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Teaching your children about presidents and politicians

How have you been talking to your children about the recent election outcome and political turmoil in America?

Christian parents are called to teach their children what God says about the governing authorities and our obligations to them. But how can you help your children to think biblically about the election, a new president, and our government if you’re not even sure what you think? 

Here are a few thoughts to get you started.

Remember where leaders come from

Paul wrote, “Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1, emphasis added). Christians are called to honor our rulers because all authority is from God. 

It’s easy to think this verse was intended for another time. But remember who was in charge when Paul wrote these words. Rome was far from a democratic republic, and Nero was anything but benevolent. Rome was a hard place to live, even for her citizens, and her emperors were cruel in the extreme. Yet in these circumstances, Paul urged Christians to “be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1). How much more should we do the same in a society where rulers derive their authority from the people who elect them? 

Speak respectfully and pray

One of the most practical ways we can honor our authorities is by speaking respectfully of them, even if we disagree with them. That includes our tone of voice as much as our choice of words. Pay attention to how you say what you say. This can make the difference between principled disagreement and sinful disdain. You can also help your children obey God’s command to honor the authorities (1 Peter 2:17) by using the titles of elected officials when you talk about them—even if you didn’t vote for them. For example, say “President Biden” instead of simply “Biden” or “Joe,” “Speaker Pelosi” and “Senator McConnel” instead of “Pelosi” and “Mitch,” etc.

The most important way to speak about the governing authorities is in prayer. Prayer is a powerful tool in the Christian’s spiritual arsenal (James 5:16) and it’s what Paul urges us to do for our leaders:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim 2:1–2)

When we fail to pray for our leaders, we reveal that we don’t really believe that “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). 

The more we disagree with a leader, the more officials pass laws contrary to God’s law, and the more that a leader asks Christians to disregard their consciences, the more we should be on our knees (along with our children) praying for them. It is God who “removes kings and establishes them” (Dan. 2:21), and it is God who has the power to direct their decisions and even transform their hearts. Ask God to give elected officials wisdom to move toward just laws and policies, to bless them, and to restrain them from doing evil. If Christians aren’t praying for their leaders, who will?

Curate your news

How we think about who is in authority is being shaped by what we read and watch. Every day there’s more news to read, watch, stream, and scroll through than anyone could ever absorb. Unfortunately, much of that is unhelpful, and even untrustworthy. This is all the more reason to look for reliable sources. But even reliable sources shouldn’t be our go-to over God’s Word. 

Let your most important shaping influence be the Bible, not news feeds, blogs, or Twitter. This is both an exhortation and an invitation. Spend as much, or more, time reading the Bible and praying each day as you do surfing the Web. This is the path to peace. Your children will base their news habits on what you do, so the more faithful you are to steward the news, the more likely they will be to be faithful, too.

In our family, we’ve found World News Group’s Worldwatch program to be a helpful way to keep our school-age kids up-to-date with important news at home and abroad. The daily 10-minute online video is age-appropriate and objective. Every day, the show’s host reminds children who is in control, saying, “And remember, whatever the news, the purpose of the Lord will stand.”

Keep a long-term perspective

I recommend social media breaks as encouraged by Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. Stepping away from social media and taking sabbaths from the digital world helps us relate more helpfully with the real world. 

When it’s time to re-engage the news, rather than indulging a craving for never-ending headlines, instead develop a taste for slow news. You can think of it like fast-food addicts changing their tastes by embracing more nourishing slow food. Look for well-reasoned writing, the more long-form the better, to shape your perspective on the world. Not only do we need books to balance out the digital headlines, we need old books to balance out the new ones. Strive for news intake that fits into the rhythms of a week or month, rather than every day or every hour.

It’s tempting to read the news only for what’s happening today, but we need to read for what will happen over longer seasons of time. Rather than modeling for our children perpetual outrage over the daily hot takes, we should ask the Lord to help us fear God, not man. This goes a long way to raising well-informed and responsible future adults who will stay engaged with the political process throughout their lives, and not burn out as soon as their candidate loses or they feel disillusioned.

Work for the well-being of America

When Judah went into exile in Babylon, God spoke to the people through Jeremiah saying, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7). May we likewise work for the welfare of our country, all the while “desir[ing] a better country, that is, a heavenly one, trusting in God who has prepared for his people a city” (Heb. 11:16).

Our work should look different from those whose highest hope is in this life. Because we are exiles (1 Peter 1:1), we are free to love our country, and we are also free from devastation when things don’t go the way we hope they will. We are able to be unshaken by circumstances, still rejoicing in the Lord. 

In Christ, we can be at peace, knowing God is working all things according to the counsel of his will. It’s okay to be disappointed with election results, even grieved, but if we find ourselves devastated, that’s a warning that we’ve placed our hope too much in politics. Similarly, when our candidate wins, it’s okay to celebrate, but it’s sinful to gloat. Proverbs 24:17–18 warns us saying, 

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
lest the LORD see it and be displeased,
and turn away his anger from him.

Last year I memorized Psalm 131:1 by meditating on it over the course of a few weeks. It’s a prayer of humility, asking God to make us like David who said, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (Psalm 131:1). If the King after God’s own heart knew his limitations and did not reach beyond what he could grasp, how much more ought we pray for humility and lower our focus from things beyond our understanding, entrusting them to the King “who rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28).

Ask God to shape your heart and attitudes as you seek to shape your children. Practice civil discourse as you speak about civics, and pray with your kids for the well being of our country, for our good and his glory.

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