Anatomy of a Deconstruction

Joseph Backholm is senior fellow for Biblical worldview and strategic engagement at the Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD Magazine on February 15, 2024.

Parents can avoid common mistakes that move their children toward rejecting Christian beliefs

A high school senior from South Carolina recently caused a disturbance in the internet when she gave public statements in favor of allowing objectionable books to be included in the school library. Her comments did not get attention because of her position on the books but because she took the occasion to describe her political conversion away from the beliefs of her father to the beliefs of the English teachers at her school.

She described her father as “a conservative, a Republican, and a Christian” and said he had “one-side, bigoted beliefs.” She also explained that he would demonize those he disagreed with, a group she now identified with thanks to English faculty she described as “a brilliant and kind group of people who truly do act in the interest of every student.”

While we don’t have nearly enough information to form an opinion about this girl and her father, what she described was surprisingly consistent with stories of “deconstruction” I have witnessed. In virtually all cases, those who walked away from the conservative Christian beliefs of their parents were taught, implicitly or explicitly, that Republicans were good people and Democrats were bad people. While my observation carries no scientific weight, it may provide some food for thought. So I share that now.

First, don’t discount the impact of spending time with people. It’s true that “birds of a feather flock together” but it’s also true that we become like those we spend our time with. If you don’t want your children to become like a typical government school educator, don’t allow your children to spend all their time with typical government school educators. If your children go to school every day, they will spend 16,000 hours in a classroom between kindergarten and 12th grade. The people they spend those hours with are going to make an impact.

Second, don't demonize people you disagree with. We should not assume people have bad intentions, which means our disagreements are better explained by our worldviews, not our intentions. One day, children will meet kind, well-intended people who have different political beliefs than their parents. If the only thing they heard was that people on the other side of an issue have bad intentions, they’ll wonder why you lied about these nice people and then wonder what else you lied to them about.

Third, don’t deify your side. If you create the impression that your political tribe is a better species of human than the other side, the moment they see people on your team doing bad things—which is inevitable—they’ll wonder what’s wrong with you. The truth, of course, is that sin is a bipartisan issue, and someone doesn’t become immune by sharing your perspective on immigration, abortion, or environmental policy. People you agree with are capable of grave sin and people you disagree with are capable of being right. Failure to recognize this and teach this makes us creatures of our tribe rather than seekers of truth.

Fourth, transmitting values and beliefs to the next generation requires us to explain why we believe what we believe. Parents shouldn't believe something just because someone told us, and we shouldn't expect our kids to either. Let’s take them on the journey to understand human nature and the source of truth. When we do, they won’t be shocked when someone they like does something wrong or when someone they dislike demonstrates the capacity for goodness.

If our only justification for political disagreements is “we’re good people and they’re bad people,” the life experience of our children will prove us wrong. And when that happens, the nice people with bad ideas will look like the sane ones even if they're crazy. Then, one day, we might find ourselves watching a video on the internet in which our child explains how his English teachers helped him understand that we’re bigots.