Retailers in Texas who celebrate Christmas better shout it from their garland-wrapped rooftops lest they incite the anger of local Christians. Conservative mega-church First Baptist Church in Dallas (FBCD) has just launched a web site with the expressed purpose of keeping Christmas "everywhere." By logging onto www.grinchalert.com, shoppers can place businesses on the "naughty" or "nice" list depending on whether or not a business acknowledges Christmas.
"When companies use misplaced political correctness to halt the celebration of Christmas, they belong on the 'Naughty List,'" the website says. "We also want to know which companies are celebrating Christmas with excitement and meaning-especially those who keep Christ in Christmas where He belongs!"
Everyone recognizes, of course, that the holiday most people are celebrating this time of year is indeed called "Christmas." According to Rasmussen, 92% of Americans say they celebrate Christmas. However, 58% of those who celebrate Christmas are more likely to wish a casual acquaintance "Happy Holidays." FBCD Pastor Robert Jeffress claims he intends the website to combat such political correctness in a way that's "fun." But some don't seem to be enjoying it quite as much as he is.
Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis of Congregation Kol Ami said, "Rather than honoring Christmas, this kind of campaign feels meant to remind me and people like me we are second-best members of this society . . . I realize every movement needs an issue to rally around. How about 'Love your neighbor as yourself'?"
The Rabbi makes a good point, but his call for a Christmas ceasefire will likely fall on deaf ears. At least as long as Christian culture warriors like Jeffress see Christmas not just as a sacred holiday, but also a critical battleground. In the "War on Christmas," lines must be drawn in the December sand to make sure that the famed greeting "Merry Christmas" isn't replaced by its evil half-brother "Happy Holidays."
Without fail, certain radio and television personalities devote a significant amount of time to this so-called "war" each year. A few years ago, Fox News' John Gibson released the book, The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Holiday is Worse than You Thought. About the same time, Focus on the Family began their "I Stand for Christmas" campaign, which included a site where consumers rate retailers based on how "Christmas-friendly" they are. Last year, I found a stack of "I Say Merry Christmas Bumper Stickers" in our church mail room. Beginning around Thanksgiving, you can hear the sounds of clips being loaded in churches and Christian homes across the country.
The more I watch this holiday holy war, however, the more convinced I am that many American Christians have not fully thought through the issues at play. For example, we claim that we want Jesus to remain "the reason for the season," but our actions belie a different focus. As I wrote in The Huffington Post last Christmas:
Most of us spend a paltry amount of time reflecting on Jesus compared to the massive amount of time we spend shopping at the mall, attending parties, wrapping and opening gifts, and eating huge meals. We might spend an hour at church on Christmas Eve holding a candle and singing "Silent Night" but we likely spent four hours at the mall the day before. Sure, we may gather around grandpa for a stiff five minutes and listen to him read a chapter from the Gospel of Luke, but we hardly listen. We are licking our chops at the mountains of presents behind him. In reality, Christmas for Americans--and yes, even the Christian ones--is shaped more by Currier and Ives than Joseph and Mary.
I often wonder what Jesus would think if he returned to earth at Christmas and surveyed the way all of his followers were celebrating his birth. What would the one who "has no place to lay his head" think about our gaudy decorations and lavish presents totaling over $400 billion in America alone? Would Jesus be pleased to find us remembering his lowly birth with materialism and gluttony?
It is nothing short of hypocrisy for American Christians to force others to "keep Jesus in Christmas" when we helped kick him out of the holiday long ago.
Additionally, we need to think through what we're asking for. By waging the war on Christmas, we are pressuring many people who don't actually trust upon Christ to verbally acknowledge him. In so doing, we may be actually promoting a limp cultural religion that fails to promote radical gospel-centered living. How much true value is there in forcing those who aren't Christians to use the name of Christ? As church historian Steve McKinion has pointed out, such things "may very well be at the heart of 'using the Lord's name in vain.'"
If Christians want to win the war on Christmas, we need to stop fighting it. Enjoy the season, reflect on Christ, break bread with those you love, and look for opportunities to meet the needs of others. Such things will seem more authentic to a skeptical world and scream "Merry Christmas" in ways a retailer never can.
Jonathan Merritt is author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet and Editor of QIdeas.