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Christian nationalism meets Christmas

December 14, 2022
Just about every year, we hear how “Christians” are up in arms concerning the apparent decline in salespeople telling customers “Merry Christmas” or how Starbucks prints “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” on their ubiquitous holiday coffee cups. The lack of the consumeristic messaging of “Christmas” is somehow a cultural affront to Christians everywhere, as if for-profit companies are the keepers of the Christian message of Jesus’ birth.

While the “War on Christmas” narrative goes back at least as far as a Bill O’Reilly segment on Fox in 2004, the manufactured controversy was whipped into a greater frenzy in 2015 when Joshua Feuerstein, a former pastor from Arizona, shared a video on Facebook that went viral with over 12 million views.

Feuerstein stated in his Facebook post that “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus.” He entered a Starbucks protesting the lack of Christian messages on Starbucks’ famous red cups while legally carrying a handgun. The social media protest used the hashtag  #MerryChristmasStarbucks to encourage customers to fight back against Starbucks’ supposed Christian persecution.

We are now seeing the full expression of what was behind this War on Christmas: Christian nationalism.

Christian nationalism is, according to Paul D. Miller, professor of the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University, “the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way. Popularly, Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a “Christian nation”—not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future.”

How many people really believe in “Christian nationalism?” The facts may be more surprising than you think.

The problem with Christians decrying a reduction in Christmas expression by corporations and governmental institutions is the expectation that all people, businesses, and institutions must comply with Christians’ Christmas demands. This diminishes the witness of Christ by co-opting the message of Christianity with nationalistic priorities.

According to a recent Gallup poll, researchers found, “Most adults (60%) say the founders of the United States originally intended for it to be a Christian nation. A third say the U.S. is currently a Christian nation. And more than four-in-ten Americans (45%) say the country should be a Christian nation.”

The public belief of the American founders’ intent to create a Christian nation is lost in the reality that the Constitution does not mention Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God the Father, or even the Christian concept of “Christ.” The U.S. Constitution never explicitly mentions God or the divine. The first amendment of the Constitution prohibits Congress from establishing an endorsed religion. The Treaty of Tripoli in 1796 stated, “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.” And yet, the myth that America was established as a Christian nation persists. Were the founders of America religious? Yes. Were most of the founders of America members of a Christian church? Yes. Did the founders of America desire a governmental theocracy? No, most fled Europe, where their king was their ruler and religious authority. Were all the founders of America all trinitarian Christians? No. Thomas Jefferson wrote his Bible in which the supernatural events of Jesus were eliminated.

American culture’s acceptance of displays of nominal Christian images or messages are not as paramount anymore. That does not mean Christmas, Jesus, or God are under attack. It means that a portion of Americans no longer believe or feel that Jesus has much importance in their life. That is not the fault of Starbucks, our culture, our government, or other cultural institutions—that is the fault of us Christians. Starbucks or secular culture are not the holders of our sacred traditions and beliefs. Secular institutions are not the keepers of Christianity. We Christians are keepers of Christianity. We are the ones charged to be the messengers of the Christmas story.

At the end of the day, companies are here to make money off Christmas. Stores are decorated with Christmas displays to get you to buy stuff. If Jesus were walking past a store during the Christmas shopping season, I’m pretty sure he would roll his eyes and place his palm squarely in his face.

When Christians participate in Christian nationalism, it diminishes the witness of Christ because it co-opts the message of Christianity with nationalistic priorities. The ugly reality of these Christian protests is that it makes us Christians look like a bunch of paranoid lunatics. The problem with Christians decrying a reduction in Christmas expression by corporations and governmental institutions is the expectation that all people, businesses, and institutions must comply with Christians’ Christmas demands. Often, these cultural Christian crusaders do more harm than good. Feuerstein proved this when he waved his concealed handgun at the end of the video. Such displays of “freedom” in the name of exercising Second Amendment rights only further marginalize Christians into an anti-government stereotype.

Christians, stop these ridiculous protests employing Christian nationalism. If you really think that Starbucks or any other business’s lack of concern for putting “Merry Christmas” on their products is that important, then maybe you need to put the product down and spend more time studying how Jesus treated people. Jesus did not enact change with threats, tricks, or guns. Jesus changed the world by spending time with people… some of the most despised: drunks, prostitutes, sinners, and tax collectors.

The Rev. Alan Rudnick is an author, Th.D. candidate at La Salle University, and Senior Minister at DeWitt Community Church, DeWitt, NY. He is a former member of the board of directors for American Baptist Home Mission Societies, board of General Ministries and Mission Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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