American evangelicals’ annual campaign against the supposed “War on Christmas” began early this year, with the president promising the perpetually oppressed faithful that we would once again be a nation that says “Merry Christmas.” “Praise the Lord,” shouted the ever-victimized choir!
Yes, it certainly has been a long time since those happy golden days of yore, hasn’t it?
Gone, the president assured them, will be the national scourge of “Happy Holidays” in all its pluralistic, inclusive sickness. After nine years of unmatched persecution, American Christians will once again be free (in the spirit of the season) to cram their religious beliefs down people’s throats; to condescendingly wield their adoration of the sweet baby Jesus like a yuletide middle finger to Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists—and anyone else not sharing their expressions of peace on Earth, good will to men, dammit.
The answer to the age-old question, “What would Jesus do?” for many, turns out to be, “Alienate and badger everyone who doesn’t believe what you believe.”
It’s becoming more and more ironic to witness these yearly railings against some imaginary conspiracy toward a Christ-less Christmas—by men and women who don’t seem the slightest bit interested in keeping Christ in their Christianity the rest of the year (you know: caring for the poor, protecting the marginalized, welcoming the foreigner, alleviating suffering, shunning greed, championing equality).
They find no paradox in annually dusting off and trotting out a Nativity scene depicting a Middle Eastern, soon to be refugee child, who would grow to spend his days living off of other people’s generosity and fighting for those in the margins—after having spent the previous eleven months applauding travel bans and immigration raids and border walls and healthcare theft.
The rest of us see it, though. Many good people who claim Christianity recognize how ridiculous this all is; what a paper tiger all this war language is and what a cheap, manufactured fight it has become. We have a perennial faith that finds the real evils of this world worth railing against—a faith that doesn’t need a self-made, trivial December diversion in order to feel valid. We understand that belief in Jesus is not license to be a yearly jerk to non-Christians.
There is no coordinated War on Christmas by non-believers—but there is a war on Christ by these seasonally ranting believers. Jesus warned His professed followers that the way they treated the least of these was their treatment of Himself. There are millions of people this December in America and around the world, who are starving and suffering and aching for the smallest scrap of hope—and honestly they don’t care about coffee cups or Santa displays or sales clerk salutations.
They just want what Christians are supposed to provide by virtue of their title and job description: tangible, irrefutable evidence that God is and that God loves—because of how they love. They are waiting for the tidings of comfort and joy the people of Jesus are supposed to be bringing them.
We who claim Christ should spend less time this season poking 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.
I’m a Christian.
When someone says “Happy Holidays” to me, I simply smile and reply “You as well.” I don’t lecture them or correct them or insist on them acknowledging Christmas. I don’t need some forced compliant lip service to have my beliefs validated. I don’t feel my religion assailed by a stranger’s kind salutation.
My faith convictions are not contingent on anyone else agreeing with them.
The day Christmas becomes a weapon, is the day I’ll know I lost the plot completely.
I say “Happy Holidays” because many people celebrate something this time of year, and they shouldn’t feel compelled to yield to me or anyone else. This isn’t a piety competition.
I say “Happy Holidays” because I want to be a light to people, whatever their faith tradition—and because simple kindness is rare in these dark days. Everyone could use some gentleness.
I say “Happy Holidays” because I want to be like Jesus—and not a jerk.
For Christians, this is the only war worth waging this Christmas.
This article previously appeared 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.