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Discipling Our Children in Divisive Times

Dear Parents,

I am taking a week off from my “Principles from Plutarch” series to share some other thoughts. I have put together this video wherein I discuss how to navigate our children through the divisive and contentious times we are living in. Why am I doing this? You all have your children at Charis because you want to partner with us in their discipleship. Thinking Biblically about issues in our world is part of discipleship. On a normal year I would have shared these thoughts as part of a talk during our State of the School training; as this is not a normal year I am sharing them via video. It is with the hope that some of my thoughts may be helpful that I offer them. Political and social issues are certainly part of the fractiousness we are dealing with, but as I discuss them I endeavor to discuss them in a strictly non-partisan way. If you think you detect bias in my words, please forgive me as I in no way intend to be biased.

There is no doubt that the past year has been very challenging—we have had the biggest social movement in our country since the Civil Rights Movement, we have had the worst pandemic in a century, we have had a significant economic down turn, we have had social and political violence in hundreds of cities across our country, most recently in our nation’s capitol. All the while we have had to navigate questions like: What does it mean to love our neighbor in the midst of a pandemic? To what extent do we sacrifice our desires, our economic or social well-being, for the health of others? Do we go to church? Do we send our children to school? Do we spend holidays with family and friends? When does the government have a right to direct our behavior and when doesn’t it? And this list could go on. It is neither my place nor my goal to answer any of these questions. Instead, I want to address a deeper question: how do we disciple our children in the midst of a world that is so chaotic and confusing? I have been giving this a lot of consideration and I want to share my thoughts with you. This is not the school’s official position or anything like, this is just my meager effort to share some thoughts that I hope will be helpful to you all.

1) We must be temperate.

The virtue of temperance was embraced by pagans and Christians alike as absolutely central. Yet we have largely lost this; if you need proof, spend just five minutes on any social media website or on any cable news channel. Intemperate people attack one another. They make abstract disagreements personal. They put the worst interpretations on their opponents’ words and actions. Instead of finding common ground, they turn everything into an all or nothing struggle.

The devil always wants us to fall further into the sin of the moment and resist the virtue we most need—in a flood he wants us yelling “fire!” and grabbing buckets of water. This is absolutely the situation we are in. In a time when we should have deliberate thought and constructive conservations, many are saying that “silence is violence” and that to fail to act immediately and radically is wrong. In a time when our social and political fabric is ripping at the seams we are splitting churches over masks and election results. I am not saying it is wrong to have strong opinions on these issues; temperance does not require that. There are a lot of contemporary debates where the Bible doesn’t clearly tell us what conclusion we should come to and how we should best get there, but the Bible does tell us how we must engage with one another in our discussion and debates—we must be temperate. Temperance requires that we treat those we disagree with as people that bear the image of God. As such we are to never insult, threaten, or manipulate them; we are to put the best, not the worst interpretations, on their ideas and arguments. We can and should try to persuade people, but with the goal of reconciling them to the truth, of living in peace with them, and never of “winning” or overcoming them.

We have nearly completely lost this virtue and we need to reclaim it if we are to inculcate it in our children. This is easier said than done, but one small step to reclaiming this virtue in our lives is to stop listening to intemperate people. A lot #Influencers thrive on creating division. They gratify our flesh by telling us we are right, others are wrong, and we are good people because we are on the right side. This is equally true no matter your political persuasion. As Christians we need to stop giving these people a voice! We need to stop retweeting them, liking them, and viewing them. There are a lot of people that I think are right about a lot of things that I choose not to listen to because they are intemperate in the way they make their points. We will become like the people we follow; we need to be careful not to follow people that inflame our fear, hatred, and our flesh.

2) We need to teach our children that the ends do not justify the means.

This past year we have had far too much implicit acceptance of violence. There is a notion held by many that because a problem is so big (e.g. deep seated systematic injustice if you are on the left or a stolen election if you are on the right) that anything that brings about justice is valid and even good. This is absolutely unbiblical.

I think it was John Wesley that talked about the two wills of God: His revealed will, which is found in Scripture and His hidden will, which God at times will reveal to us, but which often remains hidden. An example of God’s revealed will is something like “do not gossip”; an example of His hidden will is something like when you will marry. As Christians we are called to obey God’s revealed will as found in Scripture and trust God to bring about His hidden will. A great example of this is David.

God revealed to David through His prophet Samuel that he would be king. But God kept hidden how and when that would happen. David had two chances to break God’s commandments and murder Saul in order to become king. But David refused. He obeyed what God had revealed in His written word and trusted God to bring about His ends at His time.

I don’t know God’s hidden will. I don’t know how He plans to use the incoming Presidential administration. I don’t know why the election went the way it did. I don’t know how God is going to bring about racial reconciliation in our country. What I do know is how I should act. I am called to love my neighbor sacrificially. I am called to be a peacemaker. I am called to declare truth, but always with the goal of bringing repentance and reconciliation, not in gaining power for myself or my “side”. And I am called to trust God to bring about His plans in His way in His time.

There is nothing wrong in telling our children our political and social thoughts and where and how we think the world has gone sideways and how we think it should be better. But we must reject outright the idea that we are justified in breaking God’s commands in order to bring about some greater good. We must teach them faithful and humble obedience to His revealed will and trust that He is sovereign and that not all the powers of hell can hinder His will.

3) We cannot be held captive to “tribal” ways of thinking. Instead of interpreting the world in light of our political ideology, we must interpret it in light of God’s revealed word.

There are three dominant ways of viewing the world in American society:

1) Progressives tend to view the world in terms of oppressed and oppressor; they believe that oppression is endemic. Given this, their goal is to bring liberation to the oppressed.

2) Conservatives tend to view the world in terms of order and chaos; they believe order is very difficult to create and maintain. Given this, their goal is to maintain order.

3) Libertarians tend to view the world in terms of liberty and tyranny; they believe that liberty is not historically normal. Given this, their goal is to be vigilant in protecting it.

None of us fits perfectly into any of these ideologies, but nearly all of us lean towards one. These ideologies give us a framework to interpret events. I have spent quite a lot of time trying to come up with an example that is both clear and non-controversial to illustrate how these ideologies work, but as you can imagine, given how emotional political issues are, this has been very difficult. I apologize that my example is not very clear; my hope is that it will be clear enough to aid understanding without being divisive or distracting.

As an illustration of how these various ideologies work consider a proposed bill that will increase taxes in order to fund a social program. The following analysis is over-simplified, but I am sure that almost all of us will see ourselves in one of these three reactions.

Progressives would say something like, “Social programs like this help those that need help! We are the most affluent society in history and some of our wealth was built by unjust means. A slight increase in taxes will do no real harm, but this program will do concrete good. We should therefore support it.”

Conservatives would say something like, “Civil society is a very delicate thing and civil society does far more good than the government. Families, churches, businesses, and private associations are the things that best help the weak amongst us. When the government takes from citizens and involves itself in social programs it weakens these institutions and thereby weakens civil society. We should therefore not support this bill.”

Libertarians would say something like, “Liberty requires an independent citizenry and without strong property rights a citizenry loses its independence. The taxes that fund social programs like this deprive citizens of the property they have rightfully earned, which thereby diminishes their independence. What is more, social spending greatly empowers the government. When the populace relies on the government for its food, schooling, retirement, health care, etc. the government is poised to become tyrannical because few have the independence to resist its overreach.”

My goal isn’t to comment on social programs or taxes and I am not trying to say that any of these ideologies is better or worse, so please don’t hear that. I am simply trying to illustrate the fact that we all have an ideological bias and this colors how we view events. I don’t think this is immoral as I don’t think it is humanly possible to move completely past it. The problem arises when our ideology doesn’t just influence how we see events, but rather determines how we see events. To put it another way, the question isn’t: how do you react without knowing all the facts, but rather, when the facts come out do they change your initial reaction or do you only believe things that confirm your ideological bias while you discount everything else?

In talking to our kids about the world we live in we are going to talk about our ideology—I think this is natural and unavoidable. And we are, naturally, going to want them to embrace our ideology. But we must be very careful that we are not captive to our ideology. Each ideology, at least at the theoretical level, has truth. Progressives are right in asserting that when there is oppression we should work against it. This is Biblical! Conservatives are right that building civilization is difficult and we should be careful to guard the heritage passed down to us. Everyone who has seriously studied history knows this is true! And Libertarians are correct that governments can grow too big and overreaching and tyrannize us. All of us were born in the 20th century, which was arguably the most tyrannical in human history—we should not forget this! Which ideology we embrace depends on the specifics of the moment—i.e. what is the threat? Is the threat oppression, disorder, or tyranny? All three of these are real threats, but we’ll never see the specifics of a given case clearly if we are held captive by our ideology.  

4) We must model and encourage our children to patiently embrace trials.

I thought things would be back to normal at Easter. Not Easter 2021, but Easter 2020. I was obviously way off. Never tell yourself “I’ll be ok until spring or I’ll make it until next fall.” No, instead say “I will make it until this is over or Christ calls me home. I will not back off and this will be a defining moment in my life.”

There are a number of great passages in Peter’s epistles that talk about patiently enduring trial. For example, in chapter four of I Peter he writes “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

Christ suffered. We follow Him. We will suffer. This is not going to be the last trial we face; nor for many of us will this be the worst! (And I know for a fact that Corona was not the worst trial of 2020 for many of you…) We are called to set our hearts and minds, our hopes and faith on Christ. We can’t keep our children from trial. What we can do is help them to grow in strength so that they are better equipped to endure times of trial. How?

First we need to continually point them to the Promises of Christ. God has shown us in His written word that (1) in His goodness He never breaks His promises, (2) He has the power to keep His promises, and (3) His promises are based on His faithfulness and not ours. As such we can have full confidence that He will fulfill His promises to us and our children just as He has done in the past.

Second, we can be honest with our children that faith in Christ is difficult at times! The miracles of Exodus feel millions of miles away in our day to day life. It often feels like we are on our own. It is ok to feel this—read the Psalms, other faithful saints have felt the same way. We don’t want to dump all our problems on our children, but I think we do them a disservice when we hide from them the fact that living faithfully in the midst of a trial is hard. Instead, we should model continued faith in Christ in the midst of real difficulties and doubts. We may not ever see a miracle on the magnitude of the parting of the Red Sea, but God’s daily bread, the grace that He gives us each and every day in the midst of sorrow, difficulty, and uncertainty is just as gracious and miraculous and is in fact an ongoing proof that He is just as present and faithful with us today as He was with His servants Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, etc.

There is much going on that I wouldn’t choose for me and my family. Yet God in His providence has called us to disciple our children at this time and in these circumstances. And God always provides what we need in order to do what He calls us to do.

If you are struggling in your parenting or co-teaching, please reach out. There are a number of us on staff that would love to meet with you, encourage you, pray with you, give you counsel, and otherwise serve you in any way we can. Likewise, if you have any questions about what I wrote, please let me know, I am more than happy to discuss these things further.