Smells Like Christmas Spirit

It’s mid-November, and we are well into this year’s “War on Christmas,” the seasonal campaign in which a melodramatically aggrieved Right—occupying a fantasy world where we’re not all surrounded by Christmas music and commerce—claims that Christianity is under attack, pointing to retailers that say “Happy Holidays” and the decoration regimes of a handful of small-time local administrators.

Yesterday morning, for example, the American Family Association sent an alert to its members warning that Lowe’s was selling Christmas trees without using the word “Christmas” enough in its catalog. “Lowe’s evidently did not want to offend any non-Christians, therefore they replaced ‘Christmas tree’ with ‘Family tree.’ Of course, if Christians are offended that is evidently ok,” sniffed AFA. (AFA retracted the alert later in the day after assurances from Lowe’s that “Christmas trees” would appear in its advertising.)

Long before 2005, when Fox News host John Gibson penned a book on how it was all a “liberal plot,” right-wing commentators have reached for a conspiracy theory that would place such petty gripes in a context they would be able to use to attack their political opponents, and this year is no different.

Last week the American Family Association pounced on a nursing home in Plant City, Florida, where a decoration policy stopped “an 85-year-old grandmother” from putting up her mistletoe. This small-city nursing home claimed that it was following federal guidelines from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, leading AFA to conclude, “Their tradition is now banned by the federal government.”

Of course, there is no such HUD policy on decorations in nursing homes, and AFA later corrected itself; nevertheless, AFA spokesman Randy Sharp claimed the Plant City debacle as proof of a nation-wide trend: “It does give credence to the fact that there is a strong anti-Christian bias in this country by those who would like to place God inside a box, leave the wrapping on it, and never take him out.”

Newt Gingrich similarly uses the poor Plant City nursing home as evidence of so-called elites “imposing” their “anti-religious bigotry” on the American people:

It’s another example of the biases of the elites — in this case, anti-religious bigotry — being imposed on the American people.

According to Gingrich, then, the director of a small nursing home in Florida is example number one of the “legal and governmental elites,” a group that presumably does not include Gingrich himself, a jet-setting former House speaker who has made his living as a political consultant and author.

The “War on Christmas” is an example of a common tactic among the Religious Right, what we’ve called the “persecuted majority syndrome”: Creating an absurd storyline in which Christianity is imperiled in the U.S., religious-right activists rush to its defense and merge this sentiment with their own reactionary politics.

Take Bishop Harry Jackson’s column this week:

I have been shocked that many Christians just don’t seem to grasp the fact that we are in very sophisticated power struggle. We don’t seem to want accept that there is an all-out assault against Christians being waged in the legislature, teamed with the mainstream media.

According to Jackson, three of the “four major attempts to thwart faith in the U.S.” are federal hate-crimes protections for gays, workplace discrimination protection for gays, and the Fairness Doctrine. (The fourth is an investigation into possible tax fraud on the part of several high-rolling televangelists.) It’s one thing to oppose policies like civil rights for gays; it’s quite another to claim these policies constitute “an all-out assault against Christians.”