Baker Academic

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The War on Xmas – A Preemptive Strike!

‘Tis the season for misgiving. I don’t watch much cable-networked news anymore, but I know (just like you know) that there will be hours devoted to the “war on Christmas” this month. The gist of this argument is that (1) the liberal left is conspiring to turn “Christ” into a dirty word, (2) most people celebrate Christmas, so who are we really offending anyway? and (3) we Christians ought to express our religious liberty by proclaiming our joy as an act of protest.

As a Christian who celebrates Christmas, who does indeed say “Merry Christmas,” and who partakes in the Who hash and the rare Who roast beast with great pleasure, allow me to share a few thoughts on Christmas.

First, most Christians I know aren’t thrilled with what we’ve made of Christmas. So this is a problem for both “insiders” and “outsiders.” In the words of one of the great prophets of our time: “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel. I just don't understand Christmas, I guess.” Many of us echo Mr. Brown. Christmas is problematic, but it is also an opportunity to gain some perspective. Being generous in spirit might serve us better than guarding our territory.

Second, we Christians are responsible for turning “Christ” into a dirty word. The term “Christ-killer” has been used for centuries as a slur by Christians. The use of this term has coincided with a justification for anti-Semitism and religiously motivated violence. While the term is no longer widely used, the sentiment is alive and well. Just last week a friend told me that his daughter came home from a children’s Bible study and asked her sister, “Do you like the Jews?” She then followed up by explaining “…they killed Jesus.” As long as this sort of hate speech is active within our churches, we ought to be careful of how and when we use the word Christ. We will need to transform ourselves and our behavior in order to rehabilitate the legacy of our namesake.

Third, it is true that many more people celebrate Christmas than otherwise (at least in the four countries where I’ve lived). But we Christians ought to care even if we’re injuring the minority. Jesus commanded care for the “least of these” not the “most of these.” Moreover, one of the reasons that Christians are a disproportional majority is that we've killed millions of Africans, Native Americans, Asians, Arabs, etc. And those are only the “A” groups. We who benefit from such atrocities may have forgotten our historical failures, but the groups who continue to worry about their extinction remember.

Fourth, most of my friends who do not celebrate Christmas are not much offended by the phrase “Merry Christmas.” What is problematic is when Christians celebrate Christmas without any gesture of respect for their neighbors. When said from a posture of “peace on earth and goodwill toward all humanity,” most non-Christians that I know are quite happy to be happy for us as we celebrate. Like almost anything, much more is deemed acceptable within the context of friendship. What is especially vexing to “outsiders” is when Christians deck the halls of every public space available for decking and then complain that they’re being targeted for religious persecution.

Fifth, it just will not do to shrug off public offenses as if certain minorities are just being over-sensitive. Christmas is complicated. We don’t want it to be complicated, but it is. (A) Many Christians look around and see consumerism, decorated trees, Santa Clauses, snowmen, Jingle Bells, and Happy Holiday signs. We see these everywhere and think, none of these symbols relate to my faith; i. e. these symbols are not part of the Christian narrative. We see these not-Jesusy symbols as a nod to the secular. Whereas most non-Christians see these as symbols of Christianity. Perception creates the reality. (B) This divergence in perceptions only becomes clear once we become sensitive to the “other.” We must stop and take interest in why others see the world differently than us. Not only will we understand and appreciate our neighbors better, we will understand ourselves better in the process.

Finally, the phrase “Happy Holidays” is no solution. This phrase isn’t sensitive to the eight million Jehovah’s Witnesses who do not observe holidays as a rule. (I’ll admit that I admire their devotion to this rule and often wish that I could do likewise.) Simply adopting a vague gesture does little to help and probably exacerbates the existing problems. The best solution will not be found in a more tolerant slogan. The best—and perhaps only solution—is to get to know and care for our neighbors no matter what we say. Most Christians who perceive a "war on Christmas" have misunderstood their neighbors and therefore are incapable of relating to them. We must ask, have we adopted a posture of fascination or frustration with our neighbors?

As the Grinch found out, Christmas is coming and we can’t stop it. We might as well try to do it better. Perhaps we ought to begin with the suggestion of James 1:27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Or if you'd prefer non-patriarchal language, here is the RUN DMC translation: "Fight poverty, give to the needy; Don't be like the Grinch cause the Grinch is greedy." I would suggest that we extend this proverb to our religious territory; defending it will defile it more often than not.



  1. All these Protestants, missing the spirit of Christmas. Time to put the "mass" back into "ChristMAS."

    (Please note tongue in cheek).

  2. Well there's some good stuff here, to be sure, but the major red flag is defining offense without intent. Offense requires intent. To divorce offense from intent is to render the concept meaningless. I could give a foggy rat's behind if my Jewish friends tell me "Happy Hannukah" because I know they mean well. So if someone is offended by a genuine "Happy Holidays," the problem really does lie with them.