Maryland schools drop Christmas, Southern Baptist pastor calls decision 'a spiritual battle'

by Karen L. Willoughby |

SILVER SPRING, Md. (Christian Examiner) -- The Montgomery County Board of Education unexpectedly decided last night, Nov. 11, to wipe all references to religious holidays from school calendars for the next school year.

Christmas: gone; Yom Kippur: gone.

Holidays will be renamed "winter break" or just designated "no school for teachers or students."

Eid al-Adha -- an Islamic holiday that celebrates Abraham's obedience and willingness to offer to sacrice his son, Isaac -- wasn't on the calendar to begin with, and that was the problem, say leaders with the Equality for Eid Coalition. They complained Eid-al-Adha was not getting equal recognition on next year's school calendar as the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, which both will fall on Sept. 23.

The impasse about adding Muslim holidays led to the exclusion of all religious commemorations.

Robert Anderson, pastor of Colonial Heights Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md., told Christian Examiner, "This is a reminder that we are in a spiritual battle ... and it's been increasing the last couple of decades." He added that Christianity undergirds the political, legal and social framework of the United States.

Anderson is the outgoing president of the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, and has served in a number of high level roles among Southern Baptists, including as a member of the SBC Executive Committee, a national entity representing the country's largest fellowship of evangelical churches. He also led an initiative to defeat a same-sex marriage ballot initiative in Maryland.

"What is happening is that our government, from our president on down, I'm sorry to say, has shown more tolerance and compassion toward Muslims than Christianity," Anderson said. "You can say anything negative you want about Christianity, and no one blinks an eye, but not Islam. ...

"I still believe there is a definite clear role for Christians to impact our country. We are the salt and light," the African American pastor continued. "The greatest person the world has ever known is Jesus. All the songs, the stuff that goes into Christmas is because someone came to earth and made such an impact that ... he became the center of time."

Time today is split between "BC – before Christ's birth" – and "AD – anno domini, the year of the Lord," he explained.

School board member Rebecca Smondrowski told MyMCMedia, "It is about equality."

"I made the motion because if we are closing for operational reasons, then there should be no need to make reference to religion," she said. "That is the most equitable solution I could see."

Another Southern Baptist pastor, Man Poong Kim, has been watching the situation with Muslims and the school calendar for more than a year. He said he is unhappy with the change but saw the writing on the wall and is going to move on despite his disappointment.

Kim, pastor of Global Mission Church in Silver Spring, Md., where about 1,600 people participate in Sunday morning worship, told Examiner, "This is not good for us as Christians, but with the intention of Muslims to add their holidays to the school calendar, it was inevitable.

"The decision of the Board of Education is not the best to me," he said, "but it was an inevitable decision so I may accept this."

Board members noted during the intense session that schools are closed at Christmas not for religious reasons but because of a high rate of absenteeism. But Muslim leaders wanted their holidays recognized even though their students' absentee rates did not warrant it.

"We are no closer to equality," said Saqib Ali, one of seven co-chairs of the Equality for Eid Coalition, in a Fox news article. "It's a pretty drastic step, and they did it without any public notification."

Zainab Chaudry, another coalition co-chair, said school board members were willing to "go so far as to paint themselves as the Grinch who stole Christmas" to avoid granting equal treatment for Muslim

Anderson cautioned Christians against giving up the fight for Christian holidays and reminders such as plaques of the 10 Commandments being displayed in courthouses.

"The fact that religious holidays are given recognition, what does it hurt? It doesn't hurt anything and I would argue it helps," Anderson said. "The world still wants to come to America, and that's because of the Judeo-Christian thinking and practice."