President Trump is making an issue of saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”
So here’s the thing: when I was an adolescent, I too made an issue of saying “Merry Christmas” and that begs a comparison to President Trump’s petulant soapbox (i.e. is he playing a political angle or just acting immaturely?).
As a matured intellectual and as a matured Christian, I have to look at my words as an expression of my heart and not as a statement of my identity. And here’s the thing: this isn’t only a Christmas season. Jews celebrate Hanukkah (Chanukah), many African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, and every few decades there will be a stretch of years when Ramadan coincides with Christmas (various Muslim sects may additionally observe other events in December and January apart from Ramadan).
Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The rest of his oration is less known but he continued saying, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” I believe this holds true for basic human respect and dignity.
Respect is not just being polite; it is communicating to others that we value and honor their existence. This should be a duty made all the more sacred for Christians given the words of John the Apostle: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8 NIV). The word Christian itself means “follower of Christ” and Christ honored and respected everyone regardless of religious difference. One need only reflect on his regular interaction with Samaritans and his various parables about Samaritans (most notably of all, the parable of the Good Samaritan). You see, Samaritans were not only treated as outsiders in the Jewish land, but were despised by Jews on the basis of lineage and doctrine. Christ also sought out and deeply appreciated interaction with Gentiles and non-observant Jews (tax collectors, day laborers, prostitutes, etc).
The irony is that when we treat others with perfect respect and dignity, it makes us approachable. And of course, why would anyone want to fellowship with us as Christians if we go out of our way to create religious barriers and proudly announce disdain for other faiths? Paul the Apostle even said that, given his enlightened understanding that it was acceptable to eat all foods, was equally enlightened to say that if eating those foods offends his brother or sister, that he would never eat those foods (“if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” 1 Cor 8:13 KJV). In this context, just because we have the First Amendment right to express ourselves however we like, our faith-speech ought to reflect kindness and consideration, not egocentrism and hostility. Shouldn’t we forsake this small right so as not to offend our fellow humans?