Monday, November 22, 2010

Christian Extortion

A prominent Christian activist group is calling for a boycott on Dick’s Sporting Goods[1] because their advertisements fail to mention that their upcoming sales boon is related to Christmas and the giving that accompanies said observance in our country. (Yes, I used that word intentionally rather than holiday.) I have no disdain for the celebration of Christmas and will do so with my family. I will, however, strive to make sure that Christ is at the center of our observances. This is the very slogan of such activism: Tell them to keep “Christ” in Christmas. So, what is my problem with such an effort? I’ll get to that in a bit.

First, let’s set aside the likelihood that most of the symbols we employ today have pagan origins. Then, let’s set aside the gluttony, covetousness (which we promote by telling our kids to make a list of toys they want), irresponsible spending, unbiblical descriptions of the events of Christ’s birth in the stories we read and carols we sing, and a myriad of other trappings. Next, let’s set aside the notion of the timing of the birth—it was almost certainly not in December. Lastly, let us set aside the glory-robbing man in the red suit (I have already written on that). All that aside, I have two points that I would ask you to consider in light of such moral outrage at a pagan company designed to make money by selling us merchandise.[2]

The first point is the pettier of the two. If we want to keep Christ in Christmas, why don’t we also want to keep mass in Christmas? The word is a contraction of Christ’s Mass—a Roman Catholic observance.[3] Sure, that’s not what people think of, but that is what it means. I personally detest the idea that Christ is resacrificed in the Mass. I use the word only as a societally recognizable word. I propose we biblically minded saints use the idea of the incarnation of the Son of God to express this time—if we choose to celebrate at all. Maybe Incarnation Day, Kenosis Day, He-Stepped-Into-Our-Filth Day, or Immanuel Day. Any name that would help to point to the Savior who humbled Himself to be born and laid in a feeding trough that He might be hung on a cross on our behalf.[4]

My second point is more than a preference.
I believe it approaches the very heart of the gospel itself. If I ask someone to do something that makes me happy or I won’t give them my money, I am committing extortion through intimidation.

Extort: to obtain from a person by force, intimidation, or undue or illegal power[5]

To add to my sin of extortion I am asking the company to lie to me and say that they actually do endorse the celebration of Christmas. Using extortion to get somebody to lie to me so that I can feel good about giving them my money is a quagmire of sin. To top it all off, it simply promotes a façade of moralism in our society and teaches a company to irreverently use the name of Christ to increase their bottom line and feed the sinful greed that already plagues our society. We are begging this company to become a whitewashed tomb that we feel comfortable with.

The connection to the gospel might not be clear, but bear with me. The company in question is not Christian—corporations are not eligible for salvation—and makes no pretense of running its business according to biblical principles. This Christian activist organization is asking this corporation to recognize the Savior as a valuable part of their business. To meet this demand, all they have to do is print “Merry Christmas” on a few of their ads. It doesn’t matter if they mean it; they just have to say it. Christ is not a gimmick to attach to a flyer. Forcing someone to elevate Christ’s name when they do not mean it cheapens who He is and what He has done. The gospel is tarnished as the person of Christ is tarnished.
Too much emphasis is placed on outward appearances and doing the right things. A television program is “family friendly” if it has a prayer in it and someone talks to a minister. It doesn’t matter that the minister never uses the Bible or that Jesus is not invoked in the prayer. It’s clean. It’s moral. It’s a whitewashed tomb.
Calling people who are unregenerate to act in a moral fashion is cruel. Would we expect ourselves to act morally apart from the Spirit of Christ in us? To ask anyone to meet a standard that is less than perfect righteousness is inadequate. Less than Christ’s perfect righteousness is not good enough. Whether they stop fornicating, use Christmas in an ad, or obey the speed limit, they are still without Christ. If we really had compassion for them and sought to see Christ glorified, we would share the gospel message with them clearly and place only that demand upon them which God places—to come to Him in repentance.

Addendum de Ironia
As I was finishing the last paragraph of this diatribe, I received an email.[6] It was a follow-up to the email that sparked this discourse in my brain earlier this morning. It looks like the extortion worked. Dick’s will be using Christmas in its ads starting November 18. They had already intended to before the massive blackmail campaign was launched.

Sadly, based on the email, “Dick's website will display the Christmas message prior to the first insert (next week) in time for Thanksgiving day.” They think the Christmas message is a word on a page rather than the Word became flesh . . . and they will be rewarded for lying to us and making us believe they value Christ.
Doubly sad, the Christian activists think that “it is amazing to see the culture change that is occurring inside corporate board rooms. All across America, companies are coming to realize they should include Christ and Christmas in their advertising.” We have whitewashed the tomb for them . . . or, at least supplied the paint.
I guess the boycott is off! Who can we blackmail next?

[2] In full disclosure, in the last months I have purchased shotgun shells for turkey hunting and new bolts for my crossbow from Dick’s Sporting Goods. I’d go back tomorrow if they had what I needed. I also bought some shotgun shells from WalMart and a hunting coat from Meijer.
[3] Merriam-Webster Online, s.v. “Christmas,” Origin: Middle English Christemasse, from Old English Cristes mæsse, literally, Christ's mass,
[4] Likewise, Easter is a blasphemous name for a time to celebrate the Resurrection of our Savior.
[5] Merriam-Webster Online, s.v. “extort,”


  1. (From a colleague)
    Great job! I’ve never bought into the boycott idea but I also had never thought about it that way so thanks!

  2. Hey Roger,

    Welcome to the blogosphere. Not bad for your first post. It will likely stir up some conversation.
    I think you hit on some important points and gave people things to think about. I don't think extortion is the right word since boycotting something is not the same as extortion. It is a legal right that people have to not support a place that they disagree with. Extortion is illegal. I'm all for not supporting a place that goes against one's convictions (e.g., bars), but I think those who call for boycotts need to be consistent. Do they buy gas at gas stations that sell pornography and alcohol? Are those things bigger than not saying Merry Christmas? I think so.
    At the same time, I believe Christians should stand against the continued secularization of our culture. Christmas is a federal holiday recognized by our government which was founded on Christian principles. To refuse to acknowledge Christmas (as many stores have done) is a slap in the face to many Christians and our history. They usually do it so as to not offend a tiny minority of people who don't celebrate it, yet some of these same places have no problem acknowleding the recently-invented Kwanzaa. I'm not saying this should be our top priority as Christians, but we should be aware of the ways in which Christianity is being marginalized in our culture.
    For the record, I will still shop at Dick's. See ya.

  3. Tim,
    I certainly agree that there is benefit in withholding support from a business that would use the money to fight against the gospel. I just think that this form of extortion, though not technically illegal, does not support our testimony as ambassadors for Christ. Consistency is important and I think we are distorting this Christmas issue into a main issue rather than the result of people who do not trust the gospel. Let's reverse the trend of Christianity being marginalized by proclaiming the glorious gospel of Christ that they may give Him their affection and worship.

  4. Heard about this on Wretchedradio. I like your thinking.