First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, MO.
Each December brings complaints about how Christ is being taken out of Christmas (e.g. Dec. 3 Letter to the News Press: “’Holiday’ program should be about Christmas.”) Whether it’s a school program that sings songs about winter rather than traditional carols or a major retailer’s employees saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” the outrage is the same: political correctness has run amok! These complaints are as predictable as they are misguided.
As a professed Christian and a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I have to ask, “What’s the fuss all about?” It was never the job of Wal-Mart and Target or school principals and administrators to spread the good news of the Christ child born on that first Christmas long ago. No, it has always been the job of the church to demonstrate the true meaning of Christmas. No selective nostalgia of the past or revisionist history about our nation’s founding can change this reality. I suspect what really has these folks upset is the loss of a more homogenous culture. The rapid changes in our culture have thankfully exposed the shallow nature of bygone Christmas observances that had more to do with a shared cultural background than honoring the teachings of the one born in a manger in Bethlehem.
One of the many things that makes our country great is we each have the freedom to hold whatever religious beliefs we choose or even none at all. Even if the majority in our nation holds to a particular set of beliefs, it still cannot impose its religious beliefs on the minority. Religious pluralism is not political correctness out of control but rather a testament to how great of a country we live in. Unlike so many other places in the world, here we can live together in peace even though we are a nation of many different faiths.
As a Christian, I believe my greatest obligations are to love God with all my heart, soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself. Loving my neighbor means wanting for him or her the same rights of religious freedom that I want for myself. Just as I would not want my children to be compelled to participate in a religious program at school different from my family’s faith, I would not want the children of a family who practice a religion different from mine forced to sing Christian songs. I have great sympathy for school officials who must deal each year with thin-skinned Christians who vent their outrage in very un-Christian ways, but I applaud them for refusing to be intimidated as they protect the rights of children who come from families holding minority religious beliefs. Furthermore, I could care less whether store employees say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” I won’t begrudge them trying to make a buck off of customers from any and all religions.
Here in St. Joseph, we may have more self-professed Christians than people of other religions or none (although how many of those Christians actually worship each week at a church and support its ministries is another matter). I believe it is a strength of our community not a weakness that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha’i, atheists and others can live together peacefully. The same diversity that allows others to celebrate Christmas however they wish (or not) allows me to celebrate Christmas as I believe is proper. The Jesus I will worship this Christmas does not need the support of corporations or compulsory school Christmas programs. Instead, I believe Jesus longs for people of goodwill to live together in peace, to care for those whom society considers “the least of these” and to love others even when their religious beliefs are different from one’s own.
Rev. Chase Peeples