A small group of your local DFL leaders met online recently for a Holiday Social. Although it would have felt more like a party if we could have gathered in person, it was still an hour of warm feelings and good humor. It has been my pleasure this year to work with so many fine folks as chair of our county unit.
I imagine that Michelle Fischbach would accuse us of being party to the War on Christmas because we called it a Holiday Social, but she’d be wrong. The gathering was full of the Christmas spirit, and we all wished each other a Merry Christmas when it was done. That is how it should be. For the public announcement, we kept it inclusive and welcoming to all faiths, but in a private gathering among people who share a Christian heritage, we felt no hesitation about celebrating Christmas.
The Christian Right, on the other hand, believes that Christianity should impose itself on the public sphere. They look back nostalgically on a mythic past when the U.S. was supposedly a Christian Nation, and they blame the decline of that identity for the nation’s alleged moral decay. Having identified themselves with the Republican party in their effort to reassert Christian dominance, many have come to regard Democrats as godless. We must resist the label.
There is no question that organized religion is on the decline in this country. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 29 percent of respondents answered “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. That is an increase of 10 points in just the last decade. But who is responsible for that decline? There is good reason to believe that when religion becomes too closely tied to a political party, it is as bad for religion as it is for politics.
Take the issue of abortion. The Christian Right has fought for nearly fifty years to overturn Roe v. Wade, and it looks like they are about to succeed when the Supreme Court hands down its decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. I can understand why people have a moral objection to abortion. I don’t know anyone who celebrates when women dealing with unwanted pregnancies face that painful choice. Nor can I object when so-called “pro-lifers” bring their moral conviction into the political arena. We should all approach politics from a moral perspective. What I cannot understand is people for whom abortion is the only issue they care about and who make a candidate’s views on abortion the single, defining litmus test at the voting booth. Not only did that lead them into an unholy alliance with the most amoral president the U.S. has ever had, it also gives the impression of a faith that is crabbed, narrow, and both theologically and spiritually impoverished. No wonder so many young people are turned off.
I spent much of my career studying the history of religion in the U.S. Always I sought to approach the subject from a perspective both critical and empathetic. I try to understand what made people tick and appreciate their strengths while pointing out their shortcomings. I wish more Christians took a similar, more self-reflective view. Too often, however, a self-righteous spirit divides the world into us vs. them, true believers vs. the infidels.
So I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Joyous Solstice, and Merry Festivus. Whatever you celebrate, do it in a spirit of love and caring. And remember that Jesus never joined a political party.