Don’t like political correctness? Then stop saying 'Merry Christmas'
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The fight over whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” has become an unfortunate annual holiday tradition in America (see “Texas opens Charlie Brown front in War on Christmas,” Dec. 15).  This controversy has been deemed so politically important that Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE made it an early and prominent part of his campaign, stating “If I become president, we’re gonna be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store...You can leave ‘Happy Holidays’ at the corner.”

Mr. Trump and those who agree with him generally reject saying “Happy Holidays” because they see it as submitting to “political correctness.” Political correctness, to them, is the imposition of rigid prohibitions against saying anything that might conceivably offend or hurt the feelings of women and/or racial/ethnic minorities, while painting white people (especially straight white men) as the cause of everything wrong in both history and contemporary society. Women and people of color (and some straight white men!), of course, have a very different understanding of what gets labelled pejoratively as “political correctness.” To them, the term “political correctness” is a way of dismissing concerns for honoring the dignity, identity and well-being of women and minorities.

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One of Mr. Trump’s most prominent themes was the total rejection of political correctness; he even went so far as to claim that “political correctness is killing our country” and to name it as “the big problem this country has…” Such claims resonated strongly with his most ardent supporters.

In fact, his contempt for the norms of “political correctness” was one of the things that they appreciated most about him. Despite Trump’s consistent demonstrable indifference to telling the truth, they claimed he tells it like it is and lauded his honesty while expressing complete distrust for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump thanks 'vicious young Socialist Congresswomen' for his poll numbers Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE.

He’s viewed as honest by them because he says what many other straight white people (especially men) really think about people of color and women but are afraid to say. But he won’t allow those groups to influence the way he speaks of them, and they want that freedom, too. Speaking honestly is far less important to them than speaking what they perceive to be candidly.

The overriding emotion behind rejecting both political correctness in general and saying “Happy Holidays” in particular is one of anger: anger at feeling forced to change one’s behavior as a concession to the concerns or beliefs of others; anger at feeling that the concerns and beliefs of white Christians, in particular, are being actively and intentionally displaced in our culture in order to favor those of other religions and racial/ethnic backgrounds. But this anger is misplaced for two reasons.

First, insisting that all of Americans greet each other by saying “Merry Christmas” is itself a particularly rigid expression of political correctness. Using their own logic: if saying “Happy Holidays” is an intentional cultural displacement of Christianity, then insisting on “Merry Christmas” is an intentional displacement of everyone else. If ending political correctness means having the freedom to speak one’s mind, then it seems odd that its proponents would insist on what others must say. Using the presidency to compel private enterprises to ideologically conform to a particularly set of religious customs hardly coheres with commitments either to limited government or personal freedom.

Second, and more importantly, the Merry Christmas-only proponents claim that Christian character and content has been removed from Christmas and that restoring it will help “put Christ back into Christmas.” But if we are having trouble finding Christ in Christmas, the solution is not the imposition of a narrow political agenda that forces all Americans to act like Christians by exchanging Christian pleasantries. The solution is for Christians to act like Christians by imitating the character and commitments of the One they follow.

And from the very beginning, the Christian Scriptures tell us, Jesus was at odds with the cultural and political powers in which he found itself. He was not born to be  a son of the Emperor in the palaces of Rome; He was born to be the son of a carpenter in the feed trough in a small hamlet called Bethlehem. To escape death, He fled a war zone as a refugee and later returned to do the work He was sent to do: speaking candidly about God’s radical love for all of humanity, and especially those that the powerful and privileged have rejected as “other,” which was so threatening to those powerful people that they killed him for it.

So as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we Christians need to worry a lot less about what we can or can’t say to and about others, and a lot about what we can and should do not simply to put Christ in Christmas, but to be the Christ in Christmas, to be the Body of Christ that embodies God’s relentless grace and transformative love in the world.

Rev. J.C. Austin is vice president for Christian leadership formation at Auburn Seminary.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.