… please return to the public square.
13Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” –1 Peter 3:13-15
Recently we had an experience at my daughter’s preschool that set into motion many thoughts that I want to share about the Christmas season and Christian holidays in general.
Walking into my daughters classroom I noticed a holiday book display. Out of 7 holiday books there were 4 on the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah and 3 on the Muslim celebration of Ramadan. There were a grand total of ZERO “holiday” books about Christmas.
Background: We live in an area that is extremely diverse and we have intentionally placed our children in the public arena where we expect and embrace their ability to interact with people of various faith backgrounds. I’m not surprised or even bothered that my children would be exposed to the other two main world religions. I am honestly looking forward to the day when my children come home with a burden to know the deep theological truths of Christianity. I want my daughter to one day ask about universalism, tolerance and the essence of love. I’m not fearful of my children’s exposure to diversity of faith in the world. I want to teach them the truths of scripture lived out in a world that denies Christ. What did bother me about this incident in my daughter’s classroom was the blatant disregard for Christianity during the “Christmas” holiday season.
Yesterday I politely voiced my concern and I encouraged the Executive Director not to “over react” by removing all signs of Christianity as a means to arrive at ‘tolerance’. The conversation was brief because I knew internally I was frustrated and I wanted to collect my thoughts before I said anything that was not in a kind and calm spirit.
This morning I assumed there would be some change and their was. It was what I saw in the change that prompted me to speak with the Executive Director of the school again. We talked about a few things I want to share with you, my readers, so that you may be able to also have these conversations as situations arise.
The simple reason I share these thoughts is because as we talked, the Executive Director said to me
“Thank you. You have educated me today and I want to be better at representing everyone’s faith well.”
I do trust that this expression is accurate and that their intentions were not to offend. I simply wonder if I had ignored what was going on, would those hundred-plus students have had an opportunity to hear the real meaning behind Christmas. Or would they have heard true representations of Islam and Judaism but learn that Christianity is about something far different?
Judaism and Islam were both represented with books depicting core elements of their theological positions. The books on Hanukkah talk about how God allowed a small amount of oil to burn eight days until new oil could be prepared under purity. The books on Ramadan give the reader the perspective of a young Muslim who decides to fast with his parents for the first time and pray to God regularly. Both sets of books depict their respective faiths in a warm, gentle and age-appropriate way.
Again, I have zero problem with seeing the diversity of religious views at my daughters preschool and I have no problem at all with her being exposed to the religious traditions of her peers. My bride and I have made a conscious decision to place our children in these environments.
Today when I entered my daughter’s classroom there were now a few Christmas books on display. One with snowmen, one with Santa Clause and one with Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
As I talked with the Executive Director about this new ‘representation’ of Christmas I simply pointed out that placing Santa Clause and Rudolph next to books that give a respectful look at Judaism and Islam is an insult to the Christian faith. It makes these other two faiths look serious and contemplative while making Christianity appear whimsical and cartoonish.
I also however shared with her that we as Christians have done this to ourselves.
We have treated our faith as a joke and the rest of the world is simply following our lead.
Can you imagine the uproar if Ramadan was portrayed by dancing camels flying through the air with red noses pulling an old man who wants to break into the homes of sleeping children?
Can you imagine if Hanukkah was portrayed by an overweight man with a tiny cap on his head sliding down chimneys to give away hanukkah dreidels?
Yet, Christianity has welcomed and embraced a secular version of ‘Christmas’ where the dominant focus is on Santa Clause, Reindeer and Elves.
One of the most powerful days on our Christian calendar has become little more than a joke to the world.
This isn’t how the other world religions treat their respective faiths:
Recently in New York a billboard promoting Vodka was taken down after the Anti Defamation League complained. The ad was offensive to many Jews in the New York area and they let it be known. There have been numerous cases of Muslim outrage over perceived poor depictions of their faith here, here, here, and here to name a few.
Regardless of where a person stands on what ‘should’ be deemed offensive, the fact remains that the bulk of those who practice two of the top three world religions tend to take their faith seriously and when their faith is mocked, they speak up.
In America we have become so numb to the importance of Christian theology in American discourse that we’ve just walked away from the discussion. So something as simple as a holiday book display can now include ZERO books on Christmas and hardly anyone noticies. The basic tenants of the Christian faith have simply vanished from the minds-eye of our collective culture. It’s a sad state of affairs.
Christmas and Easter are two of Christianity’s most sacred holidays. Obviously we’re not commanded in scripture to celebrate Christmas but we certainly do celebrate the coming of the Messiah to free men from their sin and build a bridge back to God. To me these two holidays are the pillars for public discourse of the Christian position. In a country as free as ours and in a time as advanced as this, we should be able to make sure that Christianity is represented fairly and accurately while doing so with gentleness and respect. If we care about the world and we really want to introduce them to the One who made them… having a voice in the public square is a huge opportunity to explain the truths behind the faith. But instead of stepping forward to be engaged with the cultural discussion we have worked hard to not be ‘offensive’ to the point where we’re a joke of a faith in many respects. With a dying population of believers and a lackluster education of our children, we are a faith in decline.
I can’t imagine the Apostle Paul going to Mars Hill with a picture of Rudolph and Santa to start a conversation about Christ. Christmas is what it is. It is the Christian celebration of the birth of our Savior.
Christian friends, you don’t have to convince everyone to believe in the story of Christmas but could you at least begin to be aware of how it is represented and when possible, correct the record? When you notice your faith is being distorted or ignored during the Christmas season it would not be too much to politely ensure that Christ is the central theme of anything representing this season in public discourse. Don’t be satisfied with Santa and Rudolph… show them Jesus. Please return to the public square.
An example of what I saw in my daughters classroom.
How children are taught about Chanukah and Judaism:
How children are taught about Ramadan and Islam:
What children are taught about Christmas and Christianity: