Sunday is the first day of Advent, which begins the Christmas season for Christians. (I know, for many it's all the sales on Black Friday; check out what Jody Landers has to say about that on her blog, to which I can only say, "Right. What she said.") For the last couple of years I have felt obligated to speak to Christians at the beginning of the Christmas season and implore them to supress their outrage at the way the secular world handles "our" celebration.
I'm speaking specifically about our indignation whenever we hear that public schools are no longer able to refer to Christmas trees as, well, Christmas trees. They have to be called "Holiday" trees. And the "Holiday" songs that they sing at "Holiday" programs are just the secular songs that don't reference the birth of Christ, like "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" or "Jingle Bells."
It's easy for us in the Christian majority (?) to dismiss this as small-minded political correctness, although I'm not sure we would do so if our public schools celebrated the Muslim religious season of Ramadan and our kids were made to sing Ramadan carols (if there were such a thing.)
But it's another for us to be outraged and then start claiming persecution. Persecution? Please.
And it's also misinformed to claim that this violates our First Amendment rights to free speech. The Constitution does in fact limit free speech, specifically government-sponsored speech on government-owned property, and the limitation is that such speech must be free of language favoring one religion over another. A public (i.e. government-owned and operated) school-sponsored program falls under that restriction, and a Christmas program featuring songs proclaiming Jesus Christ as King and Lord is speech favoring the Christian religion, even if sung by 1st graders.
The fact that we got away with it for more than a hundred years doesn't mean that it's the right way to evangelize. We're not allowed to use the government to proclaim Christ, and the government is not allowed to favor one religion over another. The fact this has been happening since the advent of public education only means that we got away with it much longer than we should have. It also means that we made Jewish students deal with it for far too long simply because they knew if they said something about it they would be ignored at best and, at worst, would be made to suffer because of it. (When I was in elementary school one of my best friends was a boy named Frank Israel. It never occurred to me that he might not have wanted to sing about Jesus at Christmas. Then again, it's not the responsibility of a fourth-grader to think about these kinds of things; but what about the adults?)
We say a lot about ourselves by the things that we choose to be outraged over. I don't think it says anything good about Christians when we choose to be outraged that we aren't given privileged status in public schools or Town Halls.
I'm going to change my tactics a bit this year, though. Usually I'm telling Christians to relax, don't get upset, sit on your outrage. Not this year. We need to be outraged, but not about "Holiday" Trees.
About this: Spending on Black Friday last year: $20 billion. Total spending at Christmas last year: $450 billion. Amount experts say it would take to give clean water to everyone in the world: somewhere between $10 billion and 144 billion. (Yes, a big range, which makes you wonder what constitutes an "expert" in this area.)
I'm not saying we shouldn't give each other gifts. I'm giving gifts. I've saved up and I'm buying everyone in my immediate family multiple gifts, and everyone in my extended family one gift.
So, give gifts. That's fine. And I'm not saying that clean water needs to be your thing. There are other things that deserve to be your thing. Pick one.
But as American Christians, we ought to be careful what we are outraged over this Christmas, because when Jesus judges us it's not going to be because we refused to fight.
It's going to be because we fought for the wrong things.
© 2008 Larry L. Eubanks
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