Have you heard that there’s a new Scrooge in town? “Really? Atheist group files complaint over religious-themed care packages,” the Washington Times tells us. “Atheist group seeks to deny poor children Christmas gifts,” says the Alliance Defending Freedom. To hear Christians tell it, one would think “atheism” is some strange new cult that involves painting oneself green and ritualistically sacrificing little Cindy Lou Who’s toys.
I’m a Christian and a divinity school graduate, but I’m with the atheists on this one. There is no reason for public schools to be involved with or promote Operation Christmas Child as run by Samaritan’s Purse.
I have a lot of respect for Samaritan’s Purse and commend the ministry for its good works. They’re known for collecting Christmas boxes for needy children every year, but they do a lot more than just that.
Over the course of their ministry, they have opened an HIV/AIDS clinic in Sudan, provided medical treatment for disabled children in Belarus, and fed hundreds of thousands of people in Uganda and Dafur, to name just a few. When it comes to disaster relief efforts around the world, it’s a good bet that Samaritan’s Purse will be on the scene.
I’ve donated my share of Operation Christmas Child boxes and, back in college, spearheaded an effort to get my non-evangelical apartment neighbors to participate in the program. We averaged almost one box per apartment and turned in a few dozen boxes for the effort.
My past and continued participation in Operation Christmas Child should show my respect for the program. I do think that the ministry’s three-star MinistryWatch financial efficiency rating leaves something to be desired, but on the whole, as evangelical charities go, Operation Christmas Child is a good one.
The crux of the American Humanist Association’s complaint is not that Samaritan’s Purse does good things for needy people. Yes, atheists are one of the most disliked “religious” groups in the nation, and yes, they tend to be stingier givers than their religious counterparts.
Even so, it would be a rare atheist who is outright opposed to charitable giving. The only atheists I know of who might be said to oppose charitable giving are atheist Republicans (yes, these exist) who don’t like the government getting too charitable with giving away their own money.
The problem with Operation Christmas Child, for atheists, is that the care packages aren’t just care packages. They’re laced with religious tracts and Bibles promoting Christianity in general and evangelicalism in particular.
For a public school to choose to participate in and promote Operation Christmas Child is to promote the spread of Christianity around the globe, and that is why the American Humanist Association sees it as a comingling of church and state.
It’s actually quite normal for public schools to partner with religious charities. I’ve known my share of schools who worked with local churches to provide Christmas presents and basic needs to impoverished families in their districts.
However, in these cases, the churches provide only the gifts and necessities, not Christian literature and Bible tracts. While it’s always possible for a family to be moved by a church’s charity and want to know more about the Christian gospel, in these cases, the schools’ partnerships with religious charities do not directly promote the spread of evangelicalism or any religion.
Let’s be real about this, Christians: if our kids came home with fliers from a Mormon ministry inviting them to create Christmas care packages which would then be packed with copies of the Book of Mormon and delivered to needy children by Mormon missionaries all over the world, would we not cry “separation of church and state”?
If our public school children came home with fliers from the American Humanist Association wanting to pack care packages with Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and tracts about how “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life,” would we be eager participants? Or would we be the ones going to court?
The coming battle for religious freedom is real and it’s critical, and when we evangelicals try to use public schools to impose our religion on others, we do very real harm to our claims in that stake.
So, fellow Christians, give the American Humanist Association a break. It’s not like they’re lobbying to change all instances of “Merry Christmas” to “nothing happens when you die.”
The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill