Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., recently wrote in an editorial that Christians who rail against other believers for partaking in non-religious Easter traditions are comparable to "those who murdered Jesus."
The pastor, author of the book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, discussed in an editorial for The Washington Post's faith section the relevance of Easter as a time to celebrate "the Resurrection, the victory of Jesus Christ over Satan, sin, and death" along with allowing children to mark the holiday with chocolate eggs and bunnies.
Driscoll began by addressing issues some Christians have with Easter's roots as an early Anglo-Saxon pagan celebration that once involved people using the occasion to honor Eostre, the goddess of fertility and spring.
The pastor explained that Christian missionaries in the region had chosen to combine this pagan celebration with the day to honor the resurrection of Christ, and today the U.S. holiday incorporates both traditions. He argued that those opposed to this combination have the right to celebrate whatever they choose, and should not give other Christians grief for doing what their conscience allows.
"Some Christians, rather than celebrate the fact that a day that was once devoted to the celebration of a pagan god and is now devoted to Jesus, wish to be the conscience police and go around telling everyone how they should stop having fun and celebrating because of the day's origins. If someone has a conscience issue with celebrating the holiday, they should abstain, but to rail against kids eating candy and having fun sounds more like the religious types who murdered Jesus than the kids who hung out with him," Driscoll wrote.
He continued by explaining that he and his wife tell their five children that the Easter bunny, along with Santa Claus, are not real, but are part of "a hallmark of American culture," while the resurrection of Christ is a historical fact. At the same time, however, Driscoll insisted that it is possible to fully celebrate both the U.S. tradition of Easter and the Christian holiday, as long as Christ is not overshadowed.
"Just as early missionaries didn't reject or receive the pagan holiday of Eostre but rather redeemed it for Jesus, we too seek to redeem the cultural practices we observe in the U.S. without letting them overshadow Jesus and his Resurrection, and without making us completely irrelevant or even antagonistic to culture and those weird Christians on the block, the ones everybody tries to avoid because they believe that being for Jesus also means being against fun," Driscoll offered.
Still, some in the faith community have taken offense to megachurch pastors preaching about accepting and incorporating both seemingly pagan and Christian symbols into Easter, saying a wider "acceptance" minimizes the importance of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.
"Every Christmas Christians whine and complain about secular and atheistic efforts designed to take Christ out of Christmas yet more and more Christian pastors have committed an even worse offense and have removed Jesus Christ and His victorious resurrection from the grave from their Easter sermons," said Chris Rosebrough, captain of Internet-based Pirate Christian Radio, who also accused Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen of taking Christ out of Easter in his sermons.
In his April 1 message, Driscoll preached about Jesus' crucifixion and why he died, in anticipation of celebrating Christ's resurrection on Easter Sunday. Mars Hills Church appears to be focused exclusively on preaching about Christ's resurrection this Easter weekend, and its message calls on believers to stand up for their faith as early followers of Christ did, and take courage from His sacrifice.
A recent study by the American Bible Society and the Barna Group found that Americans largely recognize and celebrate the traditional Christian view of Easter as a time to honor Christ's resurrection – 69 percent of all U.S. adults view the occasion as a religious holiday. That number, however, decreased among younger adults, with only 56 percent of Americans aged 18-27 viewing the day as religious.