Paul D. Miller, professor of the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University, recently authored a white paper for the ERLC on “Faith and Healthy Democracy.”
At the end of the study, for which he served as the lead researcher, they write:
We sketch here an initial draft of recommendations to structure future conversations. We do not mean to bind the conscience of any believer and we recognize that most of the issues we address here lie in the realm of wisdom and prudence. We put forward these ideas as the best practices from what we have seen, observed, and heard during this project. These are not rules for righteousness, but practices of discipleship and character formation we think are uniquely suited to the challenges of the age we are living through.
Here are their seven encouragements for individuals and families to be healthier contributors for the common good.
1. Get news from print media.
It is good civic hygiene to stay informed about current events. TV and social media are very bad at this. They seem better suited to entertainment and superficial connection with friends, respectively. Avoid TV news and talk shows, subscribe to a newspaper or news magazine, and do not debate politics over Facebook or Twitter. Do not use late-night comedy or YouTube shows as your primary sources of news. Print media do not avoid bias, but they do engage our minds more actively, helping us to assess and filter out bias. Text is also less emotional and less sensational than the image-based media of TV and most social media. Debate politics with passion, but do so face-to-face with your friends, colleagues, and neighbors, not over the internet.
2. Put down your smart phone, and don’t give them to kids.
Smart phones are powerful and useful devices. They can also be addictive, overpowering, and ruinous to human interaction because they are a source of constant distraction. Do not have your phone out during conversation, at mealtimes, and while hosting others. Be present while you are with others; give them the gift of your full attention and focus. Consider a technology fast once a week (at least). And train your children to have discipline and self-control with the technology they will encounter. Parents can be tempted to use smartphones and tablets as “electronic babysitters,” but they should be aware of the growing body of research linking early and regular use of such devices to problems with attention, focus, anxiety, and depression.
3. Teach your children the importance of gracious social interaction, even if it seems old-fashioned.
Lessons such as “remember your manners,” “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19), “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1), and “be kind” (Ephesians 4:32) are preparing children not just for kindergarten but for interacting with social media and for Christian political engagement.
4. Get involved locally, and drop roots, for however long you can.
Go to your local parent-teacher association, city council, or home owner’s association. Join a veteran’s group, a bird-watching club, or a neighborhood chess night. Join or coach a sports team. Do something that physically gets you out of your house and into face-to-face contact with people who live in your immediate vicinity. We move and change jobs and careers more often than our parents and grandparents, one result of which is that we increasingly live less rooted lives, make fewer friendships, and invest less in our communities. To counter that, invite someone—anyone—over to dinner once each month. Involve your neighbors in your holiday traditions. Use your imagination: do anything that increases your contact with other human beings and decreases your isolation.
5. Seek out difference.
If your friends are of the same race or ethnicity, the same political party, or the same income and education level as you are, you live in a bubble and are depriving yourself of the opportunity to grow. Go make friends and seek out those from whom you might learn something new.
6. Try not to have opinions about everything.
We are blessed to live in a country where we can believe and say anything. That doesn’t mean we should. Nor does it mean that whatever we say or believe has automatic validity. Learn and study before forming an opinion; if someone disagrees, ask why and listen. Do not rush to ascribe malice, foolishness, or stupidity to someone just because they disagree with you.
7. Join a church, pray for the nation, and remember they are different.
Our churches are our most important communities outside of our families because they are the company of saints helping us along our pilgrim path to the Celestial City. If you spend more time worrying about America than about the family in the pew next to you, you are doing it wrong. Remember that “the nations are like a drop in the bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15).
They also have suggestions for the church and seminary.
You can read the whole report here.