If Mr. Trump Were in My Youth Group…

Here’s my thing about Trump and the second amendment threat.

I filter pretty much everything I hear right now through the perspective of a parent. That’s the main gig in my life.

So, when I heard what Trump had said, it made me think about the fact that, if one of my kids, even “joking” suggested killing someone, or any form of violence, that would be occasion for us to slow down and talk about what was just said. It’s not that they are “forbidden” from expressing how they feel. It’s just that, as a parent, part of my job is to raise children who strive for peace and justice, and respect the life and limb of others. (For instance, of their siblings. Their friends. Kids who are not their friends. Sometimes me and their Dad.) Fine. You can say what you feel, but after you say it, we’re going to get introspective about it. In our family, that’s the standard we’re working toward. And often, I find that Mr. Trump does not measure up to the standards I have for my own five year old. This worries me.

But then last night, I was thinking about this a little more, and I realized: an adult person who is running for president should be held to a higher standard than a five year old.

I’m going to take a risk here and tell a story about a youth group error I made almost a decade ago, no names. It’s possible someone might recognize themselves in this story, and if you do (Hello, friend!), please grant me some leeway? I have some qualms about telling ministry stories, but this is in service of something I think is important.

On a long long long youth group trip bus ride, I made the mistake of not taking hold of my authority as the church staff person and making the adult chaperones sit throughout the bus for the trip. After we returned, we found out that in the back of the bus, there was a pretty serious game of “MFK” going on (in which you name a person and have to say if you would…well, look it up online). Names of other youth group members were used. Word about the game got around among youth group members and it was something that created repercussions in relationships throughout the week.

I suspect (hope?) that the kids in my youth group who were doing this knew it probably wasn’t an OK way to treat each other. And I also suspect that had there been a caring adult sitting a few seats away, that might have served as enough of a reminder of the bounds of caring behavior that this would not have happened.

And this game bothers me for a few reasons. First, it objectifies people. Second, it combines violence and sex. Third, all pretty serious things to talk about as a “joke.” (Also, I do not buy “kids will be kids” as an excuse for this kind of behavior. Why? Because I have worked with teens for years, and I know them to be kind, sensitive, mature human beings who care deeply about other people.) Words have meaning. And even “jokes” have meaning. Sex and life are pretty sacred things, too. I don’t mind when we are playful about those things. But I do mind when we are flippant about them. And I should have known better, not to be present or make sure my adult leaders were present enough to help set boundaries and boost our kids toward a standard of maturity.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask that a presidential candidate can reach the maturity bar that I set for high schoolers in a church youth group. And by every mark, Trump misses that. He is way too old for people to make the excuse “he’s joking,” “he misspoke,” or, worse yet, “boys will be boys.” I get that there are people who are angry about the state of politics in our country, who feel left behind and shoved to the margins. But someone who can’t meet the basic emotional maturity of a bunch of high schoolers? That’s a horrible thing for our country.

And you know what? I bet he won’t win. It’s such a relief to look at polls and see that this may very well be the case (although I’m terrified at the possibility.)

But those politicians and private citizens who are excusing his behavior as “a joke”? I truly wonder what sort of standard you expect for children; for teenagers; for adults…

…for that matter, what sort of standard of peace and justice do you want for our society? Because Trump cannot be possibly be it. And that’s more important than any sense of party allegiance.

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