A month before the November election Nickelodeon announced that Obama was the winner of the presidential election. [1] In an effort to educate the youth in our country on the political process, Nickelodeon, the popular kids cable network, encouraged the youth of our country to go online and vote for their favorite president. The network even went so far as to have both candidates do commercials encouraging the young to go out and vote. Even my daughter’s public elementary school engaged in a mock vote where, once again, Obama was announced as the winner! Given such low rates in the past for voter turnout amongst the younger voting generations, the move to educate youth on the political process is a clever opportunity to promote the responsibility of citizenship. [2]

The need to promote good citizenship should not just be left up to cable networks or public schools. Our own Lutheran churches should also promote the responsibility that Christians have toward being involved in the political process. Our own Lutheran theology even speaks to the need to be active in civic matters. Early Lutherans promoted, based upon Luther’s theology, the “Two Kingdom Theory” [3]. The theory states that God rules over two spheres of life which are referred to as the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of the world. The kingdom of grace is the kingdom that deals with the vertical relationship that Christians have with God. As already indicated, only believers are members of this kingdom. How a person becomes a citizen in this kingdom is based exclusively upon God’s grace, which is found specifically through the person and work of Jesus Christ and given to us through the gift of faith. [4] 

The kingdom of the world, on the other hand, is the realm that is inhabited by both believers and non-believers. This particular kingdom deals with horizontal relationships, meaning the relationship that people have with one another. Ethics, for instance, is part of this kingdom since it deals with how we are to treat one another. It is also this kingdom where people engage in the political process. Once again it is important to emphasize that God is ruler over both kingdoms and established both to accomplish His good will and purpose.

An important part of this theory is the doctrine of vocation. The word vocation has as its root the Latin word “voce”, which is translated as either “voice” or “call”. [5]Vocations deal with more than learning a trade; they are callings from God. [6] Vocations are the different stations that people find themselves a part of. [7] For instance, the work of a plumber is a vocation just as much as the work of a stay-at-home mother. Being a student is also a vocation as well as being a citizen of the United States of America. It is in these two companion teachings whereby we find the basis for our discussion, within the church, concerning the reason why Christians should be involved in civic matters.

The difficulty of involving youth in discussions and actions pertaining to civic matters comes about due to the apathy many of them may feel toward civic matters. The plain fact is that those under eighteen cannot vote. Why should someone who cannot vote be concerned with political matters? They should be concerned because the people who are voted into office and the laws that are passed locally and nationally impact them just as much as adults. Let me use an example. The way in which our current administration handles our economic situation could very well mean the difference between the creation of new jobs and the loss of many more. A father, who works at a car dealership, may be facing the real possibility of losing his job due to the bankruptcy facing the American automakers. An out-of-work father means that the family will suffer due to that loss of income. A family that faces economic hard times means that this family will not have extra money to use toward a youth’s favorite extra-curricular activity. A young person who plays in a club soccer league, for instance, may have to give up their vocation of being an athlete due to a lack of family funds to pay the dues for this activity.

Public education is also a great topic of interest at both the state and national levels. Budget cuts can affect the value of a young person’s education. Large class sizes and lack of textbooks can negatively impact how a student performs in school. If a student desires to graduate and go to college then they should be very concerned about the decisions that their government makes concerning their education. Voting certain candidates into office can mean the difference between larger and smaller class sizes.

You may be thinking at this point that these are great reasons for why a young person should be informed, but once again, why should they care since they cannot vote? There is more to being involved in civic matters besides voting. Having a voice is an important part of the process, and reflects the vocation of citizenship. A well informed adolescent should speak out concerning issues that he or she cares about in the hopes of being able to inform those who are eligible to vote. An adolescent can even go so far as to talk with their parents about the issues at hand and may very well influence them concerning how to vote on particular issues.

So what are some practical things that DCES, youth ministers, and other volunteers in the church can do to inform, encourage, and involve the youth of their congregation in civic matters? For starters, I believe that you need to educate your youth on “two kingdom theology” and the “doctrine of vocation” (check out the reference section at the end for great resources). We need to give a good theological foundation for why Christians should be involved in civic concerns. As an outflow of these studies you can do a number of creative activities that can reinforce these beliefs. I list some possible examples below:

1)      Youth are computer savvy. Have them use the internet as a means to become educated on what different political parties stand for. If you have a larger youth group you can divide your youth into smaller groups and assign a different party for them to look-up. Each group can then report on their parties beliefs. A discussion can ensue concerning what youth agree with and what they disagree with concerning the stances of each party. This activity can help youth become more informed about political parties and may even help them make a decision on which party they would want to join or not join when they turn eighteen.

2)      Engage in mock debates over issues being debated in Congress. Mock debates are nothing new and many High schools will do similar activities. Yet having Christian youth research the pros and cons of a certain issue, and then role-playing sides can help them have a better rounded out understanding on the issues at hand. The advantage of doing this in a Christian setting allows youth to look to what Scripture says concerning such issues. It can also foster a good discussion on whether Christians should try and impose Biblical laws on a religiously diverse nation.

3)      Get involved in a local social cause. For instance, the issue of homelessness is not just a concern mentioned in Scripture, but is also the concern of many local civic organizations. Working through local food banks is a great way for youth to be directly involved in civic activities. This experience can also show to them, as stated above, that the issue of homelessness is indeed a concern for all people whether Christian or not. It is also a great way to reinforce our vocations as citizens in the “kingdom of this world”.

4)      Engage in a “political” prayer experience. Take a tour of your state capital and try and arrange to talk with someone informed about the political affairs of the capitol. If a state capitol is too far away you may be able to do a similar thing with the local mayor’s office. After your tour gather your youth outside and engage in praying for those in leadership in the offices within. Share with your youth that we should indeed pray for those who are in public office, whether Christian or not, to have the wisdom to make the right decisions. You can accompany this adventure with a discussion concerning the fourth commandment, and Luther’s explanation on the importance of honoring all in authority.

Hopefully the above examples will get your creativity flowing concerning the ways in which you can inform, encourage, and involve your youth in the civic matters of the nation and your particular context. The more that we can do to educate and help youth experience the importance of involvement in civic affairs, the more we are able to positively affect youth in becoming responsible Christian citizens for today and the future.

[1] http://www.nick.com/shows/specials/kpp_07/viewed on February 5, 2009.

[3] See Living in Two Kingdoms chapter in Veith, Gene Edward. The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 91-106.

[4] Ephesians 2:8-9

[5] Gustaf Wingren, Luther on Vocation. Trans. by Carl C. Rasmussen, (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957), 1-2.

[6] Gene Edward Veith, Jr. God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002), 17.

[7]Wingren, 4.