By Rob Burgess
Sleigh bells are ringing. Snow is glistening. Can you feel it? The War on Christmas is here.
Or, at least, so says the American Family Association. The evangelical nonprofit has published its yearly “Naughty or Nice?” list, a rundown “of top retailers and how they recognize Christmas.” Only four companies, Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Belk and, of course, its own AFA Online Store get the “5-star” rating indicating they “[promote] and [celebrate] Christmas on an exceptional basis.”
Beyond that, the report is split up like a stop sign: Green indicates the “company uses the term ‘Christmas’ on a regular basis [and the AFA considers them] Christmas-friendly.” Ace Hardware, J.C. Penney and Menards are among those who received this designation. Yellow means the “company refers to Christmas infrequently, or in a single advertising medium, but not in others.” Safeway, Starbucks, Walgreens and others were given this cautionary label. Finally, red points to a “company [which] may use ‘Christmas’ sparingly in a single or unique product description, but as a company, does not recognize it.” The AFA implores readers to “BOYCOTT!” these “companies AGAINST ‘Christmas.’” Banana Republic, Barnes & Noble, Family Dollar, Foot Locker, Gap, Limited Brands, Maurices, Office Depot, Old Navy, RadioShack, Staples, SuperValu and Victoria’s Secret are all apparently in league with Satan. (Who knew?)
My first inclination is to ignore this attention grab altogether, lest it be granted more power. But the AFA, which has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been surprisingly effective in eliciting responses from targeted retailers in years past. In 2005, Target was the subject of an AFA boycott after failing to use the word “Christmas” in its advertising. The embargo was subsequently called off after Target capitulated. In 2008, Home Depot added more references to Christmas after AFA-manufactured outrage. And in 2009, the AFA called off another boycott, this time against Gap Inc., after the company guaranteed a new Thanksgiving marketing campaign with a “very strong Christmas theme” to make up for mentioning Christmas along with other holidays such as Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and solstice in previous advertising. “Your actions make a difference!” read the headline of the AFA press release accompanying the announcement of Gap Inc.’s promise.
The AFA’s wrongheaded campaign reminds me of the words of Sunday school teacher and Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1907, when T.R. was asked why the then-new $20 gold coin didn’t feature the words “In God We Trust,” he replied it “not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege.”
In fact, the one and only time in all four Gospels the normally nonviolent Jesus gets physical is during the Cleansing of the Temple. The story appears in all four Gospels and has to do with Jesus expelling moneychangers and those selling small animals for sacrifice from the Temple of Jerusalem. At the sight of the mixing of religion and commerce in Herod’s Temple, the Prince of Peace fashioned a whip from some nearby cords.
“[Jesus] drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen,” according to John 2:13-16. “And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’”
It seems to me that if the American Family Association were actually following the popular understanding by the majority of modern Christians of the words, actions and spirit of the founder of their religion, it would be trying to drive retailers further away from Jesus’ birthday, not boycotting to meld the two together.
Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robaburg.