Traditionally, the Christmas season brings out the best in people… or it’s supposed to at least. This is the one time of year that differences should be put aside, between individuals and within families, between and within communities… regardless of religious and political beliefs, despite one’s social standing. Whether you are a Christian or not, whether you have any religious beliefs or not, the hope of “peace on earth and good will towards all men, women and children”, if not something you care about during the year, it should at least be at the forefront of our minds (if not hearts) this time of year.
However, today we live in a society where being callous, cold-hearted, judgemental, mean-spirited and self-righteous is celebrated and revered… AND nowhere are these attitudes celebrated and revered more than among those who claim to be politically “conservative” and profess themselves to be “christian”.
The comments of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson in the January GQ magazine about homosexuals (here) is one case in point. He and his supporters claim that his comments are based on biblical principles. I’m a Christian, but Robertson’s Christianity isn’t my Christianity. The Jesus I worship and who is the example of how I should treat others is shown in the biblical story of the woman accused of adultery and brought before Jesus by the religious leaders of his day. By the law of Moses, which was the religious law of the day, her punishment was to be stoned to death. Jesus who knew the law, didn’t dispute what her punishment should be. He simply told the religious leaders that whichever of them where “without sin among you”, they should cast the first stone. After they had departed and He was left alone with the woman, Jesus… who was without sin… stated to her: “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more”. (here)
Phil Robertson and those professed christians who think like him, are much like those religious leaders in that story. What they have failed to comprehend, due to their self-righteous arrogance, is that the Law or Word of God is not to be used to condemn or judge others, but to be used as a blueprint for our lives to be a testimony of the compassion and love of God.
Canada isn’t immune to these callous, mean-spirited “conservative christian” types either. Recently federal Conservative minister James Moore was asked what the government planned to do about the high rate of child poverty in his home province of British Columbia. He answered: “Well, obviously nobody wants kids to go to school hungry. Certainly we want to make sure that kids go to school full bellied, but is that always the government’s job to be there to serve people their breakfast? Empowering families with more power and resources so that they can feed their own children is, I think, a good thing. Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so.” (emphasis mine)
Canadian conservatives are proud to profess their unapologetic and unashamed Christian beliefs. Moore obviously missed this message of Jesus when He was asked by the religious leaders what was the most important commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (here) Would Moore allow his own child to go hungry? I would say, “not!” Then why does he feel no obligation, as a government leader, or as a Christian, or even just as a human being, to ensure that his neighbor’s child doesn’t go hungry!?
I believe if Jesus was around today, he would be demonized and accused by so-called “conservatives” of being a liberal, progressive, socialist radical. If todays so-called “christians” like Robertson and Moore were around in Jesus’ day, they would be among the religious leaders leading the people in their chants for Pontius Pilate to “Crucify Him!” Jesus constantly referred to the religious leaders, not the sinners, as hypocrites, vipers and the children of the Satan. This was due to their callousness, mean-spiritedness and judgemental attitudes towards those they considered “sinners”, which included the poor and the sick. Jesus stated clearly that His ministry was not for those who considered themselves religious, nor was it to judge or condemn sinners: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (here).
In the GQ article Robertson paraphrases 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, in which he lists those who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven: “the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers…” More importantly, both Robertson and Moore… and other professed christians of their ilk… should study in their Bible Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus himself identified those who will inherit the kingdom of heaven… the compassionate: those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, give shelter to the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick and visit those in prison. Hopefully during their bible study, they will also be enlightened that Jesus doesn’t mention any rewards for those who condemn homosexuals or are so callous that they feel no responsibility to feed a hungry child.
During this season, we hear those who profess to be Christians say this phrase: “Remember the reason for the season”. I always wonder what this truly means to them. Speaking for myself, the purpose of the birth of Jesus was to bring all people into a relationship with a compassionate, loving and merciful God. We Christians are suppose to be an example, a “light to the world”, of this compassion, love and mercy. Robertson would be more an example of this light, if his biblical beliefs led him to spend his time and money supporting a hospice for people suffering from AIDS, instead of making disgusting comments condemning homosexuals.
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Mahatma Ghandi.
Op-ed submission by Project 21
This is the time of year when belligerent atheists corral fellow “freethinkers” together in an attempt to legally disrupt displays of the Nativity. Wherever these innocent and usually welcomed Christian religious displays are found, there’s often a bitter atheist complaining to local authorities and the media because public display of the baby Jesus in a manger offends their irreligious sensibilities.
And the atheist hand appears to be gaining strength as the “war on Christmas” seems to escalate each year.
But this is the only time of year when angry atheists are apparently willing to present themselves in large numbers. I’ve seen a few atheists plead their empty cases during the Easter season, but it’s Christmastime when they are most aggressive. Why? After all, if atheism had inherent worth, the atheists would engage the wider culture all the time instead of attempting to offend and insult the devout by putting their collective finger in the eye of believers just once a year. Atheists must want to make those revering the religious aspect of Christmas as miserable as they seem to be.
It’s also interesting that it’s only the God worshipped by Christians with whom radical atheists really take issue. They don’t seem to have the same fervor for challenging Ramadan, Passover or Diwali. Is it easier to bully those who believe in “turn(ing) the other cheek” than those more forceful in defending their beliefs? I think there’s more to it. Atheists feel threatened because they have nothing to offer. Religion, any religion, does.
Remember a year ago, when 26 children and school employees were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut? Real feelings presented themselves during this tragedy. People in the media, social networks and across America sent prayers to Newtown, to the victims, their families and residents in general. On Facebook and Twitter, people posted Bible verses in sincere and sympathetic efforts to provide comfort and understanding to those affected by the horror of what had occurred. Articles were written about how clergy scrapped prepared sermons to discuss how suffering and evil can be overcome.
Likewise, after that unspeakable tragedy, religious leaders were interviewed by the media about the nature of God, suffering, evil and justice and how people can make sense of it all. Among the clergy were several Catholic priests, rabbis and the pastor of New Hope Community Church in Newtown. Local residents, in shock and struggling to understand what happened, gathered for a prayer vigil at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. It was one of many local vigils.
Yet, of all the vigils, there seemed to be no mention of any freethinkers or skeptics invited to soothe the shocked masses. No vigils appeared to be totally devoid of religious or spiritual accoutrements. There’s a good reason.
Atheism is an empty belief system that doesn’t offer followers comfort, hope or emotional solace when the world goes bad. Atheism doesn’t provide a notion of divine justice, reward and punishment or heaven and hell for acts of goodness or overwhelming evil. Christianity does. Atheism simply… is.
This isn’t to say there aren’t individual atheists who sympathized and had empathy for the city of Newtown, the victims of Hurricane Sandy and western wildfires or for those stricken by profound illness or accidents. Similarly, there are those who don’t believe in God who still identify with those who celebrate Christmas. I know some of them and we get along fine.
But, as a belief system represented by those whose motivation appears to offend, organized atheism to me is bankrupt. I find it wanting. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Indeed, He is.
God bless the Christmas season, and may He continue to bless those in need of His compassion, wisdom and solace.
Derryck Green, a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network, received a M.A. in Theological Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing his doctorate in ministry at Azusa Pacific University.
A few weeks ago I took my 4 year old son Christmas shopping. At the church we attend, our family participates in a yearly charity sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse called “Operation Christmas Child”. We pack a shoe box with a variety of gifts, which is sent to children in “Third World” countries. I pack one for a boy while my wife packs one for a girl.
I took my son to help me pick out the gifts. I want to instil in him the understanding that Christmas isn’t about “him” getting gifts from Santa Claus, but that during this time of year it is more important to give to those who don’t have as much as we do. So as we shopped, we had a conversation about what Christmas really means and how we celebrate this season as a family.
I went on to explain that Santa Claus isn’t a real person but he is “pretend”. I impressed upon my son that his mother and I, as well as our friends and family members buy him the gifts… not only during Christmas but all through the year. I further explained that the reason we are buying these gifts for the boys and girls is that their family and friends don’t have the extra money to do so and there is really no Santa Claus to bring them presents.
I could see that he was listening intently while his little mind was processing what I was telling him. He understood what I was saying, but he still wanted to believe that Santa Claus must be real. That’s what he sees on television. That’s what he learns in school. That’s what people are always ask him: “what do you want for Christmas from Santa?”
Since that day we have had a number of conversations about the meaning of Christmas. If you ask him now what is Christmas, he answers that it’s Jesus’ birthday. If you ask, he’ll say that Santa Claus is pretend, although it is evident that he still wants to believe that he is real. He’ll tell you that his mommy, daddy, friends and family buy him his gifts… that they don’t come from Santa. I explained to him that we give each other gifts just like the 3 wise men brought gifts to baby Jesus when he was born and as a way to remember that God gave us the gift of his Son Jesus.
At four, I don’t expect him to understand and accept it all. However, we’re not allowing him to be conditioned by our society’s values into being self absorbed and materialistic. Furthermore, I don’t believe it’s healthy for black children (especially boys), to be conditioned to believe that all good things come from a white man… a fat old white man with a long white beard at that. I believe it subconsciously undervalues their appreciation for the efforts of their parents (especially their fathers), it further undermines their own self esteem and respect for black men as a whole, and it grooms them to be easy prey for that seemingly nice (old) white man.
In his own way, my son does show us that he has an understanding of the true “reason for the season”: the celebration of the birth of Christ, the love of God, family and friends, and that it’s better to give than receive. So far he hasn’t asked us for even one present.
This is the Christmas lesson we want him to learn and incorporate into his life.
A few months ago a friend and I had a very intense disagreement which led to some very harsh words being exchanged. A few days ago out of the blue (is it ever really just “out of the blue” ?) while on Facebook, he hit me up and now all is forgiven and forgotten. We are at peace.
“According to an article in the Canadian Army Journal, a former president of the Norwegian Academy of Science, aided by historians from England, Egypt, Germany, and India came up with some fantastic figures and findings:
Since 3600 B.C. the world has known only 292 years of peace. During this period there have been 14,531 wars, large and small, in which 3,640,000,000 people have been killed. The value of the destruction would pay for a golden belt around the world 97 miles wide and 33 feet thick. To put it another way, in world history we have seen 13 years of war for every year of peace. Since the beginning of time, more than 8,000 treaties of peace were concluded. Although meant to last forever, the average time they remained in force was 2 years. (Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, p. 1571)”
The above reference was used during last Sunday’s sermon by our pastor. As I listened I asked myself: how many of these wars have been fought in the name of God? How many millions have been killed in the name of Christ, The Prince of Peace, whose birth we are celebrating at this time? How many of us, who profess to be followers of this Prince of Peace, are today involved in creating and perpetuating chaos, discord, fighting, rivalry and conflict? The pastor made a profound statement that we all, Christians and non-Christians, need to promote a culture of peace… one heart at a time! Easier said than done but Christ gives us a blueprint of how to accomplish this:
“You have heard that it was said, eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
This doesn’t mean you must allow others to abuse and take advantage of you. It doesn’t mean you must be soft or weak and cower away in the face of oppression or aggression. It does mean that there are moments in each of our lives, when in the interest of peace, we all must summon the spiritual fortitude to forgo the need to fight to be right.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”