How to Talk to Your Kids about the Presidential Election with Dr. Russell Moore
In early May, Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times addressing the presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump and its racial overtones. The op-ed set off Mr. Trump, who released a tweet calling Dr. Moore a “nasty guy,” among other things. You can read more about the incident here.
Moore, a widely-respected Evangelical leader, then appeared on numerous news shows, including CNN to respond to Mr. Trump. In the month or so since, Dr. Moore, author of Onward, has spoken out repeatedly about the election and the difficult choice facing many Christians.
This led the team at JellyTelly to wonder - well, if adult Christians are facing this type of challenge when it comes to voting or discussing the US presidential election, how would they begin to talk to their kids about it? This election cycle that has been dominated by difficult issues - everything from racism to marital infidelity to abortion to war crimes … things that would make a movie rated R but appear every night on the news! So we reached out to Dr. Moore, a father of 5, to get his advice for parents during this election season.
JT: You’ve been outspoken against Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president. While I know you’ve spoken about why to many media outlets, I’d love to focus on what advice you would have for parents and how to handle a candidate like Trump when they talk to their kids about the election. How old are your boys? I believe it was on CNN that you said one of the reasons you couldn’t support Trump was because of your boys.
RM: Our boys are 15 to 4. Our oldest just turned 15 this week. The youngest one is 4. And so what I was talking about in that CNN interview was the fact that the presidency comes with a bully pulpit about what is acceptable in terms of what it means to be a good citizen. Even before we get to the question of religion, what does good citizenship look like?
Many parents back in 90s had a difficult time explaining the Monica Lewinsky scandal to children. Now we’re in a time when the Monica Lewinsky scandal seems almost junior varsity!
I think my main concern is that I don’t want my sons seeing me excusing horrific character flaws as not mattering. That’s one of the things that has come up quite a bit. Whether that relates to Hilary Clinton on the Democratic side or Donald Trump on the Republican side, the conversation is that these allegations don’t matter.
For someone who is raising boys up to respect women … I never want them to see me excusing what they know I believe to be evil.
JT: If you don’t mind sharing, what are some questions your sons have had about the election and how have you and your wife responded?
RM: I might have a unique sort of situation since one of the Presidential candidates has personally attacked me. It’s more personal for my sons.
One of the things that I try to teach my children is that politics is not a religion. And most of what happens in American life is that people aren’t joining their political parties, they are asking their political parties into their lives as their lord and savior.
They know that I am not happy with the direction of American life right now - with either of these alternatives. But I have to spend a lot time saying that, regardless of what happens in the election, Jesus is still Lord and God is still sovereign.
JT: The tenor of this political campaign is difficult for a lot of Christians to stomach. Do you think parents should limit the amount of exposure their kids have to this campaign? Or what are some ways you think parents can keep this campaign an educational experience?
RM: It’s really remarkable that I would find myself saying this - I started out my life working on campaigns - and every primary or general election at the statewide or general level from the time I was 4-years-old on, I was completely involved in or obsessed with!
Ordinarily I would say use the election season to teach your kids about citizenship, and that’s typically what I’ve done. This year, though, is different because there is such a dark turn that the election has taken. And not only because you have two unpopular and divisive candidates, but the issues being debated are typically very dark - war crimes, race baiting, along with vicious personal attacks. We’ve always had personal attacks in American life, but this is a different sort of year that is more informed by reality television.
I don’t only limit my children’s consumption, I limit my own!
JT: You said on CBN that your primary focus is on 2017. I think that idea can resonate with a lot of parents - what advice would you have for helping parents navigate having a less-than-ideal candidate win the White House? What lessons can parents teach their kids about God and his sovereignty through this election season and beyond?
RM: I think we have to maintain the tension that the Bible has between honoring kings and also maintaining a prophetic witness and discernment.
(We want to) rear children that are simultaneously able to do what Daniel does and speak in honoring terms to Nebuchadnezzar, but also to defy Nebuchadnezzar - that’s a tricky balance to be able to meet.
My kids know, for instance, right now that I have several disagreements with President Obama on some pretty major issues. But I want to make sure that they know that those disagreements are about those issues and not simply because President Obama holds them. I make sure I never refer to him as "Obama" but only as President Obama. ... I think he is a good father and models to the country some good things about fatherhood and loving his wife.
I think the same thing is going to be true (in 2017). I think it’s probably going to be more difficult in 2017 because if either of these (candidates are elected) and do these things that they say they are going to do, then we are going to have a great deal of national trauma.
JellyTelly would like to thank Dr. Moore for his time and insight into navigating the election season with your kids. Here are a few key conversations and takeaways for practical follow-ups in your family:
- Limit your family’s exposure to the nightly news, especially given the tone of the current presidential election.
- When you do watch or hear a presidential candidate use mean language or personal attacks, point them out to your children. Ask them what they think about that language, and explain why you think it’s inappropriate.
- Remind your kids that Jesus is Lord. As Dr. Moore said, Jesus is Lord and God is sovereign! Regardless of who is elected, God is still in control. Remind your kids of that!
- Show respect, even when you disagree. Dr. Moore pointed out that he tries to always disagree with an issue, not disparage a person. Set a positive tone for the way your family talks about our nation’s leaders.