“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” said Ronald Reagan. “We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
In 2013, the former Archbishop of Canterbury echoed Reagan’s words, saying that Christianity was “a generation away from extinction” in Britain. Lord Carey warned, “So many churches have no ministry to young people and that means they have no interest in the future. As I have repeated many times in the past we are one generation away from extinction. We have to give cogent reasons to young people why the Christian faith is relevant to them.”
The two men both understood that ideas such as the love of liberty and the love of God cannot be learned without being taught. But today, too many parents leave it up to others to teach the love of God and country to their children. We expect pastors and Sunday School teachers to educate our children about God, often on only a handful of Sundays out of the year. Love of country gets delegated to history teachers, politicians, activists and war movies.
The importance of the two institutions, America and the Christian church, cannot be absorbed by children if they aren’t breathed and experienced on a daily basis. God isn’t a very important part of your life if you only worship him and seek his guidance on Sunday morning. Likewise, if the Fourth of July is the only time you talk about patriotism, your kids probably aren’t getting the message.
People who are trying to subvert your beliefs are much more consistent in their message. Television, movies, books, magazines and politicians are spending a lot of time telling your kids that America was never great and that God, if he even exists, is not good. Modern media is replete with examples of popular culture that ridicules Christianity and patriotism and constantly tries to undermine the values that you want to teach your children.
Should we surrender pop culture and retreat to an off-the-grid existence? That isn’t necessary. The Bible says that we can be in the world, but not of it. The Bible also instructs us to the light the world, but notes that it makes no sense to light a candle and hide its flame. We cannot light the world if we run and hide.
What we should do is be discerning. We should monitor what our children watch, listen to and play. Much of the programming and video games aimed at children are filled with ideas and words that most of us don’t want our children exposed to.
If your child has a smartphone or tablet, monitor their activity with an app like Funamo. We don’t expect our children to live without limits in other aspects of their lives. Why should they have free reign over an internet filled with lies, pornography, perversion, violence, predators and general weirdness?
As someone pointed out in a modern parable, we wouldn’t allow a rude, profane, ill-mannered, violent guest who ridicules our beliefs in our homes. On the other hand, television does all these things and we give it a place of honor as the center of attention. Parents may have to make the decision to turn off their own favorite shows if they are not appropriate for children.
Take your children to church. Take them to museums and historic sites. But don’t let the lessons about Christ and America be limited to such outings.
In my house, we have had the tradition for years of bedtime stories. My children who are now 13 and eight still ask for a “Bible story and an American story” every night. We began when they were babies with age-appropriate Bible stories and have since graduated to reading devotional books and passages from the Bible.
For the “American story,” we like Bill Bennett’s “American Patriot’s Almanac.” This book gives short daily readings from American history and my kids love to hear the stories and trivia every night. Some of the stories they have heard in school and are often excited to add their own knowledge to the story. Others are new even to me.
The point is to live your faith and patriotism daily. If you want to teach your children to live according to Christ’s teachings, they must first know what those teachings are. Since children learn by example, you should be living according to Christ’s teaching as well. All of your lessons will be in vain if your kids see you react in anger and violence after preaching forgiveness.
Likewise, children don’t learn respect for America if they only see the federal government as either a source of handouts or an ogre that constantly threatens our freedoms. Both extremes are equally wrong and threatening to the real meaning of America.
As you raise your children, remember Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Teach your children constantly by example and by lessons and they will remember your values when they grow up. Hopefully, they will continue the cycle and pass them along to their own children.