Spending Christmas in occupied territory


It's time we faced the truth about today's culture
by Phil Cooke Ph.D.
It's the Christmas season again, so get ready. It will be commercialized, people will say "Happy Holidays," not "Merry Christmas," and Santa will get much more press than the Prince of Peace.  It happens year after year—so why do we keep acting surprised? Why do we continue to expect non-believers to act like Christians?

Every December, I see an avalanche of direct mail campaigns and magazine articles by Christian organizations upset about how our culture views Christmas. But while this country was clearly founded on Judeo-Christian principles, it's pretty hard to believe we live in a "Christian culture" today.  Just take a look at prime time TV, national advertising campaigns and current movies. While national polls reveal that most people still call themselves "Christian," I'm not seeing them show up on Sunday morning. The reality is, we're living in occupied territory.

So this year, let's take a different approach. Sure, the secularization of Christmas is offensive, and while a healthy debate is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy, the truth is, just being critical changes very little. After all, as Christians, we of all people should be known as being for something. We're sharing the greatest story ever told, but instead of focusing on that story, we continually get distracted by turning our focus on issues peripheral to our real calling.

Yes—Christians are American citizens, with every right to speak in the public square. We also have the right to campaign against candidates or issues for which we disagree. I'm a strong believer in energetic social discourse, and we need to speak up. However, because we've focused so much of our time, money and resources lately against the entertainment industry, political parties, the culture, the media and other groups, the world is simply turning us off—because we're just singing the same old song.

Demonizing the enemy
It's a real paradox that we criticize mainstream news organizations for reporting on negativity, rather than paying attention to positive stories of hope. For the networks, it's all about ratings, and negative, sensational stories score higher ratings. But the fact is, especially when it comes to fundraising, Christians do the same thing. The negative, the lurid and the evil gets a bigger response every time.  

In fairness, it's not just religious organizations that should be blamed.  Political groups, activists, environmentalists and others are just as guilty.  Demonizing an enemy is an easy way to get the supporters worked up and the cash register ringing. 

But this Christmas, I suggest we begin re-thinking why we're here and what our real assignment is on the earth. Are we supposed to reach the lost or complain about the lost? And second, we need to understand that being against something—even if we're right—isn't always the best strategy for actually changing the world. 

And keep in mind—when you receive that indignant, monthly direct mail letter from some ministry that's outraged about the secularization of Christmas, chances are it's really designed to promote a fundraising campaign. Will sending your hard earned dollars to that ministry and sign a petition actually make a difference?

Probably not.

Speak lightly through love
Certainly there are Christian organizations out there really attempting to call us back to a godly culture, and I appreciate their work. But most of those who are consistently outraged actually accomplish very little. 

I can tell you this—speaking from decades of studying the media and culture—if we don't learn to put down the protest signs, we'll never make much of an impact. As a television and film director, I learned long ago that if an actor yells all the time, people turn it off and the performance loses its impact. But when he speaks quietly, the occasional shout gets the audience's attention.

 In other words, if all we do is complain, the culture will simply tune us out. At some point we have to reach out a hand and start a conversation. 

So this Christmas, worry less about a store clerk saying "Happy Holidays," and more about a widow or needy family in your neighborhood.  After all, the barrage of fundraising letters won't change much. But if we actually lived out our faith on a daily basis in our offices, our homes and with our friends, who knows?

We might actually change the world.

Phil Cooke is an author, speaker and media consultant to churches and ministries, helping them share their story with the larger culture. Find out more at www.philcooke.com.

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Published, December 2011