November 20, 2009

It's The Most Wonderful Hassle of the Year

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Time to gather the family, take time off from work, exchange gifts, build a snowman…and agonize over whether to bid “Merry Christmas” – or “Happy Holidays” – or nothing at all – to the cashier at the supermarket.
Yup, it’s the hap-happiest season of all. And it seems to begin earlier with each passing year.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. (Oh wait, am I allowed say that?)

Just last week, the American Family Association called for a boycott of the Gap (and its affiliated stores, including Old Navy and Banana Republic) because of “the company’s censorship of the word Christmas” in their advertising .

Censorship? I don’t understand. Did the Gap ever claim to be a Christian organization, that they should be bound by religious observances? That would be news to me.
There’s more. The AFA has compiled a list of dozens of retailers that are either friendly or hostile to their cause. Apparently Office Depot and Advance Auto Parts are “naughty,” and Macy’s and Bass Pro Shops are “nice.” Best Buy and Safeway reside in a no man’s land in-between, as (apparently) they’re unconscionably ambivalent to the whole thing.
Exactly what do spark plugs and tackle boxes have to do with Christmas? Someone tell me, please.
Someone should remind the fine folks at the AFA of what a boycott is supposed to be. From its modern inception, the very concept of a boycott isn’t just about protest, defamation, or inflicting economic damage. Rather, the protest should be accompanied by some type of voluntary personal sacrifice.
When Captain Charles Boycott evicted the tenant farmhands from his land in 1880, the surrounding community rose up to object. The local merchants wouldn’t deal with him, and even the most desperate unemployed citizens wouldn’t work in his fields. Boycott’s business was ruined, but the protesters themselves suffered substantial injury as well. And that was the point: They suffered for a greater good.
When the black citizens of Montgomery refused to ride the city’s transit buses, they didn’t just deplete the fareboxes. They had to walk everywhere, hitch rides where they could, even lose their jobs or drop out of school. But their cause was just, so they endured.
I’m reminded of the Southern Baptist boycott of the Walt Disney Company, back in the 1990s. What would be the practical impact on the life of a boycotter? It would mean that you vacation at Six Flags. You attend theaters exhibiting movies by MGM or Fox. Or you decorate your baby’s nursery with images of Bugs Bunny instead of Mickey Mouse.
As for the personal sacrifice? You can’t buy a cute little hat with mouse ears.
The American Family Association desires to take a stand for good old-fashioned moral values, and on this matter I couldn’t agree more. They observe the state of our modern American society, and they see a generation of children growing up in a cesspool of liquor, drugs, and illicit sex. Again, yes, I feel their pain. But for all their preaching, do they really achieve the ends that they seek? Two measures seem relevant here.
For one, do the target companies repent of their “sinful” behavior? History has shown that boycotts – especially on large companies like Gap or Disney – rarely inflict a measurable level of damage on their targets; and even if they do, the effect is very short-lived, because the public’s attention span is so short. A temporary decline in the sale of denim jeans is meaningless to a multibillion-dollar company. A thousand fewer visitors at an amusement park will never persuade the company to do – or not do – anything.
Secondly, do we now have a more righteous society because the AFA took a principled stand on some important issue? Have we seen a rush of pagans forsaking the pub for the cross? Hard to tell, but everywhere I look, this kind of foolish posturing only harms their cause. To the unbelievers out there, it implies that all Christians are petty and intolerant, angrily denouncing anyone who doesn’t dance to their tune.
True evangelism – the kind that truly helps people – is achieved by gentle persuasion, not hostile confrontation. I’m a Christian, but that doesn’t give me the right to compel you to honor my traditions. It didn’t work in old Rome, or during the Crusades, and it won’t work today.

Try to picture, if you can, the outrage that would surely follow if we suggested that Moslems keep quiet about Ramadan.  Or Hindus about the Festival of Ganesh.  Imagine the media coverage that we would see if  someone asked Jews to shut up about Passover.  The ACLU would have to hire a thousand new lawyers, just to keep up.  But Christians?  They're disposable.  Don't wory about them.
So if you see me at the supermarket, go ahead and wish me a happy Hanukkah. It’s a friendly greeting, and I will accept it all day long. Maybe even twice on Sunday.

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