Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Another Xmas, Another Decoration Flap

It wouldn't be Christmas* anymore without a Christmas decoration controversy.

This year, a jolly old fight is brewing in the central Texas town of Killeen, home to one of the largest military bases in the world, and hardly a bastion of leftist propaganda or agnostic Americana.  It involves a public school teacher in the local school district, a poster on a classroom door, and a phrase from the classic holiday cartoon "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

Trouble is, the phrase, which is part of the touching soliloquy given by the character Linus in the 1960's-vintage show, is also holy Scripture:  "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord," from Luke 2.

The school teacher wrote out the phrase on butcher paper, and attributed it to Linus, adding another line from the show, "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."  Ostensibly, the teacher hoped her clever attribution would represent enough of a clarification that opposition to it could be deflected.
The schoolroom door in question
It didn't work.

The teacher drew a sketch of Linus, next to the quote, and affixed the whole thing to her classroom door.  And that's when things got nasty.

You can probably imagine how angry some people became when they saw that door poster.  And you can probably imagine how those angry folks pushed their "freedom from religion" agenda, from demanding that the teacher remove the poster, all the way to a school board meeting last night, during which the school board voted to keep the poster off the door.

It doesn't help that Killeen is home not only to that big Army base, Fort Hood, but that Fort Hood is where militant Muslim Nidal Hasan killed thirteen soldiers and wounded thirty others in history's largest terroristic attack on a stateside military post.

So religion may be a particularly touchy subject there.

Nevertheless, Kileen's latest skirmish represents what's become of America's modern Christmas season, with some people wanting to "keep Christ in Christmas," while other people want to remove all traces of religion from the public square. 

And generally speaking, considering how religiously pluralistic America has become - and continues to become - common sense should dictate that Christians need to wake up.  After all, how many professing Christians would want a Muslim teacher to affix a poster depicting a passage from the Koran on a classroom door?  Or a Mormon teacher?  You get the idea.  To be fair, if one religion is allowed a voice, shouldn't other religions be allowed theirs?

Of course, many American Christians continue to believe that the United States is a "Christian" nation, but that is not true.  It isn't!  Would you want a "Christian" nation to perpetuate slavery, for example?  Shucks, read enough of the many debates from our nation's founding and you'll understand that the Founding Fathers did not want to establish a national religion, even if Christianity was the most popular religion in the country at the time.

Besides, even if we were a Christian nation, why does it take a poster on a classroom door to remind fellow teachers and students about the meaning of Christmas?  Christ-followers are to live our lives and "let our light shine" so people around us can see that we actually do follow Christ.  A Christmas poster on a door should be redundant, right?

Meanwhile, the depth of emotion these debates inevitably trigger every year should be enough to convince "freedom from religion" folks that there really is no such thing.  If by "religion" we mean a certain system of beliefs, then we all have a religion of some type, even if it's hedonism, or individualism.  We all possess a world view based on something outside of ourselves.  It's one of those aspects of humanity that makes us different from other animals.  So to presume that by forcing a school teacher to remove a Christmas-themed poster, you're helping make the world just a little bit safer from religion in general, all you're really doing is perpetuating your own religion.

It's a religion of intolerance, actually.  And a religion of fear, since obviously, you are afraid that a poorly-drawn, artistically inferior door poster could actually perpetuate a religion other than your own.

Now, granted, Christians believe in the Holy Spirit, a member of the Trinity, Who can turn ordinary things into extraordinary things to bring God glory.  Which means that somebody could actually look at that poster and be convicted that Jesus really is the Son of God.  So are the "freedom from religion" folks actually lending credence to this Christian doctrine, by getting their knickers in a twist over a door poster?  Aren't they actually admitting that the Holy Spirit does exist, and can turn a door poster into a genuine proselytization mechanism?

Keep in mind that the same Holy Spirit Who, yes, could make that happen is also the Holy Spirit Who can use just about anything else to accomplish the same goal.  So why should a Christ-follower be so anxious about preserving the right of this teacher to display that particular poster?

Is it because Christians, too, fear something - the loss of political freedom?  Of course is is, because we do!  The Christian lobby has been able to flex its sociopolitical muscle within our American culture for centuries, but now that tide is turning, and we're growing uncomfortable over our loss of sociopolitical clout.  A lot of what we used to take for granted now appears to be eroding underneath our feet.  It's tempting to flirt with our own acts of defiance or belligerence under the guise of preserving our brand of religious culture.

Yet if one's faith is no stronger than culture, then these flaps over public displays of Christmas themes provide a critical warning call.  Not for the world around us, mind you, but for those of us who name the name of Christ.  Putting a poster on a classroom door isn't really a demonstration of salvific faith.  Advocating for a manger scene in front of city hall isn't either.  We may like the nostalgia of Christmases past when we could do that kind of thing without recrimination.  Yet aren't we forgetting that our demonstrations of religiosity and our platitudes of faith mean nothing if we're not trusting in the infant from that lowly manger?  And letting Him - instead of our religiosity-  have lordship over our lives?

Do justice.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with God.  Does any of that sound familiar?  Christianity isn't about whether or not we can put a Christmas poster on a school door.  It's about whether we can articulate the broader reason for why we believe that scripture reference of Linus's:

Blessed are you when people hate you
and when they exclude you
and revile you and spurn your name as evil,
on account of the Son of Man!
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy,
for behold, your reward is great in Heaven...

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.
To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also...
And as you wish that others would do to you, 

do so to them. 
- from Luke 6

* By the way; if you're upset that I used "X" instead of spelling out "Christ" in this essay's title, please consider this.

Update:  Bell County District Judge Jack Jack Jones ruled on December 15 that the door art could return, with the phrase "Ms. Shannon's holiday message" added to the poster to make it clear who's opinion it reflected.

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