I suspect that most of you, like me, are already sick and tired of hearing about the red cup “controversy.” If you haven’t heard of it, then you are fortunate. It has to do with the fact that Starbucks is using a solid red-colored cup this holiday season, and a few conservative Christians have decided that this is somehow anti-Christian and part of a larger “war on Christmas”. Never mind that previous holiday cups from the Starbucks chain included such blatantly Christian symbols as snowflakes, snowmen, Christmas trees, and reindeer — all of which figure prominently in the Bible (NOT!). Yet, somehow, those cups were more “Christian” than the solid red color of this year’s model.
There are a couple of important truths to realize here. One is that NONE of the Starbucks holiday cups over the years has had a blatantly Christian theme (no nativity scenes, no crosses, no depictions of Jesus). The other is that MOST Christians couldn’t care less about what their coffee comes in this time of year, despite the media’s seeming desire to have us believe that all Christians are angry about it (all Christians haven’t been able to agree on, well, much of anything over the centuries, really).
But the Christian right needed something to focus on as the symbol this year of their “war on Christmas” narrative that has delightfully become part of every Christmas season these past few years. That narrative, which is hardly supportable by any data, is intimately connected to another cherished narrative of the conservative Christian movement: that the United States is a Christian nation. That narrative goes so far as to say that the founders of the country were evangelical Christians — a historically indefensible claim, but history is beside the point here. The Christian right has created its own version of reality, in which the founders cherished a personal relationship with Christ and in which, until recent years, the entire US of A was thoroughly and devoutly Christian. It is a version of reality that bears little resemblance to US history, or to US culture today, but it is one in which they are deeply invested.
As a result, any sign that can be construed as pointing toward a receding of Christianity from the public square becomes part of the imagined “war” on Christmas and/or Christians. And apparently, the fact that the Starbucks cup this year is simply red without any symbolism that connects clearly with Christmas has become just that sort of sign this year.
But let’s be clear about what really lies behind all of this: a deep, almost paralyzing fear of diversity. The bearers of the “war on Christmas and founding fathers were evangelicals” narrative have a vision of the United States that doesn’t have any room in it for people who don’t look and think like they do. They are terrified of “otherness”.
Ironically, the ministry of Jesus was primarily directed toward those who were considered “other” by the culture of the time. Jesus spent a great deal of time and energy going out to meet those who had been cast aside as other or unclean or dangerous in order to assure them that they were just as loved by God as those on the inside of cultural privilege. Yet those who claim to be followers of Jesus do everything in their power to keep the “other” at bay, and regard any acknowledgment of difference to be tantamount to a war against themselves.
It is time, I think, that we stop cooperating in the propagation of the twisted vision of the Christian right, and the distorted, fear-based narratives that go with it. The press is not obligated to report on every outrageous thing that some Christian pastor gets it in his head to say. It is time that the majority of us who don’t buy into this vision and these narratives to stand up and reject them, and stop allowing them to attract the attention that, frankly, they don’t deserve.
We are not a Christian nation. It is true that Christianity has figured prominently in our history, and has influenced many aspects of our culture. But while the majority of the population may still claim some connection with the Christian tradition, the majority of the population no longer actively engages with that tradition in any formal sense with any kind of regularity. And they are certainly not encouraged to do so when what is held up in public as “Christian” is little more than fear and prejudice dressed up as religious devotion.
As a popular meme going around these days, attributed to Steve Maraboli, says, “Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” As Jesus might say, “Take up your red cup, and walk.”