An Antidote for the Poison of Political Ads

If you watch commercial television, these are the days when you want to have your finger poised above the mute button on your remote.  You’ve probably heard the ads.  Collin Peterson cares more about his airplane than about the people of Minnesota.  Stewart Mills cares more about his hair than about the people of Minnesota.  Rick Nolan cares more about the rights of terrorists than the safety of Americans.  Jeff Johnson cares more about tax cuts for corporations than living wages for working folks.

Even if these ads were true—and independent researchers routinely find on-air political advertising to be misleading at best—they would be disturbing for their tone.  Combining personal attacks with a willful disregard for truth, political ads display the worst of American politics.  Thoughtful Christian voters would do well to have the remote control at hand, ready to press “mute” when the next political ad airs.

Unfortunately, TV advertising has a tremendous impact on elections.  Our elected officials and their would-be replacements spend much of their time on the phone raising dollars to buy air time, because they know that the electorate pays more attention to 30-second sound bites—attack ads work best—than to substantive policy discussions.  The Center for Public Integrity estimates that close to $11 million will be spent for on-air advertising in the 2014 Minnesota Senate and Governor races.  That money will be spent because candidates and their strategists know it works.

Perhaps it won’t work as well with the new generation of Christian voters.  “It is our responsibility to participate in government intentionally and to be purposeful and compassionate citizens,” wrote 2014 CCHS grad Lydia Marcus in her guest post on the blog of the Enough Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that fights genocide and crimes against humanity.  Noting that young people have historically voted at lower rates than any other age group, she challenged her classmates and other young readers to break that trend.  She urged them not only to vote, but to become informed about current events at home and abroad, learn how to influence the political system, and become aware of how seemingly small actions and decisions can have positive effects.

Is Lydia typical of her generation?  Unfortunately, I doubt it.  But I’d like to think that most of her Calvin Christian classmates share her point of view.  That’s the way it ought to be—Christian education, especially Christian high school education, should help prepare young people to be effective servants of Christ in society.  Whether as voters or political activists, Christians participating in government should be, in Lydia’s words, intentional, purposeful, and compassionate.  Graduates of Christian schools should not be politically apathetic, mindlessly partisan, or easily swayed by sound-bite rhetoric.  They should possess a comprehensive biblical world view and be able to apply it thoughtfully to the issues of the day.  Their political activity should be marked with the fruits of the Spirit and a will to pursue the good of others, including those with whom they have political disagreements.

It looks to me like we have some work yet to do—at Calvin Christian School, in Christian education, in the Christian community.  In politics, as in too many areas of life, Christian patterns of thought and behavior largely mirror those of the society of which we’re a part.  Where we’re different, it may be in the wrong direction.  The 2014 Cardus Education Survey Report, “Private Schools for the Public Good,” suggests that graduates of Evangelical Christian schools are less likelythan their Catholic and secular private school peers to be politically active:  “The countercultural stance of Evangelical Protestants, which their schools seem to reinforce, may play a role in depressing this group’s engagement in community and political involvement” (p. 24).

I trust that students at Calvin Christian High School will continue to have experiences that shape them toward more thoughtful engagement in political and civic life as servants of Christ.  And I hope to read in a future Cardus report that graduates of schools like ours are more likely to be politically active than other private school graduates.  Maybe then, when Christians are properly serving as salt and light in the political arena, I’ll be able to give that mute button a rest during election season.

Jim DeYoung
Development Director
Calvin Christian School             

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