Christmas, Starbucks and Crazy Christian Evangelists

Starbucks red cup shown in front of a Starbucks store, November 10, 2015, Washington, D.C.
Starbucks red cup shown in front of a Starbucks store, November 10, 2015, Washington, D.C. | (Photo: The Christian Post/Napp Nazworth)

A previously obscure online eccentric evangelist has criticized Starbucks' new plain holiday season cups denuded of traditional secular Christmas symbols, like snow flakes, as anti-Christian, igniting lots of media buzz and online chatter.

Mark Tooley is the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).
Mark Tooley is the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).

It's an old storyline. A purported Evangelical ignoramus makes outrageous public claims to universal ridicule, often led by other Evangelicals.

The new cup design, in simple red and green, actually looks pretty tasteful and is still clearly seasonal. Unfortunately, Starbucks reacted to the faux controversy with a hyper politically correct and pompous explanation including these stupefying quotes:

"In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs. This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories."

"Starbucks has become a place of sanctuary during the holidays. We're embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it. It's more open way to usher in the holiday."

"Creating a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity is one of the core values of Starbucks, and each year during the holidays the company aims to bring customers an experience that inspires the spirit of the season. Starbucks will continue to embrace and welcome customers from all backgrounds and religions in our stores around the world."

So these red and green cups welcome "all of our stories," offer "sanctuary," and embody "inclusion and diversity." Yuck.

This post modern narrative-speak sounds worse, or at least more banal, than the crazy evangelist critic who apparently has also entered Starbucks with a holstered revolver to make his own statement about gun rights.

Some Evangelicals have rushed to condemn the crazy evangelist with the solemn insistence that Starbucks should not be expected to evangelize for the Gospel, which is instead the obligation of individual Christians, etc, etc, etc. Indeed.

No, big corporations aren't expected to promote Christian theological understanding. But Christmas is a nearly global holiday, celebrated by hundreds of millions of non Christians. Starbucks cites the "spirit of the season," which begs the question, on what exactly is that "spirit" based?

There's no need for Starbucks or other organs of popular culture to specifically cite the Nativity Story. But there's also no need to minimize what Christmas traditionally is in a bid for "inclusion and diversity."

Very few are the non-Christians who are actually offended by Christmas celebration in public life. Around the world Christmas is enjoyed by Chinese communists, Hindus, Muslims and many others with all the cultural bricka brack for which the season has become universally beloved. More power to them. To the extent Christmas fosters generosity and high spirits, it speaks to every human heart and culture.

Scolds in government, media or the corporate world who think Christmas must be sanitized of any significant spiritual and cultural meaning do favors for nobody, least of all the typical non Christian or rare genuine secularist who enjoys holiday lights, trees, gift giving and carols.

Christian purists who also join the chorus against cultural Christmas by implying the holiday, to retain its integrity, and to avoid any offense, must retreat into churches and private homes, with apologies to everybody for centuries of imposition, are nearly as irritating as the scolds.

Some Christians may see such a retreat as an act of humility. But it would deprive the wider culture of one of Christendom's greatest gifts to all humanity, without which the world would be darker, duller, and less joyful. Wherever Christmas is celebrated, in whatever form, it elevates the human spirit and points to the divine.

This article was originally posted here.

Prior to joining the IRD in 1994, Mark worked eight years for the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and is a native of Arlington, Virginia. A lifelong United Methodist, he has been active in United Methodist renewal since 1988, when he wrote a study about denominational funding of pro-Marxist groups for his local congregation. He attends a United Methodist church in Alexandria, Virginia. Follow Mark on Twitter @markdtooley.

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