Combustibility: A Conversation With Black Kids About a Black President

Category: , , By Christian
The night after the election we our weekly Bible study with our middle school and high school kids. My supervisors felt it was really important that we carve out some significant time to talk about the election. I'm glad they encouraged me to do that, because up until that point I had been pretty guarded in how I talked with the kids about politics. They were so engaged in this election and were asking everyone who they were going to vote for. They were so exited about it that I told them I would tell them who I voted for once the election was actually over. So we had conversations, but I worked hard to ask more questions than give answers because I felt it was important for them to learn how to think.

I was finally able to have a more candid conversation once the outcome had been determined, and it ended up being really helpful. I've put some of their questions/thoughts below in bold, followed by our answers in regular type.

Why were people who wanted Obama to win crying?
For a couple of reasons. Some people were big supporters who worked really hard during the campaign, and they were just really happy. But you had a lot of other people for whom that night was filled with emotion. People who were reliving a lot of raw feelings, and who were seeing something happen that they never thought they'd see in their lifetime. Sometimes it's tough for us to internalize what this really means, because we haven't experienced some of the indignities that our parents and grandparents had to face. Like there was this woman who I heard speak at a conference last week. She was a little older than my mom, but younger than my grandma. She grew up just a couple of hours from here. And when she was younger, she had an experience where people spat on her an urinated on her because of her race. Think about that. In America. When you think about the history of our country and the fact that the first 16 Presidents could have literally owned Barack Obama as property, you see that this is a big deal. A couple of generations ago he wouldn't have been allowed to vote, and now he's been elected President. So between the joy of the present and the pain of the past, a lot of people shed tears.

Yeah, but at the same time, what's really changed?
You're right. Some things are the same. The streets aren't paved with gold this morning just because Obama has been elected President. We still have issues with our schools and our communities and our families and ourselves. But what's changed is that today we really do see that anything is possible. That you guys have tons of opportunities, and now there is a responsibility for you to live up to the possibilities that generations before you have made possible through hard work and suffering. So let me throw it back on you. What changes do you guys need to make? In light of what's happened, how does your community need to change.

We need to stop killing each other. [This is very sobering when it comes from the mouth of a 12-year old. When you sit there and look at him and realize that this kid has seen so much violence that at a young age he has an awareness of things that are very adult and very unhealthy in his own community]

Yeah. But that happens when you guys lead. When you guys show a better way to your peers. And that's a lot of responsibility.

Man, why do people be lying on Obama? I can't stand that.

What do you mean?

Like, they say all this bad stuff about how he supports abortion. And then McCain wants to outlaw birth control. I can't stand that dude.
Ok. Timeout for a second. Let's unpack those things one at a time. First of all, Obama has not been at all pro-life with his voting record. That's fact. And secondly, McCain does not want to outlaw birth control. I'm almost 100% sure he's never ever said anything along those lines. But this raises a good point for us to remember. As Christians, we need to be engaged in politics. We need to be passionate about things. But we also need to be truthful, and we need to be uplifting. There were a lot of lies spread by both sides, and we as Christians need to speak out against that attitude that you can just say whatever you want to get elected. So let's just make sure that we repeat things that are true, and that we don't allow ourselves to be agents of falsehood.

[As an aside, I found it interesting how middle school and high school students engaged with politics this time around. It seemed like a lot of them would hold to the ideas that there parents held to, but then the kids would take it one step further and add all kinds of hyperbole and vitriol to the conversation. So the kids I work with would get all worked up about McCain and say things that are clearly not true, but then on the other side I saw kids from my church using racial slurs on election night and in the days following. So perhaps we should be a little more guarded in how we as adults get caught up in the hype machine, because our kids pick up on that and run with it.]

Ok. Now. Do you have to hate one candidate to support another?

Well. No. But you want your person to win.

Fair enough. But at the same time, we are not called to hate we are called to love. So it sounds like most of you support Obama. But you can't allow yourself to hate McCain. And you really can't allow yourself to fall into the trap of racism when you speak about him. The fact is that McCain loves this country. He has been a good leader for a long time. He will continue to be a leader in this country with his work in the Senate, and we need to support him. So that's a good lesson for us as we continue to be a bigger part of the political process in the future, and as you guys get to vote. Seriously. Some of you will vote in the next election. That's really cool, but there is also great responsibility there in how you vote as well as in how you conduct yourself during the process.

Renew and Restore

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