friends. Experience how much you have in common. Make friends with believers from other cultures and different parts of the world. And then let the wisdom and richness of these people inform your view of America – both of our strengths and our weaknesses. I am deeply grateful for my Iranian friends.
Lastly, take the time to talk with your kids about the political issues of the day, particularly if your kids are older. They’re likely talking about them (or at least hearing about them) anyway at school or with their friends. And as the Lord leads, encourage them to action. God uses the courageous, faithful obedience of his people to do amazing things.
Need practical suggestions to get your family culturally engaged? Check out our piece on the Youth Ministry side of the blog today, 10 Ways to Engage Your Youth Group in Cross-Cultural Thinking (and Topics Like Immigration and Politics).