Christmas: An American conundrum
Randy Singer serves as chief counsel and special assistant to the president at the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was head of litigation at one of VirginiaÕs largest law firms and continues to defend religious and civil liberties. Singer has written Directed Verdict, Dying Declaration and Self Incrimination, legal thrillers with a Christian worldview. His latest book, The Judge Who Stole Christmas, takes a warmhearted look at the holiday in an increasingly diverse society. He spoke with Associate Editor Scott Harrup.
PE: You revisited the Hammond family (from Dying Declaration) as key characters. Why?
SINGER: I needed a main character who is adamant in his beliefs, bordering on stubborn. Thomas Hammond was a likely culprit. I think he represents religious zeal without any inhibitions. IÕm not trying to make a value judgment, but he sees things totally in black and white and I needed a character like that.
PE: Readers will notice your commitment as a writer not to demonize anyone on either side of the conflict you create. Could you comment on that?
SINGER: If a writer believes in the truth of what he or she is writing about, the truth will end up speaking very clearly for itself. You donÕt have to stack the deck in favor of how the controversy ought to come out. If youÕre committed to allowing events to speak for themselves, youÕll create compelling characters on both sides.
One of the things I wanted readers to understand is that a lot of our quick-trigger reactions — issues like religious displays in public environments — create deeper questions we hadnÕt considered before. Often, reasonable people can be found on both sides of a debate.
PE: How have you seen the celebration of Christmas in America change since your childhood?
SINGER: Christmas has evolved from a religious holiday to a secular holiday where many people are questioning whether religion can even play a part. When you go into stores, people donÕt wish you ÒMerry Christmas,Ó they wish you ÒHappy Holidays.Ó Schools are questioning whether you can sing religious Christmas carols. Communities question whether you can have a manger scene in the public square. The secularization of the holiday is nearly complete, and believers need to declare Christmas is still a religious holiday and they want it to be celebrated as such.
PE: What are some perfectly legal steps Christian families can take to share with their communities the real meaning of Christmas?
SINGER: The Establishment Clause — the Òseparation of church and stateÓ — applies only to the government acting as the government. All of us as individuals, as citizens, as families, have a right to celebrate the true religious meaning of Christmas in any manifestation we choose. And you can do that in so many ways.
I have some friends who invite their neighbors over for an ItÕs a Wonderful Life Christmas party. They watch the movie, take the opportunity to share gifts with their neighbors and then tell them of the greatest Gift, which is the gospel. They share a reading from Luke.
Schoolchildren of all ages are entitled to share the true meaning of Christmas in any assigned reports on the holiday. ThatÕs part of their free speech rights.
I think one of the wonderful things our churches do is host Christmas cantatas where the public is invited to see a performance honoring the true meaning of Christmas. There are many ways we can weave the gospel in a natural way into so many things we do at Christmas that our neighbors can appreciate. We donÕt need to hit them over the head with it.
PE: The ending of The Judge Who Stole Christmas took me by surprise. What do you want to see readers take away from the book?
SINGER: The judge in this story will initially remind many readers of Ebenezer Scrooge or Dr. SeussÕ character the Grinch. In A Christmas Carol and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, we see someone change through the holiday season. One of the things I tried to show is that, yes, sometimes people change, but sometimes people are just revealed for who they really are. One of the things we tend to do is make snap judgments of people based on where they stand politically, or other things that really donÕt go to the heart issues. I hope readers will see that characters on both sides of the controversy in this story made inaccurate snap judgments about other characters based on surface things. I hope the ending shows that what resides in the heart is really the most important issue.
PE: Your ministry and writings often promote personal and practical expressions of ChristÕs love. How are you and your family putting that philosophy into action this Christmas?
SINGER: We pursue several traditions. One of the fun things we do, and I used it in the book, is go to a Christmas tree sales lot and pick out a ÒCharlie BrownÓ Christmas tree. We try to find the sorriest looking tree out there to take home and decorate. We use this example to tell people how Christ came and sought us out when we had nothing to offer Him.
The holidays allow us to speak more freely about Christ than any other time of the year. The word Christmas still has His name in it. As I point out in the book, even Xmas is symbolic of Christian martyrs who died for the faith. But the first thing I would urge all of us to consider is that God has preserved this holiday in America to give us a natural jumping-off point to discuss who Christ is and why He came to Earth.
Christmas gives us a chance to meet needs. Maybe thereÕs a single mom who just needs a babysitter so she can go out and go shopping on her own. Our family looks for projects around the community to address at Christmas. This yearÕs hurricanes are multiplying those opportunities.
PE: Are there warning signs on the horizon for future Christmases in America?
SINGER: God at certain times looks to His people and calls on us to take a stand and say, ÒI will not be ashamed of the gospel. I will not be ashamed of the Savior.Ó By doing that, we can preserve our right to openly celebrate Christmas 10 years from now.
But our silence allows the Christmas season to become less and less spiritual every year. Our kids will look at us and say, ÒIt happened on your watch.Ó
PE: YouÕre continuing to keep a legal eye on this issue of public displays.
SINGER: Public displays of historical issues in this country, like the Ten Commandments and the manger at Christmastime, are important. When you remove all those displays from the public square you are, in fact, promulgating a historical lie. YouÕre saying that our laws did not come from the Ten Commandments. YouÕre saying that the Christ Child is not the reason for the Christmas season. I donÕt believe the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was ever designed to require the public to lie about its own history. As the law now stands, manger scenes are not prohibited, so long as they are properly integrated into a larger display that includes secular symbols of the holiday as well. This is just a natural part of who we are as a people, so letÕs celebrate it in a historically accurate manner.
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