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Jackson Hoskins stood in front of an auditorium full of his classmates to ask Lt. Gov. Dan Forest a question.
“What is your favorite part of the job?” Hoskins asked as students from Wilson Christian Academy watched and listened.
“Quite honestly, I can say that it is this — talking to students,” Forest replied.
Forest, a Republican in his second term as lieutenant governor and a likely 2020 gubernatorial candidate, said there’s a generation gap between current high-schoolers and their parents and grandparents.
“There is a big gap in what they feel is important,” Forest said. “I think it is a good opportunity to be able to go into the schools, talk to students and listen to them. I love having a student talk about or make a comment about what is important to them.”
Forest said the free expression of ideas as outlined in the First Amendment to the Constitution is one of the most fundamental concepts underpinning the United States.
“This whole idea, this whole concept of free speech and being able to think and be able to have a debate and be able to walk away from it and still be friends and still love that person next to you, that’s really important in the foundation of our country,” Forest said.
Forest said incivility between friends on social media where debates cannot be undertaken without someone being “unfriended” is unfortunate.
“The founding fathers, they would have ferocious debates,” Forest said. “They would yell at each other. They would get into it in an extreme way and yet, they believed it was for the betterment of the country that in the end, they had come together.”
Forest told the students that “as Christians, you should be able to talk to anybody.”
He reminded them that everyone is a sinner and that they should “love your neighbor as yourself.”
“We have this opportunity through dialogue, through conversations, to talk and share, be open and honest about things that are going on,” Forest said.
Forest said he was proud of his support for the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship program that offered support to families “to take advantage of things like excellent private education.”
“We are very proud of school choice and giving parents the option to be able to choose where their kids go to school,” Forest said. “I think parents should have an option to decide where their kids can go to get an excellent education. If the school that their children are assigned to, whether that’s traditional public or otherwise, is not providing the needs of their child, then the parents should be able to make that choice and send them to a school like this.”
Forest told Wilson Christian students they have a unique opportunity in their school.
“If you look at America today, you have got to look at the challenges that face our country,” Forest said. “I think there is a broader platform that we need to discuss and that generally is related to morality in America. Our greatest challenge in America is a lack of morality. Our greatest challenge is that America has turned its back on God.”
Forest, 51, told the students that he had been a more religious person for the last 22 years of his life.
“America was founded on basic founding principles that all focus back to God and the foundation of our country is established on God’s truths and absolute truths being what it is about,” Forest said. “So we live in a culture today that is about relative truth. People say ‘Well, that ain’t true for you, but it’s not true for me.’ Or ‘That absolutely can’t be true for everybody all the time, so it must not be true at all.’ Reality is that there is such a thing as absolute truth and it is important to know.”
Forest said the country is “in a battle right now over truth and that truth is based on God’s word and morality.”
“It is important to remember that because the foundation that you are getting here in this school is going to prepare you for the world in a different way than a lot of students are being prepared through their education in other places. It doesn’t mean that those kids are worse. It doesn’t mean that you’re better. It means that you have been given an opportunity here to learn the truth and then to be able to apply that truth to the world around you, and that’s a real responsibility in our country because you are going to grow up and you are going to have a crisis of belief.”
Forest said students are likely to grapple with doubt or face criticism from peers and will need to be able to defend their faith.
“So when you go off the college and a professor immediately confronts you with this idea about God and says to you ‘God does not exist. Prove that he exists.’ And the first response from any student is to go ‘Well, I don’t know how to prove that, so God must not exist, so I’m just going to be quiet and go over into the corner and I will allow this professor to say whatever he wants,’” Forest said. “You need to be able to stand up in that class and say ‘Professor, you prove that God doesn’t exist.’”
Forest said college professors and “everybody else in the world” is trying to put the burden of proof on the students for their beliefs and “you need to be able to defend what you need to defend.”
“Someone of the stature of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest speaking to our students just reinforces everything we are trying to do here,” said Dwight Vanderboegh, head of school at Wilson Christian Academy. “Although we don’t have a lot of students that are on the Opportunity Scholarship program, we have some that could not come to Wilson Christian financially if the program was not in place. It makes a difference and some of them are second-generation Wilson Christian graduates.”