’Tis the season to be jolly — or, if you are a culturally agitated conservative, to get all worked up about the War on Christmas, the alleged persecution of Christians by department-store owners and other institutional officials who try to stay out of trouble by deploying religiously neutral greetings and slogans like “Happy Holidays.” This year’s biggest outrage, it seems, has been Starbucks’s decision to use traditional holiday colors rather than specific messages on its seasonal beverage containers.
You certainly don’t have to be non-Christian to marvel at the conflation of such minor symbolic issues with the actual persecution of believers over the centuries, or wonder if some American suburbanite aggrieved by a coffee cup is on the edge of being enlisted in the ranks of the martyrs. But what always interests me at this time of year is how thoroughly today’s culture warriors ignore the once-strong and still-living tradition of Christian hostility to Christmas. Calvinist Protestants all over Europe once frowned on the holiday as a Pagan/Catholic challenge to regular Sabbath worship; it was actually banned for centuries in Scotland, and during the Puritan interregnum in England. But it’s the heirs of the “radical reformation,” who thought Calvin and Luther did not sufficiently break with Catholicism and root out practices added since the Early Church, who have carried on the anti-Christmas tradition here in the United States even today.
When Dr. Ben Carson became, briefly, all the rage of conservative Evangelicals in Iowa, you had to wonder if this Seventh-Day Adventist’s faith-based vegetarianism would ultimately be his undoing among the citizens of that pork-producing state. But Adventists’ lukewarm at best attitude toward Christmas lurked in the background as well. Turns out this seems to be one of a number of issues on which Carson has chosen to buck his denomination’s traditions; he recently put out a Facebook post asserting that he is “not afraid” to say “Merry Christmas” — despite, presumably, the strictures of the “politically correct” or the teachings of the Seventh-Day Adventists.
But if the candidate who is fading as a conservative Evangelical champion is no threat to the robust celebration of the Nativity, there could be grounds for concern deep in the belly of the campaign of the candidate who is the rising Christian Right aspirant, Senator Ted Cruz.
Today the Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger has an important report on the rapid consolidation of Christian conservative support for Cruz, which took off earlier this month after a shadowy Christian Right–affiliated cabal that calls itself the Group had a secret meeting and decided to endorse the Texan. Turns out that endorsement was just an appetizer:
The next gathering will take place a few days after Christmas at a remote ranch in central Texas, where Cruz, his wife and several key financial backers will visit with some of the country’s most prominent evangelical leaders for private conversations and a public rally.
Some of the 100 or so leaders flying to the ranch owned by conservative billionaire Farris Wilks are still considering other candidates, including Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who also is maneuvering to be the Trump alternative. But in recent weeks, Cruz has outpaced his rivals in the race to line up religious conservative support.
Turns out Farris Wilks is at the center of the whole convergence, and not just because he’s hosting this confab and rally. He and his brother, Donald, who made their billions via fracking, are Cruz’s most important super-pac donors. They are also heavy, heavy contributors to and staunch allies of David Lane, the fellow Texan famous for organizing conservative clergy to go into politics, and for his politico-religious tours of Europe and the Holy Land that have become de rigueur for right-wing pols. Lane is a very big deal in Iowa in particular.
So, what else do we know about the Wilks brothers? They are devout proponents of a tiny but fierce faith tradition called the Sacred Word Movement, which shares with Adventists a belief in Sabbath worship and the observation of traditional Jewish dietary laws. But Sacred Word goes further than Adventists in embracing a sort of Hebraic Christian or Messianic Jewish set of tenets in which none of the “gentile holidays,” including Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween, are to be observed.
Bill O’Reilly needs to get on this right away. It’s bad enough when Jews or seculars or suspected Muslims persecute Christians by refusing to offer a hearty “Merry Christmas!” to all comers. But when Christians hosting a Christian confab in Christian Texas to acknowledge Ted Cruz as the leader of the Christian crusade to “take back” American for Christianity don’t celebrate Christmas — it has to be a sign of the end-time.