Fox News loves little baby Jesus–eternally preserved in swaddling clothes, radiant, helpless, voiceless, surrounded by wise men with gifts, angels in perfect harmony, shepherds with faces of wonderment.
Yes, little baby Jesus, the miracle child, the controlled child, is what Fox News loves.
When some stores shifted from Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays last year, the cable network saw a culture war on Christmas and rose in defense of the American way, the Christian way of using little baby Jesus to sell products.
The Christology of Fox News found expression this summer in the movie about Ricky Bobby, the famed NASCAR champion in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Rick Bobby.
“Dear Lord baby Jesus, we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Dominos, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell,” prayed Ricky Bobby.
“I just want to take time to say thank you for my family.” he said with eyes closed and hands clasped. “Dear tiny infant Jesus.”
His wife, Carly, interrupted him, “Hey, um…you know sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him baby. It’s a bit odd and off puttin’ to pray to a baby.”
Ricky Bobby defended his Christology, “Well look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m sayin’ grace. When you say grace, you can say it to grown up Jesus, or teenage Jesus, or bearded Jesus, or whatever you want.”
What a lot of American Christians and apparently Fox News want is the Christmas Jesus, who makes no moral claim on corporate American and consumer choices.
When Baptist pastor Joe Phelps said Jesus offers a moral challenge at Christmas to the market practices of Wal-Mart, Fox News host Neil Cavuto rejected that concept.
“I think it’s a little disingenuous on your part–no harm or slight intended–to bring Jesus into the mix to make your point,” Cavuto said.
“Why is that inappropriate?” Phelps asked.
Cavuto replied, “[E]ven to mix him [Jesus] in to the business and commerce of this country, under the guise of religion, pastor I think that is at best phony.”
Why is it that Cavuto and conservative American Christians do not want “to mix” what Jesus said and did in with the marketplace?
The simple answer is that they don’t want to hear Jesus’ moral challenge to the prevailing marketplace ideology, which says that the rich should get richer at the expense of others, that the pursuit of profit at the expense of the poor is just the way it is.
Jesus rejects economic Darwinianism and refuses to accept challenges from the rival god of materialism. He warns about the dangers of split loyalties between God and greed. He offers the Golden Rule. He prioritizes care for the poor. He criticizes the religious elite who are concerned only about rituals and neglect justice.
Ricky Bobby, Neil Cavuto and too many Baptist church members hate the adult Jesus who critiques existing moral practices and calls for higher standards. That’s why they keep him a little baby—baby under control, unthreatening.
The truth is that the story of little baby Jesus occupies far less space in the gospels than the Jesus who taught us how to live. The birth of Jesus covers 31 verses in Matthew, compared to 110 verses for the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and sermon accounts for only a fraction of Jesus’ said and doesn’t contain what Jesus did.
Given the weight of the witness, shouldn’t we spend more time listening to what Jesus said and discerning how we ought to follow what he said and did?
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.