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Progressive Revival

One of the the most depressing aspects of the Advent season is the perennial reappearance of the “War Against Christmas” argument in some conservative political and religious circles.  This story-line, most visibly associated with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, is based on the idea that Christians are being mortally offended, and perhaps even threatened in their religious liberties, by department-store decisions to peddle their wares under the slogan of “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.”  The “War Against Christmas” theory also feeds on the usual tedious and marginal fights over publicly-authorized Nativity scenes and equal access to other seasonal religious or even anti-religious messages.

I think it’s time for Christians to reclaim Christmas by declaring war on the whole “War on Christmas” whine, and on the planted axiom that Jesus Christ needs to be proclaimed on department store facades and municipal squares.  More generally, Christians should be offended by the idea that commercial or government neutrality towards religious expression represents some sort of persecution–a grievous insult to the sacrifices of true Christian martyrs, past, present and future.

I admit this is a subject on which I have a hard time being any more calm and rational than O’Reilly himself. 

Are contemporary American Christians really so weak and defensive that they identify the terrible outrage of being exposed to pan-religious or secular expressions of the holiday season with the experience of the many millions of Christians who have suffered active discrimination, state-sanctioned repression of their private religious practices, and injury, torture and death, for confessing Christ?  

Have we forgotten the terrible price Christians have paid, in terms of the secular blandishments of power, and the inducement to slaughter each other as well as “infidels,” by confusion of the Kingdom of God with kingdoms–political and commercial–of this world?

And as an American Protestant, I have to ask: have we forgotten that our own heritage used to acknowledge a sharp separation between church and state, and between secular and religious worlds, as essential to our own liberty and growth?

Ironically enough, on the particular issue of Christmas, the Scots-Irish and Calvinist forebears of many U.S. evangelical Protestants waged the most systematic “War on Christmas” on record, as nicely summarized recently by Bruce Wilson.

While I obviously don’t endorse any official ban on Christmas, the inclination of some magisterial Reformers to fear Christmas as a “Holy Day” that has little to do with Jesus Christ is instructive. The best way to remind people of the “reason for the season” is to disassociate the Feast of the Incarnation from Santa Claus, the Yule Log, and other pre- and post-Christian observances that have been merged with it over the centuries. And the place for that is in homes, churches, individual souls, public and private acts of Christian charity, and observances of the real sacrifices of real Christian martrys.  Demanding this association in the commercial and political realms devalues the Christian content of “Christmas” decisively. 

That’s why I think Christians, regardless of our various views on other issues, should unite to denounce and fight the “War on Christmas” campaign.  At best, it’s a testament to our weakness and cowardice.  At worst, it’s an identification of the Gospel with all the dark places where the Gospel casts light.      

  

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