Peace and Goodwill


It’s December, and while most people around me seem much more concerned with the current recession and its effects upon people and society, there remain some who want to keep fighting the Christmas culture wars. A recent article I read on “the real meaning of Christmas” renewed the call for Christians to use their presumed majority status to impose the holiday upon the whole society, demanding that store salespeople wish everyone, “Merry Christmas,” rather than, “Happy holidays,” putting religious Christmas back into the public schools, etc. Why, the minister who wrote it demanded to know, should the majority allow the minority to restrict its freedom of religion?

Why do we think and talk this way, as if the point of being Christian were to be dominant? Why the anger?

American democracy is not simply “majority rules.” We have not only the Constitution but the Bill of Rights. A proper majority wins the vote, but a democracy also guards the rights and human dignity of minorities within it, and the majority does not have the right to take away the rights of a minority. That guardianship of rights becomes especially important with unpopular minorities.

The freedom of religion in this nation is freedom to practice one’s own faith without government interference as long as that practice doesn’t break laws protecting the public (human sacrifice is definitely out). No religion, however, is to be established, and the outcries of angry Christians in these so-called culture wars have been demands for cultural establishment. To people of other faiths or no religious faith, they seem to be saying, “You may live here as long as you don’t bother or inconvenience us, but we are the dominant group, and we’ll do as we please in public spaces and with public funding.” That’s not freedom of religion but establishment for one religion.

Angry calls for Christian cultural dominance also contort the Christian gospel itself. “And the Word (of God) became flesh and lived among us, and we have beheld his glory, the glory of the only Son come from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Where is the grace in, “Wish me ‘Merry Christmas,’ not ‘Happy holidays,’ or I’ll rant at you in front of the other customers and storm out of your store!”? Is this the way we treat people? Jesus told his followers to speak as though they themselves were the youngest present, meaning with humility and respect for others. Christians are called to minister and serve, putting themselves out for vulnerable people. And “truth” in the Bible is more like the reliability of a true friend than the certitude of a doctrinal authority.

Besides, the holidays can be hard enough on people without belligerence and bullying, and the present recession adds many fears and troubles to the usual seasonal stresses and strains. Right now, people need all the grace and truth they can get. They don’t need belligerence thrown in their faces by Christians angry over our loss of cultural privilege in our increasingly diverse society. As the apostle Paul put it, love is never arrogant or rude, and it does not insist upon its own way.