Every year the American Family Association releases the Naughty or Nice List. This is a rating of the level to which American retailers acknowledge Christmas. Companies on the Nice list are considered “Christmas-friendly.” The Nice list includes Ace Hardware, JC Penny, and Target among others. The Marginal list includes Starbucks and Best Buy. The dreaded Naughty list are those retailers that do not use the word “Christmas” in their holiday advertising. Naughty businesses include Barnes & Noble, Staples, and PetSmart. The AFA is also promoting a holiday boycott of PetSmart because of its avoidance of the word Christmas.
Jesus tells a story about a man who has two sons (Matthew 21:28-31). The man asks his sons to work in his vineyard. One son responds positively to his father, saying that he will go work, but the son actually does no work at all. The other son works in the vineyard despite having refused his father’s request. Jesus affirms the second son revealing to us that doing the right thing is far more important that saying the right thing. In fact, saying the right thing has no value at all.
This is exactly the opposite message that we receive from the AFA, the Naughty or Nice List, and so many other culture warriors engaged in a defense of Christmas. The Naughty or Nice List gives high ratings to those companies that verbally acknowledge Christmas, but it has nothing to say about the way these companies treat their employees, their communities, or their product sources. The AFA is encouraging people to shop at “Nice” retailers strickly based on the idea that they say the right thing.
Walmart is identified by the AFA as a retailer that celebrates Christmas on an exceptional basis, awarding Walmart a five-star rating. Yet Walmart’s treatment of its employees is atrocious. Most Walmart employees are not permitted to request any time off between Halloween and New Year’s Day. Most of them will be required to work on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and/or New Year’s Day. One way Walmart keeps its prices so low is by paying extremely low wages. Most Walmart employees are low enough income to receive food-stamps. These food stamps are then used at Walmart to buy low-priced groceries. This is effectively the subsidization of Walmart by the US government.
AFA places Gap, Inc on its Nice list. Gap owns Old Navy and Banana Republic and has been the subject of continual criticism for its exploitation of overseas workers. In 2000 ABC News revealed that children as young as 8 were working in clothing factories, and Chinese women producing clothing for Gap were even forced to have abortions so that they could keep working.
Another company on the Nice list is Amazon.com. Amazon has come under considerable criticism for tax avoidance schemes in the countries where it operates. Earlier this year Amazon was also identified by Greenpeace as one of the most egregious tech companies in regard to energy use and environmental responsibility. These environmental concerns are not just about maintaining a clean planet, but about human health and well-being. Environmental irresponsibility has a disproportionately detrimental effect on poor communities and developing nations.
It is easy for us to base our purchases on a company’s endorsement of Christmas. Perhaps it makes us feel good that we are standing for for traditional values and standing up for Christ. The problem is, Jesus never asked us to stand up for him. (Yes, there is that passage about not denying Christ before men, but spending money at retailers who use the word Christmas has very little to do with proclaiming Christ.) Jesus asked us to stand up for the helpless. Jesus said that providing for the needy was service to him. “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:40)
The War on Christmas is an artificial construct. Fighting to keep Christ in Christmas might make us feel good, but it does little to spread the joy, peace, and goodwill that the angels promised on the night of Jesus’ birth. The following is an excerpt from my book Persecution Complex.
Anxiety over persecution tends to take precedence over every other issue. Continually being on the lookout for Christian persecution distracts us from concern about hunger, abuse, poverty, and the issues about which Jesus told his followers to be concerned. Jesus had a lot to say about the way his followers treated others. He talked about their care for the hungry and helpless. Never once though did he tell his disciples to fight for religious freedom or to stand up for what they believed.