25 December 2011

Christmas as a Federal Holiday...the Implications (Part 1)

In recent days I've heard what I consider a somewhat odd argument in the American Evangelical Christmas wars. It's funny you can almost always spot an Evangelical working in retail because you get a very aggressive and forced Merry Christmas as you finish your purchase. And I usually get a very vexed expression when I reply, "Thanks, have a nice weekend," and walk away.

Society should acknowledge 25 December as Christmas, and retailers should say Merry Christmas because...it's a Federal Holiday and marked on official calendars as "Christmas." That's a supplemental argument I keep hearing. They seem to feel it adds more weight and legitimacy to their position.

The government says it's Christmas....

Christmas is a Christian holiday, the government affirms we're a Christian nation...therefore it's improper to say Happy Holidays.

Besides being really quite juvenile, this whole argument is misguided and perhaps dangerously so. Dangerous I say? Bear with me.

Here are some considerations...

First, I think it sets a particularly bad precedent for the Church to start looking to the state for vindication of practice. Regardless of what the state says, does, or thinks, we the Church need to be about our business. Our approval comes from the Lord, not the state. This trend of the Church looking to the state to define concepts for them is to say the least a little confusing, and at most can prove destructive. We're a long way from the Caesaropapism of the Orthodox world where the state, whether it was Byzantine Emperor, Tsar, or Red Tsar dictates policy to the Church.

However, in Western Christendom there's a long standing error of the Church calling on the state to reinforce its teachings. In the Middle Ages this might mean laws concerning compulsory attendance at Mass, or calling on the state to persecute heretics. In the American context it has meant the Church calling on the state to control individual behaviour, like in the case of Prohibition, or asking the state to define marriage, and holidays. And that's just a few examples.

With this idea comes the reciprocal concept that if the state gets it wrong, the Church itself is harmed. For example if the state errs in defining marriage... somehow that destroys our marriages.

This is the essence of Sacralism, the Church calling on the state to help in building the Kingdom of God...thus defining (or dragging down from my perspective) Kingdom issues in tangible categories that can be dealt with politically, militarily, legally and so forth. The state becomes a weapon, a vehicle, to bring about Kingdom goals. 

Is it any surprise the Kingdom is redefined to fit the limited capabilities of a state?

Not only do you end up with a mutated Kingdom, you end up with a Church fighting battles that pertain to this mutated form rather than the true battles of the Kingdom...and they are quite real.

The Church is painfully distracted.

So in America why does the state recognize 25 December as the Christ-mass or Christmas?

Is it simply a nod of the head, a tacit acknowledgement of a social reality. Most of society celebrates the day, so the state goes ahead and shuts down on that day.

In which case...and this is important to understand...then it follows that in Dearborn Michigan, the state (I'm using the term generically) might shut down for Eid. In the various Chinatowns across America, local governments might shut down for Chinese New Year. Maybe whole sections of South Florida and Long Island should shut down for Hanukkah?

Many Christians don't seem to have a problem with people celebrating their holidays, but they often balk if the government acknowledges it. They don't like for Christians to have to take a day off because some other religion's holy day is being acknowledged.

This belies the reality that for most Christians it's really about Establishment of religion. They have a specific narrative, hope and expectation for the government of the United States...and Christmas has become the hill upon which to die, a symbol of this larger cultural conflict. As long as Christmas is THE holiday and not any other...they feel they have standing and legitimacy.

Now the Constitution of this country explicitly forbids a religious Establishment ...and ironically many Christians who claim to be strict Constitutionalists would if given the chance change this. Even more ironically and perhaps self-defeating, the Dominionist dominated Constitution Party if elected would immediately move to change the Constitution!

There will be lawsuits in the future to change 25 December's official Federal designation to something other than Christmas...or to add other Federal holidays which pertain to religions other than Christianity. Either way this is an assault on Christian Sacralism's model for America.

I'll let others argue about the Constitution. From a Christian standpoint let me be blunt and plain...I don't really care. The Constitution is not a holy document. It's part of Babylon's heritage, not the Church...despite the fact that the Church I attend, meets in a Christian school and I can see the children have incorporated the framing of the Constitution in with the major events of Church History! 1789 is just as important as 1517. That may be true in terms of overall history (or not) but Church History?

Theologically, the Evangelical position is at the least tacitly and often explicitly arguing for Christian Establishment...our modern term for Constantinianism. They may not want a tax-funded Church patterned after Britain, but they do what the government to officially acknowledge and promote Christianity. We could call it a soft-Constantinianism if you prefer. There are those, like the Theonomists, who have a more shall we say, draconian view of what applied Constantinianism would look like.

So assuming the rejection of Sacralism is not only theologically correct but an imperative for Biblical Christians, then we would not be upset if 25 December was removed from the calendar. It's also ironic that past generations of Reformed Christians or other Protestants would have been horrified at the thought of 25 December being marked as a state holiday. To them it would have marked a Popish incursion, an enshrinement of theological error!

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