It’s funny what grabs the attention, what moves zeitgeist’s needle, among children and young people. I’m not sure anyone under the age of 25 noticed, let alone cared, when David Cameron resigned and Theresa May took over as Prime Minister last summer. And yet in the past six months, as America’s fearless new leader ascended to office, you’ve barely been able to log onto social media or have a genuine conversation in real life without someone mentioning the small-handed elephant in the room. Donald Trump has caught the most terrifying parts of children and young people’s imaginations.
There are a couple of striking things about this. Firstly, unlike concerns about Brexit or other things that have caught the imagination, children, as well as teenagers, seem to have been affected, or at least feel affected, by Donald Trump. There have been countless stories, shared in church, seen in Sunday Schools or relayed on social media about children saying they want to pray for, or about, Trump. Now, perhaps we have an upcoming generation who are familiar with Paul’s instruction to Timothy to pray for those in positions of leadership, but perhaps more likely is that the consternation being shown by adults about President Trump is trickling down the generational cliff face. Secondly, this consternation seems to be sticking around. If we’re honest, it’s pretty easy to get angst-y and self-righteous about a problem for a bit, but we’re not so great at caring for the long haul (apart from about children and young people) but the great Trump concern that dominated the latter half of 2016 doesn’t seem to be shifting as we reach the end of 2017’s opening third.
This isn’t just social media outpourings, we’ve seen people take to the streets in the UK, seeking to stand up to Trump over issues such as women’s rights, his Muslim travel ban and the UK’s invitation to host him for a state visit. Presumably if he continues to carry out the actions he promised (he’s still going to “BUILD THAT WALL” apparently) then these demonstrations won’t be going anywhere soon, and as such, neither will the anxiety he’s creating.
So how do we respond then? A big chunk of that response will obviously depend on what America’s dear leader does next, but either way, there’s a whole dollop of compressed energy waiting to pop out. And look, though we might not want our youth and children’s ministries to be politically partisan, we do have to be relevant and engaging to the world they exist in. Here are a few ideas to guide the way we channel the political tension surrounding us all.
If children and young people are looking to prayer as a way to engage with political issues, then give them something concrete to pray for. Ask what in particular they’re worried about and try to help them build up a picture of what they might want to ask God for. But let’s not just pray ‘about’ a situation. Paul calls on us to pray for leaders; Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies, and yes, for some of us Trump feels like an enemy right now, but what if we modelled something radical to our children and young people - genuine prayer for Trump. Genuine prayer that God would have his hand on Trump’s presidency, that Trump would be blessed. Pete Grieg often encourages us to: “Pray your best prayers.” What if we prayed our best prayer for Donald Trump?
We might not want our ministries to be politically partisan, but we do have to be relevant to the world they exist in
In God’s politics, Jim Wallis wrote: “Protest is good, alternatives are better.” In times of political uncertainty, it’s easy to focus on the negatives. Here’s the thing; anyone can moan, the internet is good at it, really, really good at it. Allow those you work with to dream dreams - what might an alternative political reality look like? What might Jesus-centred politics look like? Where do the Beatitudes fit into major parties’ manifestos? If you do want to get involved with demonstrations, what message are you trying to share? Can we seek to move debates on rather than just criticise?
It’s easy to get fixated on Donald Trump. He dominates the news cycle, every little thing he does is plastered all over newspapers and the top of websites. But while he is one of the most powerful men in the world, he’s not all that’s going on. There is more to this planet than Donald Trump (thank goodness). There are other issues which need confronting; there are other joys to celebrate; there are other battles to fight; there are other stories to share. Don’t let your children and young people fixate on one man. A Trump-centric view of the world, one that forgets the limits on his powers, will lead to despair. If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.
Words into action
Ultimately, being proactive is better than being reactive. If there are issues that resonate with you, your children and your young people, and that they’re passionate about, there are constructive outlets for them. There are petitions to sign, MPs to write to, protests to attend, lifestyles to amend. It’s all very well decrying Trump, but it is meaningless if we don’t engage in efforts to (for want of a less trite phrase) make the world a better place. Our youth and children’s ministries are a great breeding ground for this; give young people the chance to make a difference, give them the chance to engage, rather than intensifying their worries.