Progressive religious leaders weigh in on 1st Baptist’s ‘Grinch Alert’ website, calling it everything from a marketing ploy to just plain mean
DAVID TAFFET | firstname.lastname@example.org
Locally owned Viewpoint Bank is on First Baptist Church’s naughty list. They have poinsettias in their branches, but they don’t have a Christmas tree.
American Airlines made the naughty list because of “excessive use of holiday, no mention of Christmas. With a name like American Airlines, come on.”
Cracker Barrel “includes Santa and Christ in store.” That’s nice according to First Baptist.
Hopefully it’s Santa as we know him today — in the red suit that was created by Coca Cola for a 1935 ad campaign. The red was chosen to match Coke’s corporate color. Apparently, nothing says Christmas like corporate greed to First Baptist.
Previously, Santa was “dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot,” as described in Twas the Night Before Christmas.
To combat the so-called “War on Christmas,” First Baptist Church in Dallas created a new website, GrinchAlert.com, for people to report stores and other service companies that are naughty or nice. Naughty is anyone who greets you with that offensive term, “Happy Holidays.”
The Rev. Steven Pace suggested the website shows that First Baptist isn’t paying attention to the right issues this holiday season.
“I can’t believe an institution with that kind of capacity to do real social action work could concern itself with something so trivial,” Pace said.
“They need something more meaningful to do.”
Yet emphasizing the consumer side of Christmas and penalizing retailers that don’t put Jesus in the middle of their marketing plans is, apparently, exactly what First Baptist wants.
Macy’s in the Galleria is on the naughty list because a single employee in a single transaction returned a customer’s “Merry Christmas” with the offensive “You, too.”
And no doubt it was the Muslim extremists in the small town of Crowley, Texas south of Fort Worth who hung “Happy Holidays” in huge letters in front of city hall. Or was it their massive Jewish population?
“How about peace on earth and good will to all?” suggested the Rev. Colleen Darraugh of MCC of Greater Dallas. “It’s the kind of thing that gives Christians a bad rap.”
She said that although she’s Christian and celebrates Christ at Christmas, she has Jewish friends whom she wishes Happy Hannukah.
“We want to wish happy holidays and seasons greetings to people of all faiths,” she said.
Darraugh said that by emphasizing what retailers are doing, it emphasized that Christmas was for consumers.
She questioned whether the website’s creators know about the religious part of the holidays … uh, Christmas.
Cantor Don Croll of Temple Shalom in North Dallas said, “So I guess at New York-style delis, they should just say ‘Happy Hanukkah.’”
He pointed out that The Christmas Store in Richardson has a large Hanukkah section and wondered if it offended First Baptist that a store with that name would be selling anything else, or if it should offend Jews to shop in a store with that name?
“I guess I’m old fashioned. I like saying happy holidays and including everybody,” he said.
The Rev. Jo Hudson of Cathedral of Hope was aghast at a church’s emphasis on the retail aspect of the holiday rather than the religious part of Christmas.
“It shifts focus from what it should be,” she said.
Hudson suggested more appropriate lessons from a church might be feeding the hungry, caring for the sick or, if retail must be the emphasis, buying toys for poor children.
She admired it as a successful marketing scheme. But questioned whether Christmas be used as such a blatant promotional mechanism by a church?
But Hudson did acknowledge the ploy’s success.
“The website is clever because people have responded to it,” she said.
Northaven United Methodist Church Senior Pastor Eric Folkerth agreed with Hudson, but he questioned whether the campaign appealed to prospective members or the lowest denominator of the church’s base.
“The pastor there has shown himself to be a master of publicity,” Folkerth said. “But it only speaks well to the people they already have.”
Folkerth called the campaign silly, annoying and mean.
“Among his base it sells, but it sells a theology of division. He has a remarkable way of doing divisive things,” Folkerth said, referring to Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church.
Folkerth also suggested that during a recession, the website sends bad signals.
“Given the way the economy is, it’s such a bad message to say we’re not going to this store or that because of a perceived lack of Christian-ness,” he said.Folkerth said that religion should call us to our better natures.
“This doesn’t seem like our better nature,” he said.
“People who are secure in who they are don’t have to impose it on other people,” Hudson said, adding that people of different faiths have more in common than they have differences.
“How you greet people isn’t a measure of your faith,” she said
“How you treat people is.”
She said the GrinchAlert.com website was a good example of people not treating each other well and she found it particularly offensive during Christmas.
“Someone can wish me Happy Holidays and I can wish them Merry Christmas,” Darraugh said.
Taking either of those greetings as anything but best wishes, she said, “flies in the spirit of Christ who brought good will for all.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.