Even good people can sometimes do some bewildering things. I have no axe to grind with either Dr. Robert Jeffress or the people of First Baptist Church of Dallas. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that their foray into the “War on Christmas” was not a good idea.
They created a website called “Grinch Alert.” (grinchalert.com) At Grinch Alert, you can keep track of whether local businesses are “Naughty” or “Nice.” The sole rubric for judgment here is whether the decorations and employees say “Merry Christmas” or whether they settle for, “Happy Holidays.” Check out the website and see what you think.
Here is a local Fox News report with Dr. Jeffress in which he gives his side of the controversy. After you watch the video, I will share some perspectives.
I am not unsympathetic to their aims. I like real Christmas trees and have shopped at the Lowe’s near my home for years. About three years ago, they made national news by calling them “Holiday Trees.” That was silly. Its a Christmas tree and that kind of unnatural excision of the term annoys me. I was not going to get my tree there that year, until Lowe’s bowed to pressure and reversed course.
If you peruse the Naughty list on Grinch Alert, you will find a lot of schools and other government agencies. They are unreasonably suppressing religious expression and I find that objectionable. I am offended when government agencies and businesses treat the mention of Christmas as something shameful.
Christians should advocate for freedom of religious expression. I should be able to wish someone Merry Christmas at school, at work, or anywhere else. But if we demand religious freedom, we must also extend that freedom to those who disagree with us. Do we really want to coerce everyone in America to celebrate the birth of Christ in the way that we do?
I would make the following observations about the website and its effects.
The Naughty and Nice Lists Trivialize Christmas
In an attempt to honor Christmas, they end up trivializing the celebration of Christmas. Do we really want to reduce the Christmas celebration to “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays?” We are going to grant people favor simply for saying two words, and condemn others for saying two other words. Ought not our celebration of Christmas go a little deeper than that?
The Naughty and Nice Lists Make Christians Look Petty
One person put Delta Airlines on the Naughty List by saying, “Though I am a frequent flyer with Delta they did not mind offending me, a Christian, with an email stating ‘Happy Holidays From The Delta Family’.” Really? You are offended because a business wished you Happy Holidays?
Delta sent this person a note that wished him an enjoyable holiday season. Granted, it was a c0mputerized mass email, but it was an attempt to be nice, wasn’t it? Delta was trying to be nice. And this person is offended. If I wished him a nice day, would he be offended? I didn’t mention Christ so I’m guessing I offended him.
There is a real issue here, when people try to suppress free religious speech. That needs to be addressed. But when this issue is trivialized as the Grinch Alert website does, it just makes Christians look small and petty about the whole thing.
The Naughty and Nice Lists Miss the Fact that Many People are Not Christians
Are we going to coerce non-Christians into saying “Merry Christmas”? Delta Airlines is not a Christian business. Should they be coerced into a religious expression simply because the majority of Americans are Christians? If Delta demands that its employees not mention Christmas, that is a problem. But isn’t it the same thing if we demand that they do mention it?
The Naughty and Nice Lists Miss the Main Issue
The object of this struggle should always be the freedom of expression. Christians should not be prohibited from expressing their celebration of the birth of Christ. Nor should anyone who is not a Christian be coerced to pretend that they are. We should never try to impose that celebration on anyone. Our objective should be Christian freedom, not the imposition of Christian values on the world.
We ought to argue for the right for Christians to express their faith. This website demands that people utter empty words or suffer wrath from the Christian majority. We are demanding a right but taking that right away from others.
Our focus must be on maintaining the freedom to celebrate Christmas, not on the intimidation of those who do not.
The Naughty and Nice Lists Expose Christians to Pointless Ridicule
We ought always to be willing to suffer for and be ridiculed for our faith. But people like John Stewart, who rejoice at any opportunity to make Christians look silly, are going to have a field day with this. Goodness, folks, even the Fox News lady thought this crossed a line!
Our gospel is an offense. But do we really need to give ammunition to our critics with something like this?
The Naughty and Nice Lists Feed a Weak Theology
As Christians, we know that the true celebration of Christmas goes way beyond the simple display of a nativity scene on public property or the intonation of the words “Merry Christmas.” Christmas was D-Day in the outworking of the eternal plan of redemption of Jesus Christ. God Incarnate, he came on a mission from God – to live the righteous life we could not live so that he could pay the debt too horrible for us to face.
Saying Merry Christmas is NOT celebrating Christmas and we should not imply that it is. You celebrate Christmas by denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Christ, not by sending out Christmas cards that say Jesus is the Reason for the Season or bludgeoning people into saying words that the don’t mean.
There is a real issue here. There is an attempt in some circles to suppress religious expression at Christmas. But this website and some of the “War on Christmas” rhetoric has become shrill and silly – trivializing what is important. Should we resist the pressure of political correctness to excise any meaning of Christ from the celebration of Christmas? Yes, I think so. But should we impose our own form of religious correctness that demands that people say two words or go on the Naughty list?
That is just plain silly to me.