Christians in America speak ominously of a “war on Christmas.” This war seems to consist mainly of fights over the appropriate placement of manger scenes and the kind of holiday greeting you’ll hear from your Target cashier. This does not qualify as a war. It has risen to the level of a quarrel, maybe even a dispute, but it does warrant as dramatic a label as “war.”
If you want to know what a real war on Christmas, and indeed on Christianity itself, looks like, turn to China. Christians in Hong Kong wore black to church this past weekend to protest the persecution of their brothers and sisters by the Chinese communist authorities. President Xi Jinping has been organizing raids on churches across the country. Last week, a church in Guangzhou was shutdown and hundreds of books were confiscated. A week before that, another church was invaded and dozens of worshipers were arrested. They were then tortured and starved.
A few months ago, school children in the Zhejiang province were required to fill out forms declaring their religious affiliation. They were urged by their teachers to declare themselves irreligious. Christians might face “consequences,” the children were warned.
Even those indirectly connected to Christianity might be punished in modern China. Landlords who rent to Christians can face legal penalties, including steep fines.
Of course, when it comes to its treatment of Christians, China is closer to the international rule than the exception. Christians endure violence and oppression around the world, especially in countries like North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and many others. And the persecution is not always conducted by governments. In Indonesia, 90,000 soldiers are being deployed to guard churches during Christmas services. What does it tell us that such a force is needed just so that Christians can celebrate the birth of Christ?
What about us? Perhaps we will hear “happy holidays” when we prefer “Merry Christmas.” Perhaps our local public school will have an annual “holiday concert” because a couple of atheist parents complained about the Christmas concert last year. These things are annoying. But the fact remains that we will attend Christmas services at beautifully decorated churches. We will celebrate the holiday with our families and no one will prevent us. We will open presents. Will eat and drink. We will do all of this without fear or hindrance. Billions of Christians across the globe can only dream of such a blessing. They will never, in this life, see it come to fruition.
We should keep this in mind as we celebrate. Not to damper our mood or detract from the merriment, but simply to remember those who are too often forgotten, and to realize and appreciate our good fortune. The Gospel of Matthew tells us about the children who were slaughtered in Bethlehem after Christ’s birth. That is part of the nativity story we tend to ignore. For many Christians, it is the part that resonates most of all. Let us not forsake them today, or any other.