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Themes in Heritage Studies 1: Citizenship

In addition to helping students understand the role of family, church, government, and work in students’ lives, teachers also have an opportunity to help Grade 1 students begin to understand their role as citizens. At BJU Press, helping students become discerning citizens is foundational to our heritage studies program. And laying the foundations for being discerning Christian citizens can begin at the very beginning of a child’s education by revealing God’s plan for citizenship through the Creation, Fall, Redemption metanarrative.

Created as Citizens

God created people to be together, and as people come together and live in the same area and find things that they have in common, they form communities. Each person within a community is a citizen. Citizens fulfill roles within their community as pastors, teachers, police officers, and so on. Students may already be familiar with the concept of being a citizen of a country, but they are also citizens of their state and their local communities. Teachers can use biblical foundations to help shape students’ understanding of their rights. For example, citizens have the right to keep what they own (Exod. 20:15), and they have the right to be protected from anyone who would do them harm (Exod. 20:13–14, 16). Helping your students understand their role as citizens will also help them to understand the role of government in their lives. Citizens should be able to rely on their government for the protection of their rights.

Teachers can also use biblical foundations to help shape students’ understanding of their responsibilities as citizens. You can show them that as citizens they should use their property in a way that helps other people or other members of their community (Exod. 21:33–36). Moreover, just as they have responsibilities to honor and obey their parents, they should also honor and obey their authorities in government (Rom. 13:1–7). Jesus gives students an excellent example to follow when He told His disciples to “render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:21). For communities to function, citizens must be aware of both their rights and their responsibilities.

Broken Communities

When people make selfish choices as citizens, they act on the wrong priorities. They focus on their rights more than on their responsibilities, or they fail to fulfill their roles. They may even violate the rights of others and say that they have the right to do so. Or they may claim rights that do not belong to them. The sinful choices that people make are the root of the crime and strife within our communities every day. As a teacher, you would not need to look far for examples of broken communities. How you choose to discuss the brokenness of communities may change from class to class or even from student to student. Young students may not be ready to consider how people can choose to do harm to others.

God’s Plan for Communities

As students learn about God’s full plan for communities, they will begin to understand the brokenness of their communities and will be better equipped to support their communities. God designed communities to function in a certain way (Deut. 4:5–8). He wants people to fulfill their roles—people were created to work (Gen. 1:28) as well as to live in communities. He also wants His people to love their neighbors as themselves (Matt. 22:39). When we have the right priorities to fulfill our roles and love others, we will be able to fulfill our responsibilities as citizens while keeping an appropriate view of our rights. If we are informed citizens who love others, we can also look out for the rights of others (Phil. 2:3) and ensure that those rights are honored. Most importantly, Christian citizens should be chiefly concerned with people’s eternal welfare. While Christians should not support the loss of life and property of another image-bearer, they must not become so carried away with current social issues that they forget to address people’s need of knowing God through Jesus Christ and the gospel. The most important freedom is freedom from sin. In eternity, God will make all things new, and no one will need to fear injustice or oppression. For the love of everyone’s eternal soul, our rights now should mean less to us than the spread of the gospel (1 Cor. 9).

Our elementary heritage studies program prepares students to understand their rights and responsibilities as American citizens so that they will be able to respond biblically to circumstances in their lives. Each of the five themes—the role of family, church, government, work, and citizenship—that we introduce in Grade 1 social studies will continue to develop throughout the elementary grades to help students become informed Christian citizens.

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