Reforming Santa Claus
May this Christmas be a blessed day for you!
I confess that, as a mother, I played down Santa Claus with my children. We never went to the mall for pictures or the chance to give Santa a list of things they wanted. When they asked about Santa I would always say, “There is the spirit of Santa Claus,” by which I meant that there is a spirit of generosity and giving that inspires people to give gifts to those they love at Christmas. What we emphasize in our house at Christmas is that this is Jesus’ birthday. Our longest tradition is to have a birthday cake at breakfast on Christmas morning. It is out all day for munching whenever the urge hits.
As parents, we lie to our children when we pretend that Santa Claus is real. To the extent that Santa corresponds to the primary image for God as the white-bearded man in the sky, this sets up our children to be rightly skeptical about God’s existence as well, and potentially undermines their faith in our trustworthiness as parents.
This may seem to be a heavy burden to place on just playing along with the myth of Santa Claus at Christmas time. But I bring it up because I feel so strongly that a similar dynamic is at work in the church with our children’s understanding of God’s love. We work very hard to impress upon our children in church that God loves them, every one, just the way they are. This is the first and repeated message we want to get across to them. But then, eventually, the time comes when this falls apart, just as the reality of Santa Claus disintegrates, when the church says, “But no, sorry, God does not love gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people as much as straight people.”
Because of the courage of our GLBT youth to come out honestly about their emerging sexual orientation, the present generation is better able to call us on our hypocrisy. First of all, they know that the GLBT kids are no different from any other among their friends. And they are rightly concerned about the fear expressed so often by faithful GLBT people that God actually hates them. We all know that can not be the basic message of the church, the body of Christ in this world.
Second, they know that GLBT kids are no different from themselves. The question is raised immediately for them: “If God’s love for my GLBT friend is not exactly what we were all taught when we were little, does that mean God’s love for me is also not what they told me in Sunday school?” Our children have every right to this skepticism and I weep at the undermining of the trustworthiness of the church it represents.
With regard to Santa Claus, I spoke of a spirit and my sons figured it out pretty fast. With regard to God’s love, the solution is to stay consistent with our original message because it is the Truth. Jesus was born in Bethlehem for us all and there is no “but” in all. And every Christmas, our remembrance of Jesus’ birth rekindles my effort, my energy, to bring the day closer when my church lives out this promise for all of our children.
P.S. I am traveling for the holidays, so I’ll be signing off from now until the New Year. I will post a new blog next week with reflections on entering this New Year; however, I may not be able to respond immediately to your comments in the meantime. I greatly look forward to reading and responding to your comments when I return. Thank you for your understanding, and peace be with you today and throughout this holiday season.