I was a Teenage Republican.
Okay, it was mostly for the free trips, and because there were girls there. But multiple times as a teenager I left my small school and my small town to go be part of a bigger gathering.
The first time was to a week-long camp 300 miles away, where everyone else there was a teenage Republican, too. We learned about democracy and staged elections and heard stories from elected leaders. It was all fairly inspiring, and actually gave me an interest in the political processes of this great democracy.
The second time was to a mock legislature, where for one weekend we owned the state capital building. We sat in the seats of elected leaders, spoke from their microphones, and stole from their candy stashes. Our shoes squeaked on the marble floors, and we could imagine walking those halls again as adults.
I was the teenager who went to Boys’ State, who ran for District Attorney so I could argue a case and badger my own witnesses. I was the teenager who helped put up yard signs along the highway.
I became the college student who was excited at the chance to see a President in real life. I still remember what it was like to stand 100 yards off to the side of President George W. Bush, with the granite faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln reading over his shoulder. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember how it felt. It was 11 months after 9/11; there were no protests to be seen, only an electric buzz of patriotism.
I was a teenage Republican, as loyal to my party as I could have been. But that was a long time ago.
Which is why it is so shocking that today I feel little to no attachment to this party anymore. To be fair, I feel the same way about the Democrats as I do about the Republicans. And I don’t think I’m alone.
In fact, I have a theory that if we’re looking for the next generation of leaders, we won’t find them actively engaged in our political parties. I could be wrong. If you go to a gathering of either political party, try to figure the average age of those gathered. My guess is it will be well north of 50…or 60…or maybe 70…
The reason I’m contemplating the failure of these institutions is because this trend doesn’t seem to be limited to politics. Are there lessons to be learned from the public’s current views of the media? Last I checked, our view of the media is about half as favorable as our view of the current president, which isn’t saying much.
And what of the institutional church? You see, I wasn’t just a teenage Republican.
I was an acolyte. I was in the youth group. I did servant events. I was in worship every Sunday. I Christmas caroled of my own volition.
The church is the one institution I haven’t left. But many have.
Isn’t it all about trust? And integrity? These are some of the foundational elements of relationships, whether in marriages or friendships, politics or faith.
I was a teenage Republican, but now I view our political parties with deep skepticism.
I have a degree in Journalism and have a deep love and appreciation for the craft, but now I read from every major publication through a filter of mistrust.
I work in a Christian church, and now I have more faith than ever that the church is meant to be a part of the solution. But I know not everyone feels the same way, and to an extent, I can understand why. It’s my life’s mission to be a part of making sure the trends we see across other institutions do not translate to the church.
The next generation of leaders is out there. But where will they gather?