Monday, November 23, 2009

Focus on the Family’s “Stand for Christmas” Campaign

On its website, Focus on the Family has recently indicated it is about to launch its annual “Stand for Christmas” campaign. The conservative Christian group has been upset that some companies leave the word “Christmas” out of their advertising or fail to mention “Christmas” by name as it greets customers. Below you will find a link to Focus on the Family’s announcement that the 2009 “Stand for Christmas” campaign will get underway soon.

Oddly enough, the past website posts on the campaign no longer worked when I was researching and drafting this blog post. As a result, I’ve instead provided a third party media description of the campaign from the Rocky Mountain News:

In the past, “Stand for Christmas” has published lists of retailers that are characterized as either “Christmas-friendly,” “Christmas-negligent,” or “Christmas-offensive” based on their use of the word “Christmas” in advertising and in stores. When I first heard of this campaign last year, I was frankly horrified. I became aware of it when listening to a local Christian radio station, and I was even more horrified by the enthusiastic response of listeners calling in to vow a boycott of stores that did not receive a “Christmas-friendly” label.

I too have been disgusted by what Focus on the Family refers to as the “secularization of Christmas.” However, to me, that secularization happens when we throw the word “Christmas” around too loosely, and it becomes more associated with an accumulation of material goods than with the birth of our Lord. I don’t see a connection between the birth of Jesus in a humble manger, and tying a big bow around a fancy car as an extravagant gift for your spouse. I think it blasphemes God to use the miracle of his son’s birth to encourage people to line up in a frenzy on Thanksgiving to await a turn to participate in a (sometimes deadly) stampede in a big box store. Even when no human being loses his or her life, where are the “family values” in such an experience?

While Focus on the Family is offended when sales clerks wish shoppers “Happy Holidays,” it offends me when retailers use the term “Christmas” in any way to justify their end of year marketing. To be clear, I certainly don’t begrudge the retail sector their end of year sales, which are critical to their ability to survive a competitive sector of the economy. But I just don’t appreciate them using Jesus in a sacrilegious way. I’d much prefer “holiday” advertising to “Christmas” advertising.

Though we are all Christians, the folks at Focus on the Family and I disagree on this issue; we seem to have a fundamentally different perspective on the significance of Christmas in American society. As I understand, the “Stand for Christmas” campaign is based in large part on the notion that the United States is a Christian nation and the roots of our holiday marketing are the religious holiday of Christmas. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but my understanding is that Focus on the Family wants to reemphasize those roots and stress the notion that we are a Christian nation (whatever that means). I disagree with that approach for several reasons.

First, I am pro-pluralism and anti-theocracy. I love Jesus, but think it is antithetical to Christianity that anyone would be forced to share my enthusiasm. It is a basic premise of Christian theology that God does not force himself on us, and instead we are each given free will to decide whether or not to follow him. Moreover, I am confident that if anyone studies Christianity, they too would embrace it. But I’m not in any way threatened by people who choose not to. Such a choice saddens me for a variety of reasons, but it’s not in any way threatening.

Second, Christmas is a sacred, beautiful holiday, and it is very important to me that it be preserved as such. It is not beneficial to anyone to have non-believers forced to wish store patrons “Merry Christmas” out of a type of political correctness. Moreover, it is frankly disgusting to me that Jesus’ birthday would be tossed around as an excuse to entice more customers into stores or to rack up debt on one’s credit card. That is not what Christmas means to me.

Matthew 21:12-13

Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

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