Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.


Christianity’s “War on Christmas”


Matthew Kaemingk

12-20-2013


By Matthew Kaemingk

December 20, 2013

I am beginning to suspect that American Christians are waging a secret, subtle, and altogether devastating war on Christmas. Left unchallenged, this Christian assault on the “reason for the season” threatens to leave the holiday with little or no public power at all.

Each year, with the liturgical regularity of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, countless stories emerge on cable news of anxious and fretful Christians protesting the loss of their cultural dominance. And each year, with the same liturgical regularity, the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart (a Jewish kid from New Jersey) stands in mocking amazement at American Christianity’s inexplicable insecurity. From a position of overwhelming cultural power, American Christianity continues to protest its lack of total cultural hegemony.

I might be completely wrong, but from what I can tell, American Christianity’s public anxiety and angst appears to be diametrically opposed to the supposed “reason for the season.” 

As I see it, the “reason” for this holiday is the celebration of a peculiar individual who embodied an odd vulnerability, a quiet self-confidence, and an inexplicable hospitality for friend and foe alike. This peculiar individual felt little need to justify himself. He displayed an eccentric disinterest in public position or recognition. He had the strange habit of demanding that his laudable actions remain a secret. And he never petitioned his governor for a pulpit or a prop. 

This strange religious leader rebuked his followers for violently attacking authorities who wished to silence his message. Then, with hands bound, he actually reached out and healed the wounds of his captors. Finally, stripped naked, beaten, and dying he hurled no curses at his attackers but pleaded with God for their forgiveness.

In recent decades, historians have begun to reexamine the development of Western ideas like religious freedom, tolerance, and pluralism. For years, we’ve assumed that the historical impetus for religious tolerance came from the “secular enlightenment.” In other words, when Westerners started thinking “rationally” rather than “religiously,” they developed a “rational” case for tolerance.

Recent scholarship has revealed this assumption to be almost completely false.

The earliest arguments for religious freedom and tolerance in England, the Netherlands, and America were built not on secular but on theological foundations. Religious freedom and tolerance were considered important mainly because of who God was and what God had commanded. 

Sadly, American Christians have largely accepted the historical fallacy that words like “tolerance” and “pluralism” emanate from secular and modern worldviews, which care nothing for God or God’s commands. In a tragic irony, American Christians are rejecting the Christian virtue of tolerance in favor of Darwinian politics in which the strong must destroy the weak. With this Nietzschean embrace of power, American Christians abandon the subversive power of the cross. 

How should American Christianity respond to losing its grip on cultural and political dominance? How should American Christianity reimagine its place alongside other faiths and worldviews in the public square?

At Christmas time (and really any other time) it might be a good idea for Christians to reflect first on the person they claim to celebrate and follow.

In a particularly powerful set of reflections on the nakedness of Christ on the cross, the great theologian Klaas Schilder argues that humanity is “really the one who was disrobed on Golgotha.” Schilder writes that as we look “upon His naked death, upon His essential nakedness”[1] we see our own sinful aggression, domination, and violence being laid bare.  In the shadow of the naked God, we onlookers must admit “to those who ask about it: I am the soldier who removed His clothes.” In allowing himself to be stripped bare, Jesus “has taken all my clothes from me, and has put me, naked and cold, on display before the universe.”

Tough news, indeed. 

“Nevertheless,” Schilder declares, “blessed be his hand.” The naked Christ “acted justly and mercifully.” By his grace a “cloak has been prepared for me” a garment “of righteousness.”[2] For, in “His loss we gain.” In Christ’s nakedness, we are clothed.

So what is the “reason for the season”?  When we were left naked, cold, and alone in our frantic anxiety and angst, the baby boy, born naked in a shed, came to clothe us in grace and mercy.

Christianity’s political posture at Christmas, and beyond, should reflect the reality that we follow a naked God of vulnerability, humility, and hospitality. This is the only way that Christianity’s “war on Christmas” will find its much-needed end. Maranatha.

— Matthew Kaemingk is the director of Fuller Theological Seminary’s Institute for Theology and Northwest Culture and editor of Christ and Cascadia. 


[1] Schilder, “Christ Disrobed,” 187.

[2] Schilder, “Christ Disrobed,” 187.



“To respond to the author of this Commentary please email: capcomm@cpjustice.org
Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”