Q: Should the White House, whose residents serve all Americans, display a crèche or a menorah or any strictly religious symbols during the holidays?
If true, the report about the Obamas wanting a “non-religious Christmas” is troubling. It feeds the fear among too many conservatives who doubt the president’s profession of faith as a Christian. It fuels the suspicion that liberal Democrats want to sanitize the public square of all things religious, especially anything to do with Christianity. It focuses public attention toward the false war on Christmas and away from the substantive matters of the day.
As a Christian, I think Christmas without the Christ-child isn’t really Christmas. As a Baptist Christian, I doubt that a White House crèche will cause the collapse of the needed wall of separation between church and state.
Albeit important, the religious symbolism of a nativity scene in the nation’s most sacred public space is secondary to a more substantive conundrum. The real problem for too many American Christians is that they want to keep Jesus in the manger — all year long.
We love little baby Jesus, as NASCAR champion Ricky Bobby, in the movie “Talladega Nights,” reminds us. We adore Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, wise men bearing gifts, shepherds searching, angels singing. We love baby Jesus because he makes no moral claims on us. Instead, we get to project our hopes for the impossible possibility–that all things will be made right.
Yet the biblical story moves quickly from the manger to the man who makes moral claims on people of faith.
The Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount calls Christians to be peacemakers, challenging those who want more war in Afghanistan. The Jesus of “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God’s” challenges Christians to do the hard work of moral discernment in a pluralistic country and drop plans for an American theocracy. The Jesus of “love your neighbor” confronts lawmakers to rethink their commitment to the corporate greed of the health insurance industry and ideologues to abandon their social Darwinism. The Jesus of the Golden Rule calls into question Wall Street’s deceitfulness and unmerited bonuses.
If we are going to have a crèche in the White House — along with other faith symbols — let’s remember the moral claims that come from the man Jesus.