The yearly Christian obsession with the supposed “war on Christmas” began early last year, with a viral video of self-proclaimed car seat prophet Joshua Feuerstein’s rant against Starbucks before Thanksgiving had even happened.
This certainly hasn’t been the last of such claims of a “war against Christmas,” but most people refused to be fooled and drafted into Feurerstein’s phantom battle.
They know there isn’t really a “war on Christmas” waged by non-Christians. Instead, there is often a war on Christ by Christians—and it’s been that way for a long time now.
To those who’ve been paying attention for the past few decades, American Christianity has become more politicized and commercialized than Jesus would ever have desired. It’s been married off to the religious right, packaged for easy megachurch franchising and used as a selling tool by country music artists and NFL players and presidential candidates. It’s often as reflective of the consumer corporate culture as any other entity despite our claims otherwise.
Christmas has largely become this jacked-up faith’s glitzy high holy day, marked by the kind of consuming and spending and barn-building that bears very little resemblance to a Jesus who was born in anonymous poverty, ministered while homeless and altered the planet without a budget, church building, tax exemption or media empire.
There is, of course, a kernel of beauty and truth and joy still there, but it’s usually buried deep beneath cumbersome layers of wish lists and materialism and all-night retail parades. So for any high-horsed Christian to defend this holiday, as if it purely represents Jesus is a bit disingenuous to say the least, especially when our churches often mirror its hallmarks.
In truth, the “war on Christmas” cries offer a convenient distraction for we who have become complacent and comfortable in our affluent, cozy religion. They generate the kind of cheap urgency we need to take a yearly self-righteous stand, filling us with the easy high of temporary pious outrage. After a brief crusade against those who “want to take Christ out of Christmas,” we can then return to the regularly scheduled yuletide fray with an inflated sense of moral fortitude, confident that we have defended the faith.
In reality we’ve just made a brief moral pit stop on the way to the mall.
Of course, there is persecution of people of faith, but most Christians in America have never experienced it in any meaningful way, at least not enough to invoke a battle posture. In fact, when it comes to Christmas, the season more often puts us in the role of intolerant, overbearing zealots demanding that everyone else conform to our religious preferences and publicly reflect our inner convictions.
We should certainly strive to keep Christ at the center of how we personally celebrate Christmas with our families, but we should also make sure to keep Christ in our Christianity the rest of the year—caring for the poor, protecting the marginalized, alleviating suffering, shunning greed, championing equality and more. We should look for a faith that finds the real evils of this world worth railing against; one that doesn’t need a self-made, trivial diversion in order to feel valid.
There are millions of people currently breathing our air who are starving and suffering and aching for the smallest scrap of hope today, and they don’t care about coffee cups or santa displays or sales clerk salutations. They need what Christians are supposed to provide by virtue of their title and job description: living examples that God is and that God loves. Unless we’re willing to expend our energies to do that above all else, we’ll be fighting on the wrong side every time.
We who claim Christ should spend less time this season building convenient enemies to stroke our fragile egos, and more time having our hearts freshly broken for the daily heavy burdens of those walking alongside us—and moved to help carry them without delay.
This is the only war worth waging this Christmas.
This article was originally published on johnpavlovitz.com. Used with permission.
is a pastor, writer and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. In the past four years his blog Stuff That Needs To Be Said has reached a diverse worldwide audience. A 20-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. He recently released his first book A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community.