ED VASICEK

ED VASICEK

Conflicts surrounding Christmas in America are similar to conflicts found in churches. Let me share two illustrations and then apply them to Christmas conflicts.

A ministerial candidate preached eloquently for the small country church where he hoped to be pastor. He suggested moving the pulpit from the right side of the stage to the center. Since this congregation was resistant to even minor change, the members voted to reject the candidate.

Seven years later, this pastor decided to visit that same church. When he entered the auditorium, he noticed that the pulpit was now located exactly where he had wanted to move it.

After the service, he approached the preacher and asked, “How did you get that pulpit moved from the side to the center?”

The minister responded, “One half inch per week.”

Second, let me talk about the concept of agenda. Most veteran pastors have experienced “the blessing” of groups or persons who join a church with a view toward changing it. Instead of finding a church that generally agrees with their viewpoints (or starting their own congregation), they participate in a receptive church, try to win a following, and attempt to influence that church toward their agenda (be it political activism, doctrinal variations, certain worship formats, etc.).

Now let’s put these two thoughts together to discuss current Christmas conflicts. America’s heritage has been overwhelmingly Christian (defining “Christian” in its broadest sense). The celebration of Christmas is a long-established tradition, part of our cultural heritage. At the same time, Americans have died for the rights of others to freely practice their religious convictions.

With the increase of both non-Christian religions and secular humanism in America, we are seeing an unreasonable resentment that resembles the dynamic of one joining a church with a view toward changing it. Only in this case the option of “joining another church” is not realistic. Those of us who celebrate Christmas resent meddlers who attempt to remove the privileges we have always enjoyed.

Even though Christmas is not a very religious celebration for millions of Americans (they focus on presents, parties, Santa Claus, and fruit cake -- and do not even bother with church), some are still offended even by its very name. They may feel like they are forced into hypocrisy, celebrating Christmas while not believing that Jesus is the Messiah. Society is endorsing Christmas but not their holiday; they feel left out.

I believe all of us can learn from the majority of Jewish people, a group experienced at being a religious minority. We can observe that (generally) most Jewish people offer no objection toward Americans publicly celebrating Christmas. Indeed, I have repeatedly been wished a “Merry Christmas” by Jewish acquaintances over the years. I have never understood their good wishes as a confession of newfound faith in Jesus! Despite their heritage of horrible suffering at the hands of professed Christians, Jews have traditionally understood how to be a gracious minority, a quality that seems to be falling on hard times. Rather than try to inflame the population against Christianity by dredging up dirt from ancient hypocrisies, they recognize certain privileges accompany majority status. They enjoy Hanukkah while realizing that their celebration will be overshadowed by Christmas elsewhere.

To return to my first illustration, America is changing, little by little. The post office, for example, issues stamps that recognize Native American, Jewish and Islamic viewpoints. Although our values originated from a modified Christian worldview, we can no longer assume this common ground. The annual “Christmas Wars” are symptomatic: America is in transition. We must seek a balance in which the minority religions recognize the privileges of the majority and are tolerant of such, while the majority must accept that we are no longer virtually alone. Those of us who are Christians may find little in common with competing religions, and we are right to guard the teachings of our churches. But when it comes to society at large, we must figure out how to be a gracious majority.

Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune.

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