Tomorrow evening at 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 many of the pews will be occupied by what preachers and church people call the ‘Christmas crowd.’ Or, as they’re called in the NY Times opinion piece this Sunday, ‘Chreasters,’ those who attend only on Christmas and Easter.
Every year, like the Times article, there’s a story in the paper or on TV talking about the preacher’s challenge on Christmas Eve. They always want to know how does the preacher come up with a creative, attention-grabbing, stuffed-to-the-gills-with-the-gospel sermon to connect with those people who only come on Christmas Eve, who only come because their mother-in-law makes them, who will never come again until next Christmas. Or maybe Easter.
When it comes to the ‘Christmas Crowd’ here’s what I can’t say about them in my sermon tomorrow night:
The dirty little secret is that often the way preachers and church people talk about ‘Chreasters’ makes them sound like the bad guys, like we want to make them feel guilty for not being regular church-going people.
Which doesn’t make any sense to me because I gotta think ‘Chreasters’ are exactly the sort of people Jesus would prefer to hang out with.
It’s true. It’s all in the bible: those of us who look down our noses at those who only show up once or twice a year, while we faithfully serve and worship God week after week, have more in common in with the Pharisees, who killed Jesus, than we do with those Jesus chose to hang out with. How ironic is it that Matthew, to whom one of the Gospels is attributed and from whom many churches will be reading tomorrow night, was a tax collector. Not a good religious person.
So rather than looking down on them with guilt-inducing contempt. We should, like the Lord we adore, simply welcome them in the thrill to be with them.
The NY Times article reflects on how the changing demographics and the rise of the religiously unaffiliated means there will be less ‘Chreasters’ in the pews tomorrow night than ever before. As someone who loves Jesus, I gotta think that’s a bad thing.
THIS week millions of “Chreasters” — Americans who attend church only on Christmas and Easter — will crowd into pews to sing carols and renew their vague relationship with the Christian God. This year, there may be fewer Chreasters than ever. A growing number of “nones” live in our midst: those who say they have no religious affiliation at all. An October Pew Research Center poll revealed that they now account for 20 percent of the population, up from 16 percent in 2008.
Avoiding church does not excuse Americans from marking the birth of Jesus, however. Most of us have no choice but to stay home from work or school — and if you complain about this glaring exception to the separation between church and state, you must be a scrooge with no heart for tradition. Christmas has been a federal holiday for 142 years.
Yet Christianity’s preferential place in our culture and civil law came under fire this year, and not simply because more Americans reject institutional religion. The Obama administration subtly worked to expand the scope of protected civil rights to include access to legal marriage and birth control. Catholic bishops and evangelical activists declared that Washington was running roughshod over religious liberty and abandoning the country’s founding values, while their opponents accused them of imposing one set of religious prejudices on an increasingly pluralistic population. The Christian consensus that long governed our public square is disintegrating. American secularism is at a crossroads.
The narrative on the right is this: Once upon a time, Americans honored the Lord, and he commissioned their nation to welcome all faiths while commanding them to uphold Christian values. But in recent decades, the Supreme Court ruled against prayer in public schools, and legalized abortion, while politicians declared “war on Christmas” and kowtowed to the “homosexual lobby.” Conservative activists insist that they protest these developments not to defend special privileges for Christianity, but to respect the founders’ desire for universal religious liberty — rooted, they say, in the Christian tradition.
The controversial activist David Barton has devoted his career to popularizing this “forgotten history” through lectures, books and home-school curriculums. Mr. Barton insists that “biblical Christianity in America produced many of the cherished traditions still enjoyed today,” including “protection for religious toleration and the rights of conscience.”
Bryan Fischer, spokesman for the American Family Association, told me that he saw the “nones” as proof that “the foundations of our culture are crumbling.” The Pew poll, he said, “is one of the signs.” A couple of weeks after we spoke, he told a radio audience that God did not protect the children killed in the Newtown, Conn., massacre because of the Supreme Court decisions banning prayer and Bible reading in public schools. “God is not going to go where he is not wanted,” Mr. Fischer said.
How accurate is this story of decline into godlessness? Is America, supposedly God’s last bastion in the Western world, rejecting faith and endangering religious liberty?
The truth is that “nones” are nothing new. Religion has been a feature of human society since Neanderthal times, but so has religious indifference. Our illusions of the past as a golden age of faith tend to cloud our assessment of today’s religious landscape. We think of atheism and religious apathy as uniquely modern spiritual options, ideas that Voltaire and Hume devised in a coffee house one rainy afternoon sometime in the 18th century. Before the Enlightenment, legend has it, peasants hurried to church every week and princes bowed and scraped before priests.
Historians have yet to unearth Pew studies from the 13th century, but it is safe to say that we frequently overestimate medieval piety. Ordinary people often skipped church and had a feeble grasp of basic Christian dogma. Many priests barely understood the Latin they chanted — and many parishes lacked any priest at all. Bishops complained about towns that used their cathedrals mainly as indoor markets or granaries. Lest Protestants blame this irreverence on Catholic corruption, the evidence suggests that it continued after Martin Luther nailed his theses to the Wittenberg church door. In 1584, census takers in Antwerp discovered that the city had a larger proportion of “nones” than 21st-century America: a full third of residents claimed no religious affiliation.
Here’s the rest of the article.