In the midst of violence and anger, of vitriolic language often spewed from behind computer screens, a national organization is striving to guide the next generation of Christians leaders to promote respect, understanding, and a political arena where disagreement does not mean hatred or condemnation.
Generation Joshua works to aid parents in raising up our nation’s next generation of Christian leaders and citizens. Its director, Joel Grewe, joins Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of the Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast to continue the discussion on his organization’s critical work in Part 2 of a 2-part show.
One aspect of the training Generation Joshua’s participants receive is learning face-to-face interaction with people who have different viewpoints. Grewe notes that he sees very different results from the kids in his program in this face-to-face confrontation, than in real-life confrontations that take place virtually, often via social media. “Yelling at someone face-to-face is quite a bit different than typing in all caps on your keyboard,” he says.
Through face-to-face mock debates or committee meetings, the children in Generation Joshua come to learn a critical idea, Grewe continues, “that we have the freedom in our nation to have diverse viewpoints and respect each other and still do what is good and right relative to each other.”
Grewe sadly notes that the political discourse in our nation today often disregards this vital American idea. “Unfortunately,” he says, “when people don’t believe they can be heard or respected or listened to, and that the other side is literally just evil, violence is not that far from an acceptable response. It shouldn’t be, but unfortunately it can be. That’s why I go back to that initial principle of humility and the importance of that for anyone going to work in politics.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Joel Grewe share more about how Generation Joshua is striving to instill humility and respect in tomorrow’s Christian leaders.
~ Continued from Part 1 ~
TRACI GRIGGS: Today we bring you Part 2 of a two-part show with Joel Grewe, Executive Director of Generation Joshua, an organization focused on assisting parents to raise up the next generation of Christian leaders and citizens.
How much emphasis though, do you put on how young people communicate their messages, because people of all ages seem to have lost the ability to have reasoned and measured conversation. So how do you get this point across to these young people?
JOEL GREWE: Well, we do it a couple of ways. For Generation Joshua, we do a couple of different events throughout the year that are designed to help particularly underline that challenge, and to help kids get practice in addressing that. The first one we do over the summer—except for this last one, thank you COVID —was a program called iGovern. We are planning it for next year and it’s a week-long summer camp. We do them in different spots around the U.S. where kids come together and we give them essentially a mock-up of the U.S. government that they have their hands on the levers of to try and advance policy.
But we divide them into teams, like how we have different political parties in the U.S.. They get to decide what those teams stand for; we’re not copying the two parties. But then they go at it, hammer and tongs, trying to get something solved or fixed. That can be anything from balancing the budget to foreign policy. They tend to be weighty issues with serious implications. The challenge of course, is these are people that you have to have debates with on the House or Senate floor, in the cabinet room, or wherever the place happens to be. But then you have to interact with them outside of that at dinner. And you might be in Bible study later that night, or a chapel, something like that. And someone that you can have a strong disagreement with, and then have to deal with them later and not just be yelling at them online or in some other one vector format. I think that’s actually one of the advantages of small-town politics, is someone that you’re yelling at in the town council chamber, you will see at the store later and you’ll have to figure out how to interact with them outside of that. The downside of social media is that you can scream at people all day and you’ll never see them in person, or you’ll never know if you do.
And so what we try and do is to start with, to have those conversations, we have to humanize the other person. We have to make sure that they know who they are—that they are from our perspective, someone made in the image of God and worthy of His love like you are, right? So, if you’re both worthy of His love, you’re worthy of each other’s respect, at the minimum. And that happens best when you actually interact with people. I was talking to one of our local public school teachers a week or so ago, and she said the level of back and forth and backbiting and vitriol in the online education attempts they’ve made, is spectacularly higher than what it is traditionally, in-person. Why? Because you no longer build any relationship with each other, and thus, you can’t respect someone that you disagree with. It’s just yelling at each other. That’s social media; that’s online. And I think to get off of that and to humanize people does wonders to rebuild that idea of civic discourse.
So that’s one part. The other part I’d say is political advocacy: when you’re actually advocating for politics and policy. We were in North Carolina a couple weeks ago doing that, involved in a Senate election and a few other things that you guys had going on there, because you had a rather busy state. We did door to door campaigning. I mean, granted this year it was COVID rules and masks and all the different procedures, but we did it. And you would not believe the positive reaction we were having when we knocked on doors. Because we’d come up to someone and we have a 15 or 16-year-old walk up and say, “Hey, I can’t vote yet, but I really care about the future of our state. But you can! Can you make sure you bother to do it, to actually go vote?” And they’re like, “Oh yeah, totally.” I mean, you should go vote, right? Everyone knows that, but we get busy and we don’t. And then when a 15-year-old bothers to knock on your door and says, “I can’t actually legally do it yet, but I care enough to make sure I ask you, will you please do it?” They go vote.
But the other thing they have is they say, “I’ve been wanting someone to talk to about these things, to actually have a conversation with, not a Facebook shouting match.” And these kids had fabulous conversations with people of depth, about policy and politics in the state. And people loved it because it felt human and real again. And I think COVID has really exacerbated the vitriolic tendencies we have in politics because we removed the face-to-face interaction. Yelling at someone face to face is quite a bit different than typing in all caps on your keyboard. And I think that in-person interaction with serious policy disagreements, but in person in a way you’re going to keep interacting with that person, does wonders to reintroduce the recognition that each person is human and valuable and should be respected even when we disagree. And that helps heal that particular problem in our country. Although it’s not an easy challenge.
TRACI GRIGGS: And there seems to be this “fear of listening,” you know? There seems to be a sense that I’m afraid to actually try to understand you because you might make sense. Are you finding that with your kids as well?
JOEL GREWE: Yes. I will say the advantage of working with kids is that they don’t actually care as much if they’re wrong. It’s wonderful, because they’re wrong all the time, right? In a sense, as a kid, when you grow up, you’re constantly trying things and you’re constantly discovering new stuff. And that learning process means regularly bumping into stuff and realizing you’re wrong. The problem we have as we get older is we start to associate some fact we believe with an aspect of our core person. We exist dependent on that reality. And the problem is we tend to attach our realities to things that aren’t permanent. So, in my case, I would say reality is attached to a creative, loving God. And as a Christian, that is a safe place to attach it because I know it doesn’t change.
But when you start attaching your reality and your understanding of what is true or not to things that aren’t that—to political positions for example—then anything that can threaten that threatens you because you are now wrapped up in that idea. The left recently I would argue, has done this—and to be fair, this isn’t just the left; the right does this too do a degree. They wrap themselves up in being identified with a particular belief that must be true. And if you threaten that, you threaten them. So the result is you may not speak to that, and I won’t listen because if I listen, my actual sense of identity has been endangered. In politics, that is terrifying because what you end up getting is you get acolytes, zealots even, on either side because they’ve attached what they believe so firmly to a thing that may not actually be true. Now that’s not to say there aren’t things that are principles that are true. I mean our right to life, our belief in freedom of speech and religion, those are good things. But you’ll see people attach it to policy stuff, procedural matters, things that aren’t even big principles; they’re technical things. And when you debate the technical, all of a sudden they personally feel threatened and they’ll shut you down or ignore you. And that’s really dangerous and it’s not healthy as a culture.
TRACI GRIGGS: Talk about the end game. What happens if we continue down that road?
JOEL GREWE: Generally, if you keep going down a road where one side is calling the other side, you know, “communist” or “socialist,” and the other side is calling them “fascist,” you end up justifying in people’s minds violence. That does really bad things for our country. Let’s call it what it is, okay. That dissolves a union. We have our idea of our culture, E pluribus unum, right? “Out of many, one.” We have this idea that we have the freedom in our country to have diverse viewpoints and respect each other and still do what is good and right, relative to each other. But if we don’t take steps to preserve that? And part of that is how we interact with people we disagree with. In fact, it’s most important in interacting with people we disagree with. People we agree with is easy, but it’s the people we disagree with and how to do that well and right that is crucial.
One of the things that I found personally, just running for local office that was a mind-blowing experience, was one of the people that I worked with best was as politically to the left as I was to the right. So we both didn’t like, for example, Hillary Clinton, for president. He thought that she was far too conservative; I had a slightly different view. And that result was people who were, again, far to the left or far to the right who found common ground on a bunch of practical issues. So we approached views and big philosophical issues very differently. We could find points of agreement that helped us maintain the fact that each person here was both human and beautiful, and someone that is worthy of respect and honor. Even when we strongly disagree and diligently work to prevent the other person’s policy from being put into practice, we do it in a way that respects the other person. That builds our Union even within disagreement, and it lets us absorb disagreement. But when you can’t do that, when the response to someone like that is that they are fascist or communist, then you really quickly get toward violence. And I think we saw some of that and that was not healthy. That was not healthy. And unfortunately, when people don’t believe they can be heard or respected or listened to, and that the other side is literally just evil, violence is not that far from an acceptable response. It shouldn’t be, but unfortunately it can be. That’s why I go back to that initial principle of humility and the importance of that for anyone going to work in politics. You need to be firm and passionate and engaged and principled, but you also have to have enough self-awareness to sit down and go, “What’s the impact of going at it this way?”
We talked about it on our side all the time, that we try to motivate people to get involved in politics because it’s absolutely crucial for our country, but we never want to do it from a position of fear.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, do we have reason to hope, Joel?
JOEL GREWE: Always, always. And part of me says that because I am firmly grounded in a sovereign God, who has a master plan and is good and is faithful even when I don’t know the plan. So in one sense, I can hope without even needing to have the evidentiary aspect of it. But since we like having the evidentiary reasons for help, yeah, we have several reasons. First of all, we’re seeing in this generation, unlike others, for example, on the life issue…we’re seeing a young generation that looks at it and goes, “No, [abortion] isn’t a necessary thing.” And for the first time in a long time, we’re seeing a trend nationally to saying that life is better than choice. That’s an amazing thing. And people look at it going, “Yeah, no, we don’t buy those reasons anymore.” That’s not, of course, the national consensus, but it’s now the majority of citizens. That’s an amazing thing that gives me great hope. I am very much hoping and believing that the generation I see right now will be the generation that sees the end of Roe v. Wade; that would be spectacular for our country. As an adopted kid who statistically should have been one of the victims of Roe v. Wade, I’m very thrilled of that. So that’s one thing that I see.
The next thing I see is frankly, I see kids looking at the cultural dialogue on politics today in America going, “Oh, this can’t be good; there’s gotta be a better way.” So I have kids coming to me—I have high school students, I have parents et cetera—saying, “Please tell me there’s a better way for my kids to engage with people.” The end result is thousands of kids that come through what I do that are wanting a better path forward; principled, determined of their convictions and holding those, but with a better method of engaging each other. And willing to look at, I call it a lot of fear-mongering and a lot of panic-inducing and saying, “You know, we don’t need to do it that way. There’s a better route.” And I think there are people on both sides looking for that. But at least for the young men and women I work with on the right, they certainly are looking at it that way. That’s a good thing.
The other thing I’d say is I think there’s been some awakening of people going, “This isn’t good long-term,” you know? Panic or fear may work in a short term—and this is one of the permanent challenges of anyone who works in the political field, you can get farther faster with panic. It’s kind of the adrenaline fight or flight, but if you run on adrenaline too long, it burns out your system, your body. It’s not good for you biologically. Same thing works for a political system. You run on panic or fear too long, and it burns out your political process. And I think at a certain point, people are no longer willing to give into the panic or the fear because they’re like, “I’m sorry, I just can’t do this anymore.” And I’ve been seeing that. And that’s a good thing, honestly, because it needs to be toned down. That’s what I would say. Those are both good things that are coming. And then I think frankly, the people willing to sit down and have conversations with people they don’t normally interact with. That’s a great thing because it builds that sense of common disagreement. The danger is people who are unwilling to do that, but I think that the people that are willing to have those conversations, it’s a beautiful thing. And it’s a good thing for our country. And it gives me hope.
TRACI GRIGGS: Great. Well, we are just about out of time for this week, but before we go, Joel, where can our listeners go to learn more about your work and the kinds of things that you offer there at Generation Joshua?
JOEL GREWE: Well, the easy place is generationjoshua.org. That’s our website. If you have a young teenager who’s interested in learning more about the civics or policy process and how to approach it from our Christian perspective, we do both. We do politics and policy; most groups, they tend to like one or the other. We think that you have to learn the bridge between the two. So have them take a look at joining there. It’s a high school program—a little bit of college stuff, but mainly designed for high school students. Some middle school. We’d love to have them participate in it. If you’re a parent interested in stuff like this, I would actually have you take a look at our parent organization, which is called HSLDA Action. HSLDA, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association; Generation Joshua came from that. So it’s HSLDA.org. HSLDA Action is the one that does the policy.
TRACI GRIGGS: So great talking to you. Joel Grewe with Generation Joshua, thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters.
– END PART TWO-