What does a parent tell their child after a day like January 6, 2021? Most parents do not have language or a paradigm to explain what they saw when a mob overwhelmed the Capitol of the United States.
What do we tell our children? Answering this question does not just apply to helping young people process the chaos and violence of these unfathomable events. Answering the question at this important moment in history takes on higher stakes than comfort alone; it entails raising up a better church and better country for the future.
Dishonesty, deceit, hatred, pettiness, injustice, and narcissism have characterized the American political landscape over the last several years in too many pockets and on both sides of the aisle. Where has the prophetic voice of the church been?
The actions and inactions of Christian and church leaders surrounding the American political landscape have been anywhere from lacking at times to utterly disgraceful at others.
At the practical level, the church bears a responsibility to promote the justice of God, as seen in the entirety of his word, for the welfare of all people. In addition, he calls his people to promote and defend his truth.
Just as God appointed the prophets of the Old Testament to stand up and speak out in Israel in the name of promoting his justice and truth, the church carries this same role today.
Where has this voice been?
To put it simply, the American church has been a lousy prophet for our country and our people.
Too many conservative Christian leaders have been quick to point out the faults of the Democratic party’s agenda and behavior, while remaining silent when the GOP and its figures are clearly out of line. Too many progressive Christian voices consistently decry the wrongs of the Republicans and their leaders, while turning a blind eye to the faults of the Democratic party.
Culpability for the immoral actions of the people who stormed the Capitol building resides with the individuals themselves. They made seriously misguided, unethical decisions that resulted in deaths, injuries, and the undermining of democracy. Simultaneously, the outrageous behavior of the mob on January 6th is the manifestation of a toxic political climate run roughshod. It is the culmination of politicians’ wholesale dishonesty, hatred, and self-interest finally exploding in one of the most outrageous events in American history.
Where has the Christian church been as politics have gotten darker and darker? Usually sitting on the bench until it’s in our self-interest as an institution to speak up. The church cannot control the behavior of angry mobs, but it certainly has been a lousy collective prophet in the years leading up to this tragedy. It has mostly abdicated what influence it could exert.
So what do we tell our children, not just to comfort them, but to take a step in the right direction, in order that the next generation of the church will serve collectively as a true prophet of God, which honors his truth and righteousness and defends the welfare of all people? How can the next generation’s church serve as a righteous prophet?
Teach the Prophetic Function of the Church
A starting point is to simply teach our kids about the prophetic function of the church. When we read the books of prophecy in Israel, we see the prophets constantly rebuking the nation’s leaders for corruption and immorality. We see the prophets standing up for the immigrant, the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the child. God’s law protects the vulnerable and the oppressed, which Israel repeatedly overlooked. The prophets held the nation’s leaders and people accountable for their neglect. They stood up for God’s justice and truth. In the new covenant, as the body of Christ, God’s church now bears this role. With the general exception of the black American church, which historically has generally modeled the prophetic office of the church well, this role of the church in the U.S. is underdeveloped.
Oh, that the church of God would be a loving, just, prophetic voice for our nation. Oh, that the progressive and conservative church alike would uniformly stand up for the immigrant, the poor, and the unborn child when political leaders neglect, overlook, and even demonize them. Oh, that they would have equal concern for religious freedoms. Oh, that the whole church would hold all political leaders accountable when they use deceit for gain, perpetuate evil, and are callous to the welfare of all people.
God’s Word Defines Right and Wrong
Second, we tell our children that wrong is wrong and right is right, no matter what the circumstances. We are called to protest wrong and do right, as defined by the Bible, even when it may cost us and cause us to suffer. Right and wrong are not pragmatic tools for our self-promotion. They do not become less important when it may cost us. They do not become fluid when we feel victimized or marginalized.
My third grade teacher had a sign that read, “What’s right is right, even when nobody is doing it. What’s wrong is wrong, even if everybody is doing it.” My sixth grade teacher had a sign that read, “What’s right may not always be popular, and what’s popular may not always be right.” (Pretty strong teaching of absolute morality for a public school, right?) The next generation of Christian leaders needs to embrace this.
How do we instill this? First, by teaching our kids that right and wrong flow out of the very holy character of the living God himself. The Lord did not frivolously hand down his law to his people. His commandments do not exist in abstraction. God desires for all people to see his majesty and greatness. He wants to fill the world with his glory. The living out of his justice and truth promote this desire of the Lord, as does standing against wrong when it shows up in our world. Wrong and injustice in the world obfuscate the witness of God’s holiness.
Glorifying God, the very thing we are born to do, means standing and working against wrong in the world, including in the political realm. This means speaking out against wrong and injustice as seen in the entire Bible – let me say that again: the entire Bible — not just the parts affirm our political sensibilities while ignoring the parts that may be costly and inconvenient.
Help the Next Generation Find Its Courage in the Gospel
Finally, the axis for raising up a truly just, prophetic church of the next generation hinges on kids having a full view of Christ’s work in the gospel. So much of the failure among Christian leaders in this political climate involves a lack of courage. Too many people have sat quietly and tolerated evil because they are afraid of what it would cost Christians politically. Suffering, discomfort, and marginalization usually does result when the church functions as a just prophet. That’s a pill too many Christian leaders have not wanted to swallow.
Do you know what the man on the cross has to say about the realities of suffering? Tough luck (although Christ surely would say it more charitably than I). As we say in the South, the grease comes with the gravy. If you want to enjoy all of the benefits of Christ’s crucifixion, you are called to suffer with Christ, too.
Our kids need to hear that the good, gracious, and sovereign God that we see in Christ has a good plan for them when they suffer consequences for being faithful advocates of justice and truth. It’s a plan for this life and for eternity. Remind them just how costly their salvation was to Jesus, as a means of bolstering the courage they will need to take a stand.
Who knows how pervasive and long-lasting the damage will be from the church’s prophetic failures in our country? Still, we can embrace Christ’s new day by raising up a new generation of Christians who will one day lead a church which serves as a just prophet, promotes the welfare of all people, and glorifies our holy, righteous God.
Rooted continued this conversation on our recently released Ask Alice podcast. In this episode, Alice is joined by Anna Harris, the mom of three boys and Rooted’s Editor-in-Chief. Anna and Alice discuss processing the recent news and current events themselves and how to have those hard conversations with their children. They talk about how to help teens develop coping skills to process anxiety and fear- all the while ensuring them of the sovereignty of our God, the power and truth of His word and the hope we have in Jesus.