LeadingSmart

Practical Stuff for Church Leaders

The War on Christmas

This video makes me sick. Go ahead, watch it. It will take you four minutes. See if you agree.

Sometime in the early 2000s, a huge debate started in the U.S. that became known as the “war on Christmas.” Truth be told, the war actually began long before that, when, in the 1800s, it was the Christians who banned Christmas because it had no grounding in the Bible. Since then, the war has taken on many different “enemies,” including government buildings, schools, Communists, Muslims, and more recently, retailers.

When Amazon.com proclaimed to its shoppers, “Happy Holidays” – the grass roots effort galvanized to make them change or take them down. In the decade since, boycotts and marketing efforts have been taken against Sears, Walmart, Target, Best Buy and others with the goal of inflicting economic pain on the giant retailers if they didn’t reconsider their stance against this Christian holiday.

Bill O’Reilly, the highest-rated evening news personality, became the spokesman for this grass roots effort, with the American Family Association coordinating the marketing for the boycotts. Focus on the Family contributed by publishing lists of “Christmas-friendly,” “Christmas-negligent,” and “Christmas-offensive” retailers.

Evangelicals and conservatives banded together. We had powerful media on our side. And guess what? It worked. In 2005, Sears reversed its policy and began saying “Merry Christmas” again. In 2006, Wal-Mart relented; Target also changed their position after a petition containing 700,000 signatures was circulated; Home Depot and Gap followed soon after and changed their positions in 2008 and 2009.

We’d been told if we didn’t win, the country would fall to socialism and moral ambiguity—and that’s how the German people accepted the Nazis. So it was a war we had to win. The very survival of America depended on it. And boom. We won. Oh, there are still boycotts every year and retailers being challenged. But put a checkmark in the Christian column. In your face, retailers! Up yours, liberal media! We are on the winning side!

And all God’s people cheer and laugh from the safety of our perfectly lined rows of pews in churches across America. Whipped into a frenzy, feeling the superiority of having made our point and beaten our enemies, we high-five each other and offer a smile and feeling of satisfaction.

We won.

Or did we? Sure, the greeter at Wal-Mart can now say “Merry Christmas” again. But did we really win?

While trying to recover our cultural right to have all of society acknowledge our beliefs, this is what everyone else hears:

“This is a Christian nation, dammit! You can’t take it over. It’s ours! We don’t care about Muslims or Africans or Atheists—they can say what they want in their country. But America is ours!”

Meanwhile, single moms and struggling retirees and ambitious college students are working for an hourly wage during the Christmas season for a few extra dollars to feed their kids or take care of a sick family member or pursue their dreams. They aren’t impressed that the boycott worked. No, they are out of work now and more certain than ever that Christianity is a religion of bigotry and intolerance.

Millions who watch the debate unfold on national TV for months every year during the Christmas season hear religious leaders passionately, almost angrily, defend the “right” of Christians to keep their holiday and have it recognized by the world. The same holiday that we preach about as having become too commercialized—it suddenly makes a difference to us that those commercial entities acknowledge in their marketing that they are selling us goods because of the birth of Christ.

And the world watches, and it wonders. They don’t see us talking with the same level of passion about feeding the hungry or providing warm shelter for the homeless. The stuff in the world that really matters barely gets a mention, but don’t even think about buying your Xbox from a store that won’t put Merry Christmas on their sign—because that violates your rights!

And that is why this video makes me sick. I'm embarrassed to be aligned with those "Christians" who have made the war on Christmas their issue. Jesus said his disciples would be known not by their beliefs, not by their rules, not by their holidays or traditions. He said we will be known by our love for each other.

  • If we are disciples of Jesus, known by our love, where is that evident as we yell at the world because they won’t acknowledge one of our traditions?
  • If I am a disciple, known by how loving I am, will I really be offended if someone sincerely greets me with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”?
  • If I am a disciple, known by his love, won’t I care more than I do about the Muslims, Jews, Jehovah Witnesses, atheists, or even some strands of Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas?
  • If I am a disciple, known by his love, will I really care whether my bank sends me a holiday greeting rather than a Christmas card? Is it really worth changing banks, walking away from the relationship I’ve built with one of the tellers, just to make a point?
  • If I am a disciple, known by his love, will I act as though this is “my” country, and you must respect “my” values?

I’m not sure where it started, but we have this corporate sense of entitlement as Christians in America. Herb Silverman, a self-described atheist, writes in the Washington Post, “Could it be that many Christians lament the possibility that their dominance and privilege in America might be nearing an end?"

He might be right. We think everyone is supposed to be nice to us. We expect society to treat us well, to give us preferential treatment, to put us in the front of the line. After all, there are more of us. So we deserve special treatment.

And yet Jesus seemed to preach about an entirely different kind of living:

“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22 NIV).

It would probably be presumptuous, maybe even ignorant, to think this verse applies to the “war on Christmas.” If crucifixion is a +100 on the persecution scale, then hearing my Applebees server say “happy holidays” is somewhere around a 0.0000001.

And yet I think the principle is still very much the same. If you align your life with Jesus, people are going to say things about you, your “rights” will be stomped on, you won’t be included in everything, and they may even twist the facts to make you look like the bad guy.

Jesus said,

“You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family” (Matthew 5:9 MSG).

Every December, for a few weeks, we have an opportunity. What better time than Christmas to show the love of Jesus? What better opportunity to be disciples, marked by love, than when we are surrounded by people bickering over a store’s marketing plan?