Truth in Public: Shaping Lives To Shape Culture
“Madam Speaker!” a student would shout from one end of the House Chambers.
“Your purpose?” came the reply from the Speaker’s chair at the other end.
The student would go on to press a fellow student senator about the details of the bill they were debating. The room echoed with focused arguments, competing ideas, and the friendly banter that had grown among the group during that week at Truth in Public. Every student had spent the last four days learning how to defend their proposals and beliefs in preparation for the mock legislative session that was being held in the Kentucky State House Chambers. Discussions and debates reverberated around the room as the twenty-six intently engaged high school students leaned in for a life-shaping experience.
Truth in Public was launched in July 2017 as the new Crossings camp for cultural and political engagement. Asbury University, which is located near the state’s capital, hosted the camp as Crossings staff and speakers taught students to see how their faith intersects with the world around them. Students learned to analyze worldviews, link biblical principles to their ethics, navigate the complexities of local politics, and confidently command an audience with clear public speech.
Our goal with Truth in Public is not to produce the next William Wilberforce — although we wouldn’t mind! Our goal is to help young believers better understand the political process and how, as informed citizens, they can affect change at the local, state, and even national levels. We are well aware that politics is often messy, and with how complicated and controversial it can get, it’s ease to turn a blind eye and opt for the stance that there’s nothing we can do about it. But the problems won’t go away. As a body of believers, we are called to stand for what we believe and transform lives using the truth and tools we’ve been given by the Spirit. We are commanded by the Lord Jesus to love our neighbor, to give to the poor, to fight for justice, and to shine as lights in a dark culture. While there are many spheres where we are called to do these things, the political sphere is essential.
We’ve grown up with this mentality of separation between the church and state, but the original goal of this “separation” was freedom of religion, not disengagement of the church. In other words, the goal is that the state not intervene in the affairs of the church. It does not mean that the church should not intervene in the affairs of the state. In fact, the separation of church and state enables the church to intervene and involve itself without fear of governmental reprisal.
Luke Johnson, a student at Truth in Public, said afterwards about the camp that he learned that “local politics are just as important as national politics. You don’t have to be a politician to serve other people. There comes a point in time where you have to trust God’s plan and just do it.”
Harrison Watters, another student who attended, noted how Truth in Public shaped his future goals as a business leader: “Going in, I had already decided not to go into politics, but now I’m open to someday serving in a state office, not as a career politician, but as a businessman with a vested interest in the community.”
Our hope with Truth in Public was and is to show students that they must engage our culture through the political process and we wanted to teach them how to do it. We want them to learn that Christians must be culture changers. And while political and governmental camps have the potential to just be knowledge based, at Truth in Public we wanted to make sure the students actually got to experience the political process firsthand. Every student was required to research a prompt and write a bill as a result. Our staff then spent two sessions helping them formulate and refine them. On Wednesday, the students broke into committees to debate their bills. Staff from Forge Leadership, a leadership school that trains college students to enter the political fray, led the committee process. The bills that passed committee were then presented on Thursday in a mock legislative session in the Kentucky State Capitol.
Forge Leadership made even the most hesitant students feel comfortable with the intimidating world of political jargon, creating an experience that many students were able to walk away from surprised that politics was not just important, but could actually be fun.
The students also had the opportunity to hear from many strong believers who are in the political sphere, including the current Lt. Governor and the newly appointed Kentucky Adoption Czar, Dan Dumas. These leaders encouraged the students to stay involved and explained how even the smallest of actions can make the biggest difference.
Hannah Stec, another Truth in Public student, said that it was encouraging to know “that I am not alone in my political views and that there are others who can counsel the younger generation so that we know how to defend our political and biblical views to others.”
Of course, Truth in Public is a camp, so we made sure the students had many opportunities for camp fun as well. Late night bonfires, capture the flag, a campus-wide scavenger hunt, and team building games filled parts of every day. And while the Crossings staff walked out of that week certain this new camp was a success, the real success will come a few years from now when these students – who voluntarily took a week out of their high school summers to learn about politics, culture and how their faith intertwines with it all – when they are entering the voting world. When they are running for student government positions on their college campuses. When they are active members on their school boards. When they are attending town hall meetings and speaking up for the convictions they hold dear. When they start their own businesses and involve themselves in their local political scene. It is then that Crossings will be able to say, “This camp was a success.”
As believers, we are each called to an individual purpose, but as a church, we need to stop and ask ourselves a very important and life changing question. Are we stepping up before the Madam Speakers of our society and government? Are we putting a foot forward to fight for the values we hold dear in the sphere where those values are being challenged?
Thankfully there are many members of our church body who are actively serving as culture-changing members in our society now. Truth in Public’s many guest speakers testify to this. And thankfully, from what our Crossings staff saw during this fun, engaging, and transformative week, there are many more world changers quickly coming up the ranks.