Why is it ok for ancient Roman culture to inform Christian holiday celebrations, but not ok for current American culture to inform Christian views on marriage, abortion, and guns, according to fundamentalists? Adopting pagan influences from the Romans allowed Christians in that time to make the Gospel more relatable to people, and adopting current views on today’s political issues will have the same positive effect.
“Living authentically for Jesus” is a popular Christian catchphrase, and the title of many a sermon and Vacation Bible School. But what does it really mean? If you ask the majority of non-Christian Americans today what it means, they would probably say that it looks like hate, intolerance, and bigotry. This is certainly not what living authentically for Jesus should look like. This disconnect should make all Christians take pause and think about what it means to be authentic in our faith. Is celebrating Easter and Christmas authentic? Because Jesus didn’t do that and neither did the Early Church. For the first 300 years of the Church, birthdays were not celebrated and neither was the birth of Christ. (Source: Christianity.com)
Today, Christians see Christmas and Easter celebrations as sacred traditions, including all the secular trimmings, when there is nothing at all scriptural to inform the celebration of these holidays. Is there a verse that says, go forth and max out your credit cards and contribute joyfully to a capitalist culture of materialism to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior? If presented this issue, everyone who at least went to Sunday school for a few years would say that they know it’s not scriptural. But why then, do fundamentalists treat it as if it were?
Remember when “the war on Christmas” was a thing all over the internet and Fox News in the early 2000s? (Source: politico.com) Christians were up in arms because Starbucks removed the word Christmas from all its winter holiday branding, and Christians felt persecuted for saying “Merry Christmas”. First of all, remember how Christmas is a culturally conceived concept and second, saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone might be not taken well, given our nation’s history of exploiting and oppressing people in the name of Jesus. Instead of exploding with holy indignation, Christians should be thoughtful in how they respond. Christian culture dominated the socio-political landscape in America for a long time, not as some would have it, because America is destined to be a Christian nation, but because White heterosexual males controlled society, and they happened to identify mostly as Christians. Sadly and ironically, their specific interpretation of scripture was understood as justification for the oppression of women, the poor, and non-White people. So if we ever were a Christian nation, it was by force.
Why can’t I choose to celebrate Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection every day and in my own way? Because celebrating these important events must be done the way the institution of the Church does it, or else you probably aren’t a very good Christian, in the eyes of fundamentalists. This is probably the best example we have of widely accepted idolatry in fundamentalism.
I’m not saying that exchanging presents or hunting for easter eggs is a sin. I do these things with my family every year. But it becomes a sin when we treat these man-made customs as sacred in and of themselves. If we truly believed Jesus is the reason for the season, we would not care at all when Christmas traditions are not acknowledged or followed by others.
Many would argue that we simply can’t be truly authentic to the ways of the Early Church because we are a product of our culture and cannot divorce ourselves completely from it. To this I would agree, but I take it further in asking: what is the appropriate stopping point in adapting Christian values to current culture and who gets to decide it? The majority of Americans believe in LGBTQ rights, access to abortions, and sensible gun control. (Sources: pewresearch; newsweek; forbes) In this way, you could say that American culture is progressive. Yet fundamentalist Christians have decided, as they have for decades, that they are the authority on how to live authentically for Jesus and that these issues are beyond the stopping point of hermeneutical adaptability.
Living authentically for Jesus does not mean to do what he did in a literal sense. Because we are a product of our culture, there is no way we could. It means to follow him in the way that he treated people, and we know that he taught us to first love God, and then to love all people. In light of this, it only makes sense to support progressive legislation when it comes to affecting the lives of all Americans.