I am from a small town.
One small town in fact, Piedmont, Alabama.
It is a beautiful little place nestled in the foothills of Appalachia. It has some of the most gorgeous mountains in the fall and some of the best football in the state. I spent the first 18 years of my life there and am grateful for so many things from that tiny town.
Piedmont is also a troubled place.
Recently an organization from Wisconsin called Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to the city of Piedmont demanding that they immediately cease prayers over the intercom at their football games. The organization threatened legal action against the city and the school system if they did not comply. This tiny town, which has only really been in the national news for tornadoes and marijuana dealers, was now thrust into the spotlight. The board complied and they, like many other schools, now observe a moment of silence before each home game.
That is not the end of the story. Yesterday, Piedmont once again was in the national spotlight. Fox News did a story on our little town and its newest religious debacle. Piedmont and its leadership, many of whom I know and respect deeply (especially the mayor, whom I have known since I was a child) decided to make the theme of their Christmas parade “Keep Christ in Christmas.” This was no doubt in reaction to the recent decision to change the format of the prayer at the football games. So, as I am sure everyone expected, the group from Wisconsin issued another complaint and the city once again had to back off of their stance.
Here is the problem: The very fact that people feel that it is their duty to mandate Christ in Christmas is, in and of itself, an act of heresy.
I know many very well-intentioned people believe that they are fighting the good fight and are experiencing religious persecution, but that is simply a wrong way of thinking.
If you are a Christian in America, you have to stop pulling the persecution card.
It is not persecution just because you do not get everything you want or because you can not do whatever you please.
The fact of the matter is that every person in that stadium on Friday night can pray all they want to, through the whole game in fact, you just cannot mandate that everyone has to do it or be subjected to it by a federally funded entity.
The fact of the matter is that Individuals who pay entry fees to a parade can adorn their floats with Christmas themes, you just cannot mandate, from a municipality level, that the whole parade has to be religious. There are kids who will march in the band for the parade who do not believe in Jesus, and that is ok because we live in America. There are people who will line the streets, excited to see a small town at it’s finest, who have no religious affiliation and should not be subjected to a religious event that is funded in some part by their tax dollars. That is their right because we live in America.
I have grown so weary of the widely used phrase “well if they don’t like it they can leave” when the religious right do not get their way. That phrase will be an epitaph on the graves of our freedom if we are not careful. City, state and federal governments do not exist to represent and protect only those who are the most vocal, organized or even in the majority. One of the things that, in theory, should make this country great is that those entities exist just as much for the weak as they do for the powerful, just as much for the minority as the majority and just as much for the atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jew and non-religious as it should for the Christian.
When we throw around irresponsible knives like “if they do not like then they can leave” it is at best un-American, and at worst un-Christian.
Christianity, as defined by the life and teachings of Jesus, never depended or insisted on being the majority, in power or even influential. It was a religion that lauded the weak, meek and the poor. Jesus came preaching a gospel that defaulted on the need for religion to have power and influence. He told us that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. When Peter picked up a sword and was ready to take Jerusalem, Jesus quickly told him to put it down because that is not the kind of gospel he was bringing.
I would rather we be a country whose Christians were forced to meet and pray in dark secluded caverns as a persecuted minority than one whose faith was mandated and proclaimed and sustained from Capitol Hill. At least that would be Biblical.
Finally, at the core of the problem is that any time people of faith chant slogans or mandate parade themes like “keeping Christ in Christmas” or “Put Christ back in Christmas” we prove ourselves people of little faith. When these are our battle cries we reduce the presence and power of God to only be where a government or law allows God. When we do this we deny that God was there before us, is there with us now and will be there long after we are gone. When we try to force God on others we reincarnate some of the worst epochs of our religious history, and default on its core founding principles of Love, Grace and Hospitality. When we assume these seats of power and belligerently insist that we take priority and our voice is the only that matters we are not representing the man who called for humility, peacemaking. meekness and self sacrifice. What we do is become pawns in larger economic and political narratives, not the narrative of Christ as found in the Bible. We do not serve the one we call the Prince of Peace, we serve corporate America, politicians who use religion for their platforms and men and women who ride the coat tails of Jesus straight to power.
As a person of faith, you do not have to keep Christ in Christmas, he is already there. He is there with the lonely, the depressed, the joyful and the confused. He is there with the widow and the orphan, with you, with me and with the atheist. As people of faith it is in these places, fueled by grace love and hospitality, we can, not bring Christ back to Christmas, but join with him in the work he is already doing, and sometimes work he is already doing in spite of the best intentions of his people.