Susan Campbell: There Is A War On Spirit Of Christmas

President Donald J. Trump recently told a Missouri crowd, "I told you that we would be saying 'Merry Christmas' again, right?" as if we'd stopped, as if that was something novel.

In the absence of Bill O'Reilly, fake general in the fake War on Christmas, we are reduced to having yuletide's ramparts guarded by Trump and fake Lt. Jim Bakker, who last month claimed that saying "Merry Christmas" had been outlawed, though his claim was light on details.

Can one actually outlaw "Merry Christmas?"

No matter. We who cling to the cross have reached a sad point when we rely on the Trump, O'Reilly, and Bakker, each one a bigger theological lightweight than the last, to defend Christendom's holy day.

In fact, the real War on Christmas started centuries ago, and for a while, Connecticut was ground zero, and the charge was lead by the Rev. Lyman Beecher.

Now there was a champion in the War on Christmas — though he fought for the other side.

Beecher was an 18th century Calvinist preacher who thought — as did so many of his contemporaries — the devil literally walked the earth, and that Christmas was from the devil — or Rome, which by his way of thinking was the exact same thing.

(Don't know what is a Calvinist? A Calvinist will stand at the top of the stairs, throw him or herself down, pick him or herself up, and say, "Phew, glad that's over.")

(Only another Calvinist can tell that joke.)

Beecher more or less launched his public career in the hills of Litchfield. The reverend, who is buried in New Haven, could hold a crowd enthralled for hours. He preached until he was wrung out, and once took a year off to plow a field, having spent every last ounce of energy from the pulpit. His antipathy toward Christmas was not weird for his time. Many Protestants looked askance at Christmas as a papal holiday to be avoided. If they celebrated at all, it was with a piece of candy solemnly handed to the nearest child on Christmas morning. No tree. No lights. No carols.

For all his seeming severity, Beecher raised an incredible family of social movers and shakers (Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Ward Beecher, and my favorite, Isabella Beecher Hooker), each of whom moved away from the Calvinistic teachings of their father toward a more gentle gospel that included a celebration Christmas.

These days, if we're so inclined, we're free to hang lights from every hook. There is no war on saying "Merry Christmas," though there is a war on the spirit of the holiday. The major skirmishes include, (but are not limited to):

— A tax plan that will shovel money into the pockets of wealthy people at the expense of the poor. Jesus would not approve, and that's not just me talking. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says so, too. Late last month, they called on the U.S. Senate to reconsider their "large tax cut to the wealthy."

— Repeated (and failed) attempts to repeal a health care system that has given insurance to millions. The National Association of Evangelicals, a group of 45,000 churches from 40 different denominations, has cried foul, and suggested that providing health insurance to people who need it is a good thing, even a Christian thing.

— A shocking disregard for the environment. In June, when President Trump backed out of the Paris climate agreement, the Anglican Communion Environmental Network was among multiple religious organizations that reminded us that part of our charge is to care for the Earth. The network released a statement that said, in part, "Our faith calls us to feed the hungry. Today, this means halting those actions which are causing hunger and starvation."

— An un-American drive to shut the door on immigrants and refugees that runs counter to Jesus' Beatitudes. In November, the pope chastised those who, he said, "for what may be political reasons, foment fear of migrants instead of building peace are sowing violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia, which are matters of great concern for all those concerned for the safety of every human being."

We've come to this: Say "Merry Christmas. Say "Happy Holidays." Say whatever you want, because in the end? They're just words. God judges actions. Even a fake Christian knows that.

Susan Campbell teaches at the University of New Haven. She is the author of "Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl" and "Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker." Her email address is slcampbell417@gmail.com.

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