Last Wednesday messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis passed six resolutions. As a Southern Baptist, I usually brace myself for the backlash created by offensive resolutions. I’ve done this since 1997 when I was awakened by a phone call from a Lutheran friend that began, “What’s with you Southern Baptists and Mickey Mouse?” I was unaware that the messengers voted on a resolution to boycott Disney because of its policies toward homosexuals.
One resolution approved by the messengers this year that may not be so widely publicized is a resolution “On Affirming the Use of the Term ‘Christmas’ in Public Life.” The resolution denounces secularism as a “pervasive and aggressive movement” fueled by such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union, People For the American Way and others. These groups are attempting to “remove references to God and Jesus Christ” from the American life. One particular concern for the Southern Baptist messengers is Christmas. The resolution “encourages believers to be aware of businesses, schools, and all other public institutions in their areas that are removing Christmas as the official designation of the season and to use their influence to restore Christmas to its proper place in the culture.”
Although I doubt that any of my Lutheran, Catholic, Muslim or atheist friends will call me to complain about this resolution, I find it just as troubling as many of the previous more controversial resolutions. As a Baptist, I tend to use Scripture as a hermeneutical screen for understanding my world and the ethical issues I face. The first text that comes to mind is also known as The Golden Rule found in Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
What Southern Baptists are seeking is for employers to force their employees to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Would Christian employees be comfortable being forced by their employers to say Happy Hanukah or Happy Kwanzaa or Happy Ramadan to their customers? What if non-Christian customers don’t wish to be to be greeted with “Merry Christmas?” Should Christians care about their feelings? It’s my contention that they should. Loving one’s neighbor involves respecting and being sensitive to their feelings.
My suggestion is that if Southern Baptists feel the need to de-secularize Christmas they should practice the teachings of Christ and reflect on whether or not they are truly restoring Christmas to its proper place in their lives. Has Christmas become an excuse for excessive consumption? How much time does one spend in reflection on the incarnation versus the time spent contemplating gift lists and shopping?
I think the best method for addressing the secularization of Christmas might be to focus on one’s own spiritual connection with the Christ Child. Maybe then, the true meaning of Christmas will be shared. I think Southern Baptists would be better served by following the one who humbled himself than by joining Bill O’Reilly’s Christmas crusade.
Mark Gstohl is assistant professor of theology at Xavier University of Louisiana.