Jerry Falwell's Select List of Christmas "Foes"
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Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 02:57:01 PM EST

Across the nation, Jerry Falwell and his Liberty Counsel affiliate are currently waging a "Friend or Foe" Christmas campaign in their culture war to make America a "Christian Nation."

Essentially, except for President Bush and his wife, everyone who substitutes "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" for "Merry Christmas" has been labelled a "foe" of Christianity.

Falwell has been getting a lot of press over this campaign.  It is a shame that the press doesn't know to ask him why he has abandoned the faith of his Baptist ancestors.

Early Baptists were concerned with sharing the gospel, not with preserving the culture of renamed pagan symbols or the language that merchants use to greet their customers.

The idea that naming trees either "Christmas" or "Holiday" has anything to do with making disciples would have been as foreign to the early Baptists as it is to Jesus.

The Jesus of the Bible never saw a "Christmas" tree and he never commanded anyone to make merchants greet people with a "Merry Christmas."


The framing of "war on Christmas" is designed to get people to legitimize the concept, even when negating it. It is meant to put people on the defensive about not being anti-Christmas.

The reality is this is a Right Wing war on religious freedom.  

"Happy Holidays" could be anti-Christmas ONLY IF Christmas weren't a holiday. Similarly, "Season's Greetings" could be anti-Christmas only if Christmas occured at another time of the year. But even at that, there's a logical fallacy inherent in the whole concept:

A is not B, thus Z.

"Happy Holidays" is not "Merry Christmas," thus you want to destroy Christmas.

This is like saying "Orange" is not "Blue," thus you want to destroy the sky.

The more inclusive greetings are simply reflections of respect for all those who celebrate special days at this time of year.  The right wing Christmas war is nothing more than an attempt to "dis" the religions they don't like.

Remember in rebutting their claims to step out of the frame. Don't use "War on Christmas" - unless you modify if to expose it for what it is: the right wing Christmas war.

Otherwise refer to the use of non-denominational language as what it is: respect for America's religious holidays, support of religious freedom, etc. For example:

"Jerry Falwell plans to sue Americans who support religious freedom. Soon, you will be unable to use the phrase Happy Holidays without a lawyer.  Why? Because Jerry Falwell is hiring lawyers to sue you if you do. Under Mr. Falwell's rules, you must say Merry Christmas to everyone, no matter what religion you or they believe in. In Mr. Falwell's America, you cannot respect any religion other than his."

Don't even use their framing if you can avoid it. Cognitively-speaking, simply stating the phrase can lend it credibility, no matter how unwarranted.

Beware of the everyday brutality of the averted gaze.
by mataliandy on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 10:22:25 PM EST

I appreciate this discussion of framing.

You make some very good points that I'll try to remember as I deal with this subject.

by Mainstream Baptist on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 11:19:40 PM EST

we should do an econference on framing, and how it relates to this general subject.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 11:26:05 PM EST
"The war on religious liberty"  , following mataliandy's suggestion ( I'd previously thought the same ) .

"The war on religious freedom" is excellent too.

by Bruce Wilson on Sat Dec 03, 2005 at 01:12:30 AM EST

Everyone be sure to follow the link in Bruce's post!

Our friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State have got the goods on the White House.

Here is a taste:

The Rev. Jerry Falwell and his Religious Right cohorts have been complaining for weeks now about government agencies and store clerks saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" but it looks like Falwell forgot to tell President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and the Republican National Committee about the preferred religiously correct greeting.

The White House's 2005 holiday card is just out, and it doesn't mention the word "Christmas" once.

The card, mailed under the auspices of the Republican National Committee and signed by the president and his wife, reads, "With best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness 2005." It also includes a passage from the Old Testament Book of Psalms.

The front cover is an artist's rendition of the White House and grounds covered with snow while the presidential pets, two dogs and a cat, frolic on the lawn. It contains no religious symbolism.

Isn't it just like Jerry Falwell, Bill O'Reilly and the rest of the hypocritical blow hards to draw up an enemies list for Christmas and then sick their lawyers on them?

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 03:46:58 PM EST

they will go after the Christmas card industry.  A good many of the cards now say "Happy Holidays."

Me?  I always buy the cards that say "Peace" because that is what I wish for the world.  And wasn't Jesus supposed to be the Prince of Peace?

by LynChi on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 04:05:20 PM EST

"The Grinch".....

I've heard The Grinch loathes Christmas.

by Bruce Wilson on Sat Dec 03, 2005 at 01:28:20 AM EST

My family's cards each year, and I couldn't even think of a design not centered around "Peace", it's so much on my mind. I am hoping my father, a staunch Republican, won't take offense at the political implications of the lion and lamb that ended up on the card.

Sigh. So many issues worthy of the concern and outrage of people of faith, and what does our country's media and "spiritual" (notice the quotes) leadership choose to focus on? The "War" on Christmas. I cannot speak for Jesus, of course, but I'm guessing that the War in Iraq would be of much more concern to him.

by lil bird on Sat Dec 03, 2005 at 03:35:46 AM EST

What a manufactured crisis Mr. Falwell and friends are trying to develop.  I blogged my family's 1951 Christmas card at:

Taking people to task for their form of greeting is thought control.

by ValerieM on Sat Dec 03, 2005 at 11:11:51 AM EST

Michelle Goldberg provides an interesting historical perspective on the "War on Christmas" that should be helpful in countering these claims.

by Psyche on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 04:39:47 PM EST

First of all, I cannot stand Jerry Falwell, Bill O'Reilly, George W. Bush, or anyone else on the Christian right, or political right. However, it's about time the American people learn how to take a stand for something they care about, even if it is something anal like using the word "Christmas".

As a result of this Christian Christmas war of words campaign several major retailers have recently announced they are going back to calling their Christmas trees just that. Now if we can just turn that energy, and threat of using civil disobedience by boycotting some major corporations, into a lesson on how to get our government leaders to change their direction we may be onto something.

Also, America is not a Christian country but maybe it should be. The Jews have their own country, Israel. The Mormons have their own state, Utah. The people in both Israel and Utah are allowed to violate human-right and criminal laws, respectively, while the rest of us are held to a higher standard. If America was a Christian nation we could start using our religion as a sword and a shield to treat non-Christians as inferior humans. We could act like the Mexican people are Palestinians and steal their land, bulldoze their homes, destroy their crops, and carryout collective punishment assassinations against innocent Mexicans until they move down into a little corner of their country. That could be our new Christian Manifest Destiny.

The truth is I'm a Deist, not a Christian. I am just trying to expose some moral, ethical, and political hypocrisy that exist in this country. The American people had better wake up because their government is being robbed and their democracy (republic) is being undermined. Unless you like the idea of living in a cardboard box under a bridge you had better start fighting back. We need to start badgering, boycotting, and practicing civil disobedience against the corrupt pigs currently running our government into the ground, or we are going to wake up one morning in a un-Godly fascist plutocracy without any opportunities to change our economic wellbeing, or anything else.


by Chris Fick on Sat Dec 03, 2005 at 04:03:47 AM EST

Falwell's commentary misses a salient point.

The Chair of the Republican National Committee is Jewish. It is in keeping with generic prayers at interfaith gatherings, and hopefully in secular pluralistic nations, to have a greeting reflective of the fact that both Dec. 25 and Dec 26 are significant dates this year.

by LIBERAL CROZIER on Sun Dec 04, 2005 at 07:07:43 PM EST

     This brings up an idea this thread engendered a few days ago.  I still have difficulty believing that simple consideration of Falwell's "War on Christmas" campaign isn't enough to demonstrate its falsity, but the poll numbers I've read in articles here indicate that I'm wrong.  Obviously, something more is needed.  So why don't we start talking about the War on Hanukkah?

Example 1.  Right-Wing Radio Show Call-in.  "I share your concern about the War on Christmas, Rev. Falwell [or Mr. Limbaugh, or whoever], but things are even worse than you've said.  You've talked quite a bit about the War on Christmas in our schools, but you haven't said anything about the War on Hannukah.  I have several children in public schools, and they've never, ever heard references to Hanukkah there, not even the secular aspects of the holiday like dreidels or potato latkes."  [A believer in the Socratic method might stop there, letting the listener ask himself, "What War on Hanukkah?  That's ridiculous.  Just not mentioning something isn't a war. . . .  Oh! . . ."  However, the aforementioned poll numbers suggest that many of our fellow citizens are incapable of this analyis, so I would continue . . . .]  After all, if not mentioning the religious aspects of Christmas in the schools is a War on Christmas, then not mentioning Hanukkah at all must be an even bigger War on Hanukkah."

Example 2.  Letter to the Editor.  "Jerry Falwell's protests against the War on Christmas understate the full scope of the problem.  Our schools are also engaged in a War on Hanukkah and a War on Diwali.  [I would add "Diwali" because a live in Silicon Valley, where there is a large population of Indian immigrants, and many people, Indian and non-Indian alike, would know what I'm talking about, though I'd have to check first to see if Diwali is the most appropriate Hindu holiday to mention.  People in areas with other demographics mights use Ramadan or other holidays or just stick with Hanukkah.]  These important religious holidays are not mentioned at all in our schools, so if failure to mention is the same as a war, they too must be under attack."

     Of  course, this approach runs the risk of appearing to support religious celebration in the schools as long as a number of different religions are celebrated.  However, I think most people would recognize it as tongue-in-cheek.  And it might get even those who don't thinking about what a "war" really is.  Certainly most conservative Christians wouldn't want to see the schools celebrating Hanukkah or Diwali, even if that meant that Christmas could be celebrated as well.  I doubt that anything other than God's grace (or, as I would put it, the transcendent Power of Good) will show true-believer members of the Religious Right (RR) the error of their ways, but the polls show that believers in the War on Christmas far outnumber the members of the RR.  Some of these well-intentioned but misguided people might change their views if they were confronted with the claim that there is a War on Hanukkah.

by Theovanna on Mon Dec 05, 2005 at 06:40:26 AM EST

This is a good idea.

I plan on following your advice.

by Mainstream Baptist on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 04:05:45 AM EST

As a matter of full disclosure, I stand on the opposite side of the aisle from those of you who post here regularly.  I am a Christian who happens to be politically conservative.

I agree completely that the naming of the "Friend or Foe" campaign is needlessly incendiary and thus (in my opinion) poorly chosen, but I have not been able to corroborate Bruce Prescott's claim that "everyone who substitutes 'Happy Holidays' or 'Seasons Greetings' for 'Merry Christmas' has been labelled a 'foe' of Christianity."

In a PDF sample of the ad Falwell encourages to be run in local papers, Liberty Council promises that it "will bring a lawsuit against any government entity discriminating against religion during this holiday season and will defend any government entity which abides by the Constitution and allows the equal expression of religious views.  Liberty Counsel will also defend those who are persecuted for celebrating the religious aspects of Christmas."

I'm no follower of Falwell's.  I don't listen to him, I don't like him, and I think he says a lot of things that ultimately damages Christianity.

However, so far as I can tell, nothing -- absolutely nothing -- is being said against private individuals and companies who choose to say "Happy Holidays."

If it is wrong of Falwell to misconstrue your side as waging war against Christmas, it is equally wrong for your side to misconstrue that "Friend or Foe" campaign.

I understand that this site has an explicit bias and a cause.  I admit that I'm not an ally of that cause, but let me offer a nickel's worth of free advice:  hypocrisy rarely helps a cause.

If y'all are going to criticize the right for incendiary language (a proper complaint in my opinion), don't engage in such language yourself or promote books that use such language.

And, if I may focus for a moment on the man who began this thread...

It is right for a Christian to complain that Jerry Falwell almost certainly does not focus enough on the fundamentals of what it means to be a Christian or a Baptist -- namely, sharing the gospel and making disciples.

However, it doesn't seem to me that Bruce Prescott's public life is spent sharing the gospel or making disciples, either.  Neither his blog nor his radio show nor his schedule of attending conferences gives me the impression that making disciples is high on his list of priorities.

Is Bruce Prescott in a position to assert that Jerry Falwell has "abandoned the faith of his Baptist ancestors" because his focus is not on making disciples or spreading the gospel?  It is not at all clear to me that the answer is yes.

I'm not making this comment to question or attack the position of this site and those who post on it.  I largely disagree with the position y'all hold, but I have no desire to attack it here on your site.

I'm simply recommending a more careful look at how you advance your position:  by all means, criticize Falwell -- criticize all of us who are to your right -- but do so honestly and without hypocrisy, and you'll do so more convincingly.

by Bubba on Mon Dec 05, 2005 at 09:00:34 AM EST

Thanks for the advice. When you registered as a user on this site, by checking off the box you indicated that you agree with the purposes of this site and the site guidelines. Do you?

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Dec 05, 2005 at 01:22:26 PM EST
I did read the guidelines, and while I (again) readily admit that I come from the other side of the aisle politically, I believe my comment abided by the terms of use.

Specifically, I think my comment provides good advice for advancing this site's cause.  You're welcome to take it or leave it, in lieu of my political leaning or for any other reason, but I think it had to be said.

To the degree that there are Christian conservatives that desire a theocracy (and I do not deny their existence, but I do question whether they're all that influential politically), sites like this are good to rally opposition.  But effective opposition will probably require bipartisan support, and that support becomes less and less likely as y'all combat extremism with extremism.

Furthermore, and more importantly from a Christian point of view, the more y'all try to talk to conservatives instead of just talk about conservatives, the more likely it will be that the political divides can be bridged.  We may ultimately never agree, but if we can be civil and friendly while agreeing to disagree, we've just taken a necessary first step away from the venomous political atmosphere that we have today.

Truth is, I probably won't read many diary entries here and I'll likely post comments even less frequently.  But if what I've had to say as an outsider looking impacts the site, great:  I will not have typed all this for nothing.

by Bubba on Mon Dec 05, 2005 at 06:50:15 PM EST

Your comments are taken in the spirit in which they are offered, and are appreciated. I want to underscore, however, that the agreement you and anyone participating on this site made is with the statement of purpose, not just the guidelines. For today, I will leave it up to your own conscience as to whether you agree or don't agree, and won't further inquire.

We want to reserve this space for those who really do agree by some reasonable standard, and are not merely finding interpretations of convenience to get thier points of view across.

That said, I and most if not all of our featured writers agree talking with and to conservatives is a value and a goal. But as a site, we can't do everything and have limited our purposes accordingly.

Ultimately, the site administrators and moderators reserve the right to decide whether someone is a troll who does not support the site purpose and guidelines.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Dec 05, 2005 at 07:54:42 PM EST

...with the site's purpose, I will post no longer.  Making it more clear in the site's terms of agreement that loyalty to your cause is an absolute prerequisite to commenting here would probably help avoid confusion in the future.

I genuinely appreciate the fact that you will apparently leave these comments up rather than delete them.  I put quite a bit of thought in them, and it's good to see that my time won't have been wholly wasted.

I must say, though, that limiting this site's purposes in this way runs the risk of groupthink.  Unchallenged, a false but convenient assertion would become part of a narrative that resembles reality less and less. Unchallenged, a somewhat extreme assertion would encourage further extremism.  

Excluding my comments and the thread it started, there have been fourteen comments to Bruce Prescott's diary entry.  How many questioned the veracity of his assertion that "everyone who substitutes 'Happy Holidays' or 'Seasons Greetings' for 'Merry Christmas' has been labelled a 'foe' of Christianity"?

None, even though I cannot find anything to verify the claim.

Other than mine, how many comments have questioned the propriety of that self-described mainstream Baptist asserting that Falwell "has abandoned the faith of his Baptist ancestors"?

Again, none, even though Bruce Prescott's public life -- like Falwell's -- seems to be focused on things other than spreading the gospel and making disciples, which were the criteria with which Bruce apparently made his evaluation.

Instead, we have comments like Chris Fick's:

"We need to start badgering, boycotting, and practicing civil disobedience against the corrupt pigs currently running our government into the ground, or we are going to wake up one morning in a un-Godly fascist plutocracy without any opportunities to change our economic wellbeing, or anything else."

I single out this sentence, not to embarass Chris, but to make a point:  a comment like this is as extreme as anything Jerry Falwell has said.

This all suggests, to me at least, that this site is not fostering reading and thinking with a critical mind, and the site's isolation-by-design may be part of the reason why.

You'll find secluded sanctuaries of partisanship on both sides, and you'll find sites that, to some degree, however limited, encourage "engaging the enemy" and allow for genuine infighting.

(For instances of the latter, I refer you to the websites for National Review and The New Republic.  One of National Review Online's blogs has been the arena for an extensive Intelligent Design debate among conservatives, and the two sites have occasionally presented jointly sponsored debates at

I'll close -- promising not to return, since that is your very clear wish -- by asking rhetorically, in which sites do you find the most stimulating conversations?  Ones that foster debate or ones that forbid it?  Let us judge trees by their fruit.

by Bubba on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 08:20:15 AM EST

that there are different sites for different purposes. It's a big blogosphere out there. There is a need for people who agree with the purposes of this site to have a place.

Certainly there will be things said here that may be wrong, inflammatory, or otherwise inappropriate. And no doubt, not every such statement will be challenged. And people might reasonably disagree as to what is incorrect or overly inflamatory. But as you know, we are seeking to create a site that seeks to be factual and engages in civil discourse. Some of us, no all of us, have things to learn. It is that spirit of learning that we seek to foster, as well as creating a culture oriented to appropriate action in response to our concerns.  

This site is one way of going about it. Certainly not the only one.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 11:48:53 AM EST

your "recipe" for a holiday meal with many "flavours"  beyond the narrow offering of the theocrat, is well, "delicious."

by LIBERAL CROZIER on Mon Dec 05, 2005 at 07:49:15 PM EST

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