This report was originally published by Ben Weyl of Iowa Independent and is reprinted here with permission.
Everyone knows that social conservatives will come out in droves on the night of the Iowa caucuses. But a growing group of overlooked foot soldiers in this movement will also shape its outcome without even casting a vote. They can’t-they’re teenagers. But they are being trained to wage the political battles of the future for the Christian right. And it all starts in the classroom, which is also their home.Generation Joshua, a division of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), provides Christian youth (those 11 to 19 years old) various opportunities to become active in the political arena. “Our goal is to ignite a vision in young people to help America return to her Judeo-Christian foundations,” reads a letter from Director Ned Ryun on the organization’s website. “We provide students with hands-on opportunities to implement that vision.” Ryun was unavailable for comment for this article.
In addition to providing members with civics courses and scholarship awards, Generation Joshua, or GenJ, encourages active political engagement through sponsoring voter registration drives and the participation in local Gen JClubs and Student Action Teams. GenJ Clubs provide Christian home-schooled teens the opportunity to meet and discuss prayer and politics; there are currently 66 clubs across the country, though none in Iowa. GenJ members take part in parades and sometimes protests; members in Merced, Calif., made news by protesting against Planned Parenthood. During elections, members of these clubs become energetic volunteers for socially conservative candidates.
Laura Lundberg, 18, is president of the Northern Colorado Generation Joshua, which meets in Johnstown, Colo., once a month. “I just think that civic involvement is very important for our nation’s youth,” she said in an interview. “Our students of today are the leaders that we have tomorrow. I think it’s extremely important [we have leaders] that will direct our nation where it should be going.”
Lundberg, who has been home-schooled her whole life, said her political views have “a very strong basis in biblical values.” The daughter of Kevin Lundberg, a Republican state legislator, she said she opposed abortion and supported individual freedoms and lower taxes. “Those are values that motivate me as an individual. I firmly believe in them.”
Sunshine Gearhart hosts the monthly event in her home of Johnstown, Colo. Her daughter, Tatiana, is the group’s secretary and she acts as its adviser. “They’re a great group of kids,” she said. Meetings begin with the pledge of allegiance followed by a prayer for the country and its leaders; she said the sessions follow Robert’s Rules of Order.
The members of Northern Colorado Generation Joshua worked hard in the 2006 elections to support Republican Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez and Bob Schaffer for Colorado State Board of Education. Their door-knocking and leafleting worked for Musgrave and Schaffer who both won; and Schaffer’s campaign manager was a member of the GenJ chapter, according to Gearhart. “We support candidates that are pro-family, pro-home school,” she said. “We feel like being Christians, we are called to be politically active.”
Lundberg and Gearhart were joined by members of the Student Action Teams, groups of home-schooled teens who do get out the vote (GOTV) operations for HSLDA endorsed candidates. These teams, sponsored by the HSLDA PAC, knocked on more than 100,000 doors and made more than 400,000 phone calls in the four days before the 2006 midterm election, according to its website.
Michael Farris, chairman of the board and general counsel for HSLDA, has said that these teams will be out in the field for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, whom the organization has endorsed for president. Justin LaVan, a board member of the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, said the teams would be noticed in the race for the caucuses. “They’ve been extremely effective. I know they’re actively coordinating things in Iowa,” he said in a recent interview. “I think it’s going to have a huge impact on the vote and what’s going on in Iowa. They have a proven track record.”
Lundberg said she had not yet decided on which candidate to support, but would actively volunteer once she made her decision.
SK Johnson, another home-schooled teen, is a strong supporter of California Congressman Duncan Hunter’s candidacy. A 17-year-old from Tennessee, Johnson has been home-schooled since “day one,” he said in an email. “A complete education is a Christian education, where I am growing in all areas of life both mentally and spiritually.” Johnson said his curriculum included Christian and non-Christian writers and focused on American history, Hebrew law, and the Enlightenment.
His family is a member of HSLDA, but he is not a member of a GenJ club because there isn’t one in his area, he said. He would volunteer on the ground for Hunter if the lower-tiered Republican makes it far enough, but in the mean time Johnson is supporting his candidacy on his blog called “Duncan Hunter Grass-Revolt: Unofficial Grassroot HQ.” He said he likes Hunter’s strong opposition to abortion and illegal immigration.
Johnson said experience showed him home-schooled teens are active on the campaign trail. In 2006, he helped GOTV efforts with friends and family to successfully pass his state’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. “Homeschoolers are very well informed and when they work on a campaign, they combine that with a lot of active involvement, energy, and labor,” he said. “They always show up to volunteer at campaigns, to make phone calls, to set up signs, and communicate ideas to the people.”
Lundberg said home-schooled teens are more likely to get involved in politics than her public school counterparts. “I don’t think that public schools are teaching civic awareness in ways that young people want to get involved,” she said. “I know from experience. My friends from public schools have a lot harder time caring about political issues.”
Johnson said his faith moved him to act. “I am firmly a disciple and follower of Christ, and am a member of my church,” he said. “I believe that being a Christian is not just a matter of adhering to a list of beliefs and showing up on Sunday morning, but it’s a living, breathing, life-altering form of existence.”