Helping Youth Talk About Hard Issues
This is part 1 of 2 blog posts this week that Rachelle Lyndaker-Schlabach wrote for The Gathering Place, a website for Anabaptist youth and youth leaders.
In this election season, it is tempting to go to either of two extremes. Many identify strongly with one particular party or candidate, feeling that only that party or candidate will govern in ways that are consistent with our values and beliefs. In those moments, we should take a deep breath, read Psalm 146 (which reminds us not to put our trust in princes, but to trust in the Creator of heaven and earth) and remember that our ultimate allegiance is to God alone. Every political candidate and party will inevitably disappoint us.
The other extreme is to just withdraw from the political process altogether. This is an understandable impulse, but equally unhelpful. Whether we like to admit it or not, government policies affect all of our lives. Those who are on the margins of society are often affected the most. If we avoid politics completely, by default we are supporting the status quo.
Rather than going to either extreme, we can have respectful, thoughtful engagement in politics. As Christians, if we take loving our neighbor seriously, we must learn about candidates’ stances on issues and try to discern who we think will make the best decisions for the common good, not just for us personally. (You might find this election resource from the MCC Washington Office to be helpful. Our office also provides regular updates and legislative action alerts throughout the year.)
One of the things that I lament most about the current state of politics in our country is that we seem unable, whether in Congress or in our local communities, to have respectful, substantive discussions between those who lean ‘red’ and those who lean ‘blue.’
The church should be a place where we can have those discussions, rather than avoiding hard topics or assuming everyone agrees on them.
How might you help lead such a discussion for youth?
Here are a few suggestions: Arrange chairs in a circle (or several smaller circles, if you have a large group). Select an issue that is being discussed in the election, such as immigration or terrorism. Let them know that this is not just about sharing their own perspectives, but also listening to others. Take turns sharing. One way to do this is to pass around a “talking piece,” such as a stone – whoever has the talking piece is the only one allowed to speak, with no interrupting allowed.
Encourage youth to share a personal story or experience that has shaped their views, as well as how Scripture shapes their views on the topic. As a youth leader, you can help model this for them. It’s also fine for youth to pass or just say, “I’ve never really thought about that!” After the initial round of sharing, allow some time for silent reflection. Then, invite participants to identify areas of common agreement and areas of disagreement. Did they hear anything that made them think differently about the issue? What concrete actions might they want to commit to as a result of this discussion? At the end, ask participants to join hands in a circle and close with prayer.
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach serves as Director of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.