December 1, 2006 Volume 20, Number 18
Christmas: the luxury to pick and choose
By Thomas Froese | ChristianWeek Columnist
I received an email the other day from a Christian in Ontario upset over, in his words, “the pantywaist liberalism" of his employer.
He had offered to say the dinner blessing at his company's upcoming “Seasonal Party," but his employer didn't want reference to any “Supreme Being," lest anyone of any faith, or of no faith, be offended.
Thus the writer encouraged his e-mail friends to, like him, boycott such neutered holiday gatherings, where participants are insulted when kept from acknowledging the simple fact that it's Christmas.
Fair enough. Nobody likes senseless political correctness run amok. There are few things worse than even church leaders who deny Christmas orthodoxy like the virgin birth.
But why is it so easy to get worked up over this type of thing, the so-called removal of Christ from Christmas, and so hard to get angry over other liberal attitudes that creep from culture into everyday Christian living?
Half the earth malnourished
Like, say, the lax response to God's demand for justice for the world's poor and oppressed.
This Christmas, at least half of Earth's 6.5 billion will be malnourished. This low class lives on three dollars a day or less. Many are in sub-Saharan Africa. No gifts for these kids. Just brain damage from a lack of protein.
Next up the ladder is the lower-middle class, more than a billion people earning about $1,000 to $5,000 annually, in places like Bolivia or former Soviet countries - places with a brighter future, but still lacking frills like decent health care or education.
Then there are more than 500 million in the upper-middle income lot, earning about $5,000 to $12,000 a year in places like the richest Latin American countries.
Finally, at the top are those who can help: more than a billion people in the high income class, earning $12,000 a year or more, mainly in North America, Europe and Japan.
It's a sobering picture. Year-by-year the affluent minority lives more like monarchs, and the destitute majority like serfs. Jesus may have said the poor will always be among us, but never in world history has human disparity been so stark.
In fact, researchers say that if today's world had 100 people, 50 would be malnourished, 70 wouldn't be able to read, and 80 would have rotten housing. Incredibly, six would have half the wealth. Just one would have a college degree.
Canadians tend to think of themselves as generous, but we're not really. The journal Foreign Policy recently ranked Canada 10th out of 21 rich nations in its commitment to global development. Americans scored 13th.
One might think Christians in North America are more generous, but no. Traditionally they've tithed an average of less than three per cent of their income. Most of that doesn't get from the church to the world's most needy.
Granted, poverty has a complex web of causes, including poor choices on personal or national levels. Government corruption, for example, hurts many African countries.
Problems are also globally systemic. The average westerner may not like that an agricultural subsidy ensures more money goes to a cow in Europe than to a human in Uganda, but feel there's little that they can do.
Still, Christmas is a good time, perhaps the best, for Christians to ask how they can do better. One way is to simply keep their theology straight.
Economist John Maynard Keynes said what every diabolical Christmas advertiser knows: “Consumption is the sole end and object of all economic activity." Jesus said, “Don't store your treasures on Earth, where moths and rust can destroy them."
Who has more insight into the good life? And what are the results, individually and collectively, sooner or later, of following one road versus the other?
Liberalism, by definition, is what causes our thinking to be shaped by culture rather than biblical revelation. Unfortunately, we tend to pick our favourite revelations and walk past others.
So while it's fine to fight to keep Christ in Christmas, maybe it's even better not to get too distracted by what might be simply pantywaist affairs. In the end, they'll only blind us to God's broken heart about other things, and how might we live in response?
Thomas Froese is a Canadian journalist based in Kampala, Uganda. He lives part-time in Hamilton, Ontario.