Thursday, December 23, 2004

Saving Christmas?

If one listens to some of the popular talking heads, it would appear that Christianity is under attack.

Here's the Rev. Jerry Falwell;

The spiritual Grinches in our nation are accelerating their war against Christmas as never before. And they are tragically convincing growing numbers of our fellow citizens – primarily those in our nation's public schools and public administration – that Christmas should be publicly shunned, replaced by nebulous substitutes designed to avoid offending those who are all-so-easily outraged... is imperative that parents and grandparents ensure that their children understand the Judeo-Christian ancestry that is undeniable. We must also make certain that our children's schools are not gagging their rights to live out their faith in the classroom.

The effort to preserve our religious heritage and future requires the diligence of us all. May we, through God's grace, faithfully safeguard the wonderful Christian birthright of America.
Pat Buchanan weighs in with a piece entitled "Christianophobia";

...It needs to be said. What we are witnessing here are hate crimes against Christianity – the manifestations, the symptoms of a sickness of the soul, a disease a Vatican diplomat correctly calls "Christianophobia," the fear and loathing of all things Christian, coupled with a fanatic will to expunge from the public life of the West all reminders that ours was once a Christian civilization and America once a Christian country.
What has them all worked up? One example that is mentioned on a number of sites is that Target has decided to not allow Salvation Army bellringers in front of their stores this year. Is this Christian persecution? Here is Target's explanation;

...We receive an increasing number of solicitation inquiries from nonprofit organizations and groups each year and determined that if we continue to allow the Salvation Army to solicit, then it opens the door to any other groups that wish to solicit our guests. While some of our guests may welcome the opportunity to support their favorite charity or cause, allowing these organizations to solicit means that Target would also have to permit solicitation by organizations whose causes or behavior may be unacceptable to our guests. Target notified the Salvation Army of this decision in January 2004, well in advance of the holiday season, so that the organization would have time to find alternative fundraising sources. Target also asked the Salvation Army to look for other ways we could support their organization under our corporate giving guidelines. At this date, they have not provided a proposal that fits those guidelines...
Other examples of oppression include Denver's Parade of Lights banning Christian floats and a principal in Washington not allowing Dicken's "A Christmas Carol", supposedly because of the offensive line, "God bless us everyone." Salon sheds a little light on these popular urban myths floating around;

Right-wingers chastise organizers of Denver's downtown holiday Parade of Lights for rejecting the nearby Faith Bible Church's religious float. But organizers of the event, fearful of being put in the position of having to choose one faith's float over another for its small parade, have never allowed religious floats of any kind in the procession. So how does that fit into a specifically anti-Christian "jihad" gripping America? (P.S. The Faith Bible Church was notified more than six months ago that its float would not be in the parade, so the incident hardly qualifies as news.)

And take the example of a school principal in Kirkland, Wash., who allegedly canceled a performance of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" out of fear that it violated the district's holiday policy of keeping church and state separate. The story has become a touchstone in the anti-Christmas crusade movement. O'Reilly cited the play's being "banned" as a prime example of "anti-Christmas madness," while conservative Washington Times columnist Deborah Simmons wrote matter-of-factly that the principal "lowered the curtain on a production of the classic 'A Christmas Carol' because feeble Tiny Tim says, 'God bless us everyone.'" That assertion is pure fiction.

Reading the very first news account of the manufactured controversy, from a Dec. 5 article in the King County Journal, it's plain the school's principal, Mark Robertson, "canceled the Dec. 17 matinee by the Attic Theatre cast because students would have been charged to see the performance." Robertson himself told the paper: "We don't allow any private organizations to come and sell products in the schools, or we'd have everybody down here."
Regarding the "fear and loathing of all things Christian" that Pat Buchanan labels "Christianophobia," I would suggest that some of these arrogant men take a look in a mirror. A good example is Bill O' Reily, and Fox News in general, who have jumped on the bandwagon of "Save Christmas." Look at this segment of a transcript from a recent show;

CALLER: I agree with what you've been saying recently -- you're concerned about the secularization of Christmas and -- I'm concerned about the secularization of Jews and about the -- and Christmas going into schools. When I was growing up -- I'm Jewish, but I was not in a very Jewish area. There were some Jews there but, I was kind of -- grew up with a resentment because I felt that people were trying to convert me to Christianity -
O'REILLY: Were they?
CALLER: Yeah, when I got to college I found out - that's true. A lot of people were. I found that millions of dollars were spent trying to convert -
O'REILLY: I mean that you really believe that people were trying to convert - you personally - were trying to make you change from being Jewish to Christian?
CALLER: Absolutely.
O'REILLY: How do they do that?
CALLER: Well, for example, there are various organizations in the colleges that go to people -- try to invite you to Bible study groups -
O'REILLY: Yeah, I know, but - I mean, you don't have to go. I mean they do that to me. They come - the Jehovah's Witnesses come to my door and invite me places. I mean, I don't care - I just say no, get outta here.
CALLER: The thing is, is when you have - for example, Christmas carols or gift exchanges being done in school, that kind of sets the kids up to being converted.
O'REILLY: Yeah, but you give gifts on Hanukkah, don't you?
CALLER: No, there's not really a Jewish tradition of giving gifts on -
O'REILLY: Well, the seven candles [sic], you get a gift for every night, don't you?
CALLER: Actually, the Jews give gifts on -
O'REILLY: All right. Well, what I'm tellin' you, [caller], is I think you're takin' it too seriously. You have a predominantly Christian nation. You have a federal holiday based on the philosopher Jesus. And you don't wanna hear about it? Come on, [caller] - if you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel then. I mean because we live in a country founded on Judeo - and that's your guys' - Christian, that's my guys' philosophy. But overwhelmingly, America is Christian. And the holiday is a federal holiday honoring the philosopher Jesus. So, you don't wanna hear about it? Impossible.
And that is an affront to the majority. You know, the majority can be insulted, too. And that's what this anti-Christmas thing is all about.
When is Bill going to learn that sometimes he needs to simply shut up? Here's another example from a "Christian leader";

Reverend Pat Robertson called Kwanzaa "an absolute fraud" during the news segment of Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club December 6. After lamenting that "left wing educators, left-wing judges are stripping every vestige of our Christian heritage," Robertson, host and Christian Coalition of America founder, said: "Kwanzaa is an absolute fraud. You know, there was no festival in Africa called 'Kwanzaa.' I mean, it's made up by a bunch of hippie-types on the West Coast. I mean, it's not something that goes back to Africa. No way."
And they wonder why what is passed off as Christianity leaves a bad taste in some people's mouths?

Many of the spokespersons for the religious right put much of the blame on the supposed secularization of Christmas on the ACLU. As Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune points out, this targets the wrong enemy;

...the ACLU frequently goes to court to fight for the rights of believers to practice their faith, and that in 1995 the ACLU signed on to the Joint Statement of Current Law on Religion in the Public Schools.

That statement aggressively reminded educators of students' rights to express their faith in public school in numerous ways and for schools to present religiously inspired material--including music--as long as it was in a clearly educational setting.

In other words, students in a public school assembly in December can sing "Silent Night" (as they should and as, indeed, 4th graders will in a Spring Grove program next week), so long as the context makes it clear that the school district isn't taking a formal position one way or the other about the lyrical assertion in "Silent Night" that Jesus Christ was the son God and the savior of mankind.

The Baptist Joint Committee, the National Association of Evangelicals and other Christian groups didn't have a problem with that commonsense directive. They co-signed the Joint Statement with the ACLU.

So did the American Jewish Congress, the American Muslim Council and the National Sikh Center.

These and other similar organizations were rightly concerned that rampaging hypersensitivity and fear of litigation was prompting public educators to avoid all references to religion to stay on the constitutional side of the line between teaching and preaching.

The ACLU took a lot of the blame for that fear and avoidance. After all, ACLU lawyers led the way in filing suit against those who put into action a belief that our public institutions ought to favor one faith over another.

The Joint Statement was meant to clarify the mainstream legal and social position and to reassure tremulous superintendents: You don't have to write Christ out of Christmas, you just have to keep it an educational rather than devotional context.

Ignorance is the enemy of Christmas--ignorance of the law and ignorance of the ACLU.
You can read the ACLU's "Joint Statement of Current Law on Religion in the Public Schools," and view the complete list of signators here.

I would agree that ignorance is the true enemy of Christmas. I would add arrogance to the list as well. Arrogant Christians are the absolute worst witnesses to the Prince of Peace that I can imagine. Claiming that Christianity must dominate the country because we happen to be a majority is more of a political statement than a religious one. Since the religious right claims to have won the last election, is this the kind of exclusive, ungraceful and arrogant rhetoric we can expect for the next four years?

The compassionate spirit of Jesus Christ transcends our divisions. Personally, I think some of the school boards, etc. that get nervous about affirming the miracle of Christmas are playing it too safe. We can all celebrate the spirit of Christmas without having to agree on the theology, can't we?

Merry Christmas.


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