By now, you’ve probably seen the viral video or encountered the hashtag, #MerryChristmasStarbucks. In the minute-long clip, evangelist Joshua Feuerstein warns viewers about a disturbing new holiday trend taking place because “political correctness has made us so open-minded that are brains have literally fallen out of our heads.” (Side note, let’s ignore the two most obvious criticisms, that this is the exact opposite meaning of the word “literally” and that the video is shot vertically.)
Feuerstein explains that in an effort to take both Christ and Christmas off of this year’s seasonal cups, Starbucks opted for a “just plain red” cup design. Also, he claims, “Starbucks is not allowed to say Merry Christmas to customers.”
He says that instead of boycotting (Christians have already been down that road with Starbucks), he wanted to “start a movement” by playing a “prank” on them: He tells the employees that his name is “Merry Christmas” so that it has to be written on the cup by the barista. Zing! “So guess what, Starbucks? I tricked you into putting Merry Christmas on your cup.” He goes on to challenge all “great Americans” and Christians to pull the same gag on their neighborhood baristas.
At the end of the video, Feuerstein addresses “Starbucks” directly: “Just to offend you,” he says, “I made sure to wear my Jesus Christ shirt.” Feuerstein then brandishes a handgun, and says he brought it with him because they “hate the Second Amendment.”
The video has been shared more than 460,000 times.
First off, as many individuals have noted on social media, along with selling Advent calendars, Starbucks also sells a popular seasonal coffee literally (see that?) called “Christmas Blend.” But, waging a war on a design choice isn’t just misguided, it underscores what’s wrong when some Christians demand that others exclusively acknowledge their values.
The Myth of the ‘War’ on Christmas
Every year around this time, there is a common refrain in some circles of Christianity that calls for boycotts against private companies that do not use the term “Christmas” in displays, advertising and interactions between customers and employees.
To the concerned boycotters, by not acknowledging the Christian traditions associated with the holiday, retailers effectively take “the Christ” out of Christmas. But even if taking “Christ” out of Christmas were possible, greeting someone with the words “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” wouldn’t do it.
That’s because the message of Jesus is one of selflessness and treating your neighbor as you would want to be treated. Yes, Jesus is the truth. But He also taught His followers that people will recognize this truth by how we actually treat each other.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34).
The story of Jesus—particularly the Christmas narrative—underscores something unique about Christianity: It is about meeting people where they are right now, not where we think they should be.
The reason Jesus was born in a manger, was conceived by the Holy Spirit to an unwed teen and worked as a carpenter, isn’t because He didn’t deserve the treatment and glory of an eternal king. It’s because God, in part, wanted His life to model a new kind of thinking and living. Jesus humbled Himself so He could reach people in their world.
Paul even writes that words are secondary to our motives: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
What kind of message does it send if we pressure privately owned businesses—which cater to people of all kinds of faiths and backgrounds—to only acknowledge our own beliefs?
Jesus didn’t try to organize a government revolt. He didn’t encourage followers to boycott local businesses. He definitely didn’t force people to celebrate His birthday. He called us to make disciples by relying on the truth of His message and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
There just aren’t many “prank” movements going on in the New Testament.
No one is forcing us to censor our faith or hide the truth. But the way we reach people should be through relationships, not grandstanding.
Turning the Tables
Imagine the response by some Christians if Feuerstein walked into Starbucks, “tricked” the barista into writing a religious phrase from a different faith on the cup, encouraged people to start a movement and then underscored his point by showing off the handgun he’d snuck into the store.
Imagine if the place you work forced you to use a religious greeting you didn’t believe in because of pressure from a segment of customers.
Yes, a majority of Americans claim to be Christians, and American history was influenced by people of faith. But the Bible teaches us that just because a group is outnumbered, does not mean they should be treated differently.
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33).
We are currently living in an age of unprecedented religious persecution. Countless Christians are being killed for their faith. Millions have been displaced. There are actual injustices happening, and actual Christians who are dying because they believe in the message of Christ.
Receiving a cup of coffee from a privately owned company that does not explicitly display the name of a Christian-based holiday does not count as persecution. It does not signal the decline of Christian values. If anything, the tension at the core of “The War on Christmas” is a sign that we live in a country where people of different faiths can live among one another in mutual respect, even if we believe differently.
The argument is frequently made that the erosion of religious freedom is “a slippery slope.” Today it’s coffee cups, but what else will we Christians lose tomorrow?
But, the reality is, the slope is not that slippery. Religious liberties don’t disappear when cultures become more diverse. They go away when one segment decides what everyone else can say or do.
Christmas should teach us that we should love one another, and that we should preach the Good News of a Savior. Even if that means humbling ourselves in the process.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.