Most people in this country would be surprised to know that teenagers have been dictating politics at our state Capitol buildings for over 50 years. No, I am not speaking snidely of our state legislators (though in some cases this metaphor would be appropriate). Nor am I speaking of mobs of young miscreants hell-bent on abolishing curfews and speed limits. In fact, I am speaking of some of our country's brightest and best junior and high school students who participate in a 52-year old YMCA mock legislature program called Youth and Government. Every year, students in the Youth and Government program dedicate themselves to months of training in the art of responsible politics. They study their state's legislative structure, campaign for executive and legislative offices, research and author bills, lobby platforms, build political parties, raise funds, write editorials and publish debates, and practice rhetoric and debate skills. This rigorous training culminates in a Model Legislature weekend, during which these political aspirants attempt to prove their mettle. I have had the privilege of working with such students in the state of Arizona, and love to boast that none of our dedicated youth have worked harder and accomplished more than have Christian students. These students consistently encounter the humanist philosophies that control our political climate, and they have fought the ideological strongholds on both an intellectual and a spiritual level. This struggle has not been without cost, but their victories have been impressive.
A growing number of Christian families within the state of Arizona have recognized that the Youth and Government program provides young Christians with an invaluable opportunity to become mature American citizens, and not simply through political experience. Christian students have the opportunity to disarm a political environment that is hostile to the Christian worldview by defending the reasonableness of Christianity. Experience in this program teaches these students that spiritual warfare is a reality, and it broadens their understanding of the connections between worldviews and lifestyles. Our students not only expect that Biblical commitment will be resisted and repulsed by their peers; they actually seek opportunities to participate evangelically and apologetically in the program. Their work has been amazingly fruitful. Thanks in part to organizations such as the Chalcedon Foundation and the National Reform Association, whose political activity models the means and matter of Christian politics to our students, Christians have executed a veritable coup of the Arizona Youth and Government program. During the 1999-2000 session, the Christian political party had such a large membership that all other parties were forced to form as a coalition in order to be represented in the program. Not only did the Christian party gain control of the House and the Senate, and Christians were elected to all but one executive office; these students also earned the respect of their opponents. Maintaining this strong Christian presence within Youth and Government proves to be the greatest challenge yet.
The War of the Worldviews
Despite its strengths, the Youth and Government program also has many weaknesses. At the same time that it provides students with an opportunity to pursue Christian politics, it also adheres to the humanism of our culture. Parents and students must be prepared to challenge the relativism and neutrality that Youth and Government teaches. Because Christians have been convinced of the truth in Christ (Eph. 1:13-14), we know that everything that stands in opposition to this truth is, by definition, false; there is no neutral ground for our lives. We are called to apply this basic tenet to every feature of life, including politics, because all of life belongs to the Lord (Isa. 45:18). Christians within the Youth and Government program affirm this truth by fighting unbiblical politics, as well as unbiblical worldviews. As part of their training for political debate, Christian students are taught the basics of worldview confrontation, beginning with the understanding that every belief system that is not founded on the righteousness of God and His Word is founded on the sinfulness of man. This training is essential, because students who know how to recognize humanism in its various forms are not only less likely to succumb to its charms, but are also able to challenge it with greater intellectual fervor. However, Christian parents and advisors must teach these lessons in the program secretly. Nonbelievers in Youth and Government impugn worldview instruction, claiming that it violates the students' moral and intellectual freedom. Consequently, those who teach students to judge belief systems and lifestyles are deemed oppressive and tyrannical. The humanism that students are taught to combat in politics, therefore, threatens Christian parents and advisors who provide a structure for the program. The most decisive battles within this war of worldviews take place through our constant challenge to humanism within the Youth and Government program.
To its credit, the Youth and Government program has been masterfully designed to involve young generations in the politics of our culture. Not only do students learn firsthand about the American systems of government: they also learn how Americans can participate in politics at every level. Such practical experience is invaluable for the maturity of our youth, and especially for Christians who desire to alter the course of American politics with the law of God. However, a weakened foundation continues to threaten the integrity of this program. The YMCA was founded in 1844 as a Christian ecumenical missionary organization, and yet over the past century it has grown increasingly liberal in its commitment to Biblical Christianity. Today there is scarcely a hint of the Christian commitment in YMCA programs throughout the United States, Youth and Government included. Funding for the YMCA Youth and Government program in the state of Arizona often comes through sources committed to salvific philanthropy rather than to Biblical Christianity. And money talks. The Youth and Government program touts a philosophy of rational and moral neutrality, which it teaches our youth, largely because humanism pulls the strings. Consequently, those who direct the Youth and Government program commit themselves and program participants to the anti-Christian and vain philosophies that thoroughly permeate our culture. If we fail to teach students how to recognize the consequences of false worldviews, not only will our youth have no foundation upon which to build a Christian culture, they will also be left vulnerable to a culture that seeks to destroy their minds and bruise their souls.
Preparing for Battle
Students who are educated at home or in Christian schools are far better prepared to understand and challenge the relativism in Youth and Government, as well as in society at large, because only a Christian education can train students to think like Christians. However, students whose minds have been warped by government indoctrination are vulnerable to the lies that bombard them daily in our culture. In Youth and Government, students learn about politics from a philosophy that ultimately destroys all meaning in life. The reprobate condition of American youth culture proves that this philosophy has had a disastrous effect on young minds. Relativism claims that there is no universal standard for truth and asks students to determine truth for themselves. However, if there is no universal standard by which to judge what is true and what is false, debate over moral (political) issues is meaningless. And if morality is meaningless, the consequences for humanity are tragic: every single conviction even our reason for living is empty, futile, and irrelevant. Thus humanity is destroyed. At a time when their natural optimism should nourish growth into maturity, young people are emaciated by despair. We cannot live without hope. Too often we do not recognize that this silent attack on young people aims to create hopeless Christians because an immature and listless generation is easy to control.
The consequences of relativism are dire for our youth whose strength and maturity depend on hope in God's faithful promises. Christian parents and advisors must train young people to battle the world wisely. We must show students how to navigate through deceitful sophistry and poor logic, and we must protect them from false hope and cynicism in our culture. Students who mature in their thinking through these lessons will be equipped and eager to lead our political culture, because they will be able to recognize vain philosophies in every feature of life. But we must teach these lessons in a very thoughtful and calculated way. Young people will grow in wisdom when they see the destruction brought about by foolishness; therefore, it is not enough to insist that young Christians support certain causes in the political arena. If young people do not see the results of man's law (autonomy) in our culture, they will not see the need for God's law (theonomy) to transform it. So training our students requires that we reinforce our instruction with application. We must teach young people to build amidst the destruction.
Winning the War
Thankfully, we already know how the war will end. We know that after the dust settles, every knee will bow and every tongue confess. We must labor faithfully according to our covenantal responsibilities while each enemy is made the footstool of Christ. If we are wise, we will know to discern the signs of the times for battles in future generations. As the twentieth century comes to a close, the struggle for leadership in America grows intense. We pray that the humanist strongholds in our political culture will crumble before the holy law of God. But as society decays before our eyes, indictment is upon us. Our failure to establish the law of God as the law of the land has brought curses upon our culture, one of which is the legacy of despair we have bequeathed to young generations. The curses of relativism serve to remind us of our covenant disobedience (Dt. 28:46), and our only hope is covenant faithfulness. Popular Christianity in America has long been emaciated by dispensationalism and hopeless eschatologies. This sad fact proves that the despair of relativism is not particular to the secular culture. We must seriously consider that if we fail to recover the hope of the gospel in Christian thinking, we will fail to provide true hope for our youth in the future. The antidote to hopelessness is not pep rallies and a plastic Jesus. We can only train our youth to demolish the strongholds of our culture if we train them to have cultural dominion according to the commandments of God.
There is much work to be done in preparing our young people to lead in American society. If we fail to train our children to subdue our political culture evangelically and apologetically, and with Biblical excellence, we will fail to disciple the nations for the crowning rights of Christ. We will leave our children robbed of the blessed inheritance that they have been promised, and we will be accountable for the curses that befall them. Christian America must rejoice that its hope is in an unchanging, everlasting covenant, and we must establish this hope for our generations through continual obedience to God's righteous law.
- Megan Daggett
Megan Daggett is a third-generation Arizonan who lives in Phoenix. She is author/editor of home school curricula for Alpha Omega Publications in Chandler, Arizona and volunteers for the Tempe YMCA Youth and Government delegation giving instruction on logic, rhetoric, and debate. She is a member of Emmanuel Covenant Church in Phoenix. She would love to hear from people interested in Youth and Government, or similar groups that involve young people in politics. She can be contacted at [email protected].