It might seem trivial to some, but preserving Christmas as a public holiday has been worth the effort.
Another Christmas is upon us, and that means gifts under the tree, excited children, family travels and, of course, wars over Christmas itself.
Although it is not exactly breaking news for those familiar with AFA, for the last seven years the ministry has argued that there exists a “War on Christmas.” AFA’s Naughty-and-Nice List, citing companies that profit from Christmas shopping but refuse to publicly acknowledge the existence of the day itself, is in the media every year at this time.
For each of the past five years, AFA chose one company on the “Naughty” list and called for a limited boycott, covering the shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Initially, criticisms aimed at AFA over this issue came mostly from left-leaning members of the media or people who simply hated everything the ministry did anyway.
In a New York Times op-ed piece last December, for example, Gail Collins derided AFA and others for embracing “a seasonal victimhood” that is meant to force stores to link corporate greed with the birth of Jesus Christ.
Nothing could be further from the truth, but we learned long ago that the secular news media sometimes cares little for the truth when it comes to evangelical Christians. A good smear is quicker and cheaper than actually trying to understand us.
However, over the last couple of years, AFA has found itself being targeted – either implicitly or explicitly – by other Christians. Whether it’s from Rachel Held Evans on the evangelical left or Russell Moore on the evangelical right, some Christians have chided and condemned AFA’s pro-Christmas campaigns.
So is the fight worth it?
A wider war
AFA’s efforts in this arena have never existed in a vacuum. The ministry holds three propositions in tandem: (1) There has been an intentional effort for over 100 years to secularize the U.S. (2) The war on Christmas does exist, and it has been part of this wider effort. (3) The attempt to secularize the nation is bad for America and ultimately threatens the very existence of the Republic.
Since the latter half of the 19th century, secular humanists have busily attempted to dismantle the Christian foundations of America. For example, Humanist Manifesto, one of the key declarations of principle penned by secular humanists, stated in 1933: “We consider the religious forms and ideas of our fathers no longer adequate.”
While Christians might not want to admit it, humanists in America have made tremendous progress. Here is the general outline of secularist achievement that has emerged over the last century or so:
(1) Removal of Christian influence in our laws: The founders believed in a Creator who made plain His intention for mankind through natural law as well as Scripture. However, this view was successfully scrubbed away from the nation’s law schools and universities in the first half of the 20th century. It was not surprising, therefore, when the U.S. Supreme Court, beginning with its 1947 decision in Everson v Board of Education, began making brand new pronouncements about the role of religion in America. In fact, the 1947 ruling was the first to create a “wall of separation between church and state.” This was without precedent in American jurisprudence, and it was no accident; the principle was created out of whole cloth.
(2) Restriction of Christian influence in our culture: The founding generation assumed that Christianity – and the morality that flowed from it – would allow citizens of the new Republic to govern themselves without widespread intrusion from a centralized government. However, secularists began successfully undermining Christianity’s influence in education, sexual mores, entertainment and elsewhere. Now the majority religion in the U.S. is not simply ignored but often openly ridiculed and attacked.
(3) Removal of Christian symbols from the public square: Since the creation of our nation in 1776, Christian symbols were conspicuous because Christianity itself undergirded American culture. But secularists argued that, if Christianity was no better than any other religion – and, as most secularists believe, if religion itself is bad for a modern society – then its symbols should no longer have a prominent place. From the removal of crosses and the expulsion of the Ten Commandments from public land, to the exclusion of Nativity scenes from local commons, the scrubbing away of Christian symbols has been remarkably successful.
(4) Restriction of Christian practice in the public square: The founders believed that the beliefs of religious people would inform their political views, and that ideas based in religious principle would have a valid place in policy decisions. However, the discrediting of that belief is under way. While it is by no means a fait accompli, Christians have been alarmed at recent federal court decisions that have insisted that laws passed on the basis of a morality rooted in religion are invalid.
Why should people care? The founders believed that previous republics and democratic societies eventually died or were destroyed because humanity carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. To restrain such sinful tendencies, there were only two powers strong enough: external government coercion or internal restraint. For people to live in a nation free of overbearing government compulsion, they must govern themselves.
From where would such self-governance come? In his Farewell Address, the nation’s first president outlined the dual pillars upon which the nation’s political system would rest. George Washington said:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. … In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness...
A Christmas war
AFA has always believed that the war on Christmas should be viewed in this context. When schools forbade students from handing out candy canes or religiously themed cards; when school boards changed “Christmas break” to “winter solstice;” when cities banned religious floats in parades; or when stores banned employees from wishing customers Merry Christmas, AFA recognized the attempted secularization of America as the driving force.
“The very word itself – Christmas – is a reminder that this particular holiday is the celebration of Jesus Christ,” AFA president Tim Wildmon said in a guest column for Charisma magazine last December. “Those who promote political correctness and extreme multiculturalism resent this because it is exclusionary in their view.”
Wildmon said there is no doubt that the Christmas holiday elevates one particular religion over other faiths. That never used to be a problem – not because America persecuted non-Christians, but because everyone understood that Christianity was the foundational faith of the country. With secularists, however, that didn’t sit well.
“Therefore, Christmas must be replaced with words and ideas that are broad and general so as to knock Christmas from its traditional place in America’s public life,” Wildmon said. “It is an attempt to define Christianity as no more important to the history and fabric of America than is, say, Hinduism.”
About a decade ago, many stores and businesses began quietly dropping the word “Christmas” from advertisements, store decorations and the employee lexicon. AFA and others began to notice.
Of course, it was entirely possible that many business people were motivated more by a desire not to offend those who do not celebrate Christmas, rather than an impulse to expel religion from the public realm. In fact, that was the reason most companies gave for dropping references to Christmas.
AFA didn’t buy that explanation, however. For one thing, the vast majority of people in America celebrate Christmas. In 2010, the trade magazine Ad Age cited a National Retail Federation survey that found that 91% of consumers were planning Christmas festivities.
Moreover, no one really seemed to mind the Christmas trees, Nativity scenes or retail well-wishers who said, “Merry Christmas.” Very few customers complained that a store was selling “Christmas trees” rather than the ludicrously named “holiday trees” that some stores were selling in the parking lot.
Ellen Davis, a vice president at NRF, told Ad Age that in 2009 retailers began returning to the emphasis on Christmas. The result? “[T]here wasn’t much push back,” she said. “There wasn’t a huge outcry from groups offended that retailers were saying Merry Christmas.”
Following the actions of AFA and others, the tide is turning back. Randy Sharp, director of special projects for AFA and spearhead of the ministry’s Naughty-Or-Nice campaigns, said over the past decade “our research shows 80-90% of companies have again embraced Christmas.”
He said, “We’ve had a complete flip in perspective. Companies are beginning to see that people who buy from retailers at Christmastime don’t think there’s anything wrong with everyone being open and honest about why that’s happening.”
On the other hand, apparently the boycott threat was very real to retailers. “Shoppers vote with their wallets every day,” Davis told Ad Age. “ [When it comes to boycotts,] retailers realize, ‘It could just as easily have been us.”’
It might appear to some that this was all a lot of fuss about nothing, that AFA was making a slag heap out of a lump of coal. After all, if you compare the selling of “holiday trees” to the murder of Christians by Islamic radicals in Iraq, the war on Christmas certainly pales in comparison.
But when it comes to Christian involvement in culture, should we really set the bar so high? If it doesn’t come to the level of martyrdom, should believers be silent?
We really don’t treat matters of principle in this fashion in other areas of life, do we? If the boss asks an employee if he’s the one that keeps stealing lunches out of the office refrigerator, does the employee respond: “Are you serious? People are starving to death around the world – how dare you concern yourself with a few missing bologna sandwiches!”
Certainly, office politics or an employee’s character doesn’t reach the levels of concern evoked by Ebola or terrorism.
But principles do matter, and if the employee is suspected of stealing, not just bologna, but billions of dollars, the principles matter even more.
In the case of the secularization of our nation – and the danger it poses to our Republic – a whole lot more than Christmas is being stolen.