Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The War on Christmas

My friend Andrew, posted this video on Facebook...

It never fails. This time of year, the conspiracy-against-Christians theory always comes up. It's a year-round thing in some circles--conservative American Christians have developed something of a persecution complex. Perhaps because they feel that they should be experiencing persecution--since Jesus said that his followers would--and they don't feel like putting themselves at any real risk for the sake of others, conjuring up some narrative about a "war on Christmas" helps them sleep at night. Jon Stewart's commentary on this situation is pretty spot-on--not that there isn't some legitimacy to pondering a few questionable cases of nativity-scene-banning around the country.

I have three observations for Christians who feel like they're being persecuted.

1) Christians are still a majority religion in this country. When it comes to Christmas, the pendulum is so far to our side, as Jon Stewart pointed out, that it will be a long time before we have much of a right to act like we're some persecuted minority. Now, some will likely interject that their brand of Christianity is the only legitimate version and that it's a minority. But, nothing I will say ill likely even be considered by folks like that. Nevertheless, I'm not sure why those fringe Christians are so protective of the Christmas celebrations of people they'd likely consider heretics or pseudo-Christians anyway.

2) We deserve some of this. The pendulum should swing away from us a little, we're not the only ones in this country. Christianity is everywhere and it's beginning to bother people who don't share our faith. They deserve to walk down the street without being treated like they're less human or less American (and it's a big problem that American Christianity fits so neatly into American patriotism) just because they're not Christian. Are we really so insecure that we need to have public nativity scenes everywhere? Why is that so challenging to faith?

3) Christmas is not a national holiday... and thank God for that. Whatever Americans do to celebrate the popular Christmas, even when it involves the baby Jesus, it's incidental to the actual Christian celebration of Advent and incarnation. Saying "merry Christmas" instead of "happy holidays" at Walmart has almost nothing to do the actual meaning and transcendence of what happened when God became human. It would be wise for Christians to divorce, in some ways, their Christmas from America's version of it. Now, that doesn't mean that we should necessarily abandon ship and start celebrating it on a different day or that we should go burn our Christmas trees in protest. Although that could be a significant gesture in the right context, I think it's ok for us to have fun with Christmas and celebrate with our neighbors, perhaps subverting things where we can and creatively pointing toward that transcendent reality wherever we find the opportunities to do so (that could start with how you spend your money and how you give gifts).

When we Christians get so consumed with our own persecution--as insignificant and superficial  as it is--it serves as little more than a distraction. The suffering of others is obscured and thus it becomes more difficult for us to respond with generosity and grace... Indeed, when we get caught up in "defending Christianity from the atheists" the heart of our faith and the "true meaning of Christmas" get lost in the mix. Like Peter pulling a sword on Jesus' captures, we can undermine the very heart of the thing we defend.

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