Ben Carson and the ‘War on Christmas’

An absurd but popular complaint on America’s Christian Right is that Christmas is under attack despite the nation’s extraordinary month-long birthday party for Jesus. But, ironically, one Christian Right favorite, Ben Carson, may oppose this celebration of Christmas, as Nat Parry notes.

By Nat Parry

Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon turned Republican presidential contender, may have a skeleton in his closet that could disqualify him from leading the United States of America in the eyes of millions of his supporters.

No, it’s not the fabrications of significant chunks of his life story that he’s told, nor his opposition to Muslims being president, nor even his reprehensible views on keeping Guantanamo open into perpetuity. No, it’s something much more serious than that at least, more serious as far as the average Fox News-loving Republican voter is concerned.

Ben Carson, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination who opposed a Muslim being elected president.

Ben Carson, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination who opposed a Muslim being elected president.

As a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, there is a strong possibility that he does not support the month-long birthday party for Jesus known as Christmas.

What’s that, you ask? How could a leading figure in the Republican Party one who was pulling ahead of frontrunner Donald Trump in support from the key demographic of Christian evangelicals possibly be an opponent of the so-called “sacred Christian holiday” of Christmas? Well, it turns out that the religious camp of Seventh-day Adventism to which he belongs not only insists on observing the Sabbath on Saturday, but also, perhaps more controversially, rejects the celebration of Christmas.

As explained on their website, “Seventh-day Adventists do not celebrate Christmas or other religious festivals throughout the calendar year as holy feasts established by God.” As strict adherents to the teachings contained in the Bible, they correctly point out that the “historical reason for adapting December 25 as the birthday of Jesus has no biblical foundation, but is due to the change of year from darkness to light, which happens in the midst of the winter in the northern hemisphere.”

In fairness, although Adventists do not celebrate Christmas, they go to great pains in explaining that they don’t oppose the Christmas holiday per se. In fact, numerous articles written by members of the Church offer rather thoughtful, nuanced and historically informed analysis on this controversial topic, emphasizing that while Adventists should not personally engage in this pagan tradition, the Christmas season is nevertheless a useful opportunity for adherents to the Church to “speak with other people about the gospel.”

But considering the lack of nuance or historical understanding on this topic among many Republican voters who are all too eager to pounce on any perceived slight to their Christmas celebration as evidence of religious persecution, it is not clear how the Adventists’ anti-Christmas narrative will go over with the GOP base.

After all, entire websites are devoted to documenting an alleged liberal-secularist conspiracy to rob conservatives of their God-given right to say “Merry Christmas” and force their religious views on everyone else for the whole month of December every year.

Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, for example, has a “War on Christmas” page with horror stories of Nativity scenes being banned from public spaces, and Fox News’ War on Christmas blog has led the charge this year against Starbucks’ red and green holiday cups, which have been deemed insufficiently Christmassy by many right-wing Christmas warriors.

So, will we be seeing denunciations of Ben Carson and his Church in the conservative blogosphere any time soon?

There is a wealth of material for the self-appointed defenders of Christmas to choose from, such as the Adventist Biblical Research Institute’s totally factual claim that “that Christians adopted and adapted a pagan feast,” designating Dec. 25 as Jesus’s birthday and ensuring that Christmas would be forever “connected with the Roman cult of the Invincible Sun.”

According to this account, this was done partially because “God, in His providence, chose not to preserve for us a record of the day of Jesus’ birth.” (The lax record-keeping of Roman officials in First Century Judea apparently had nothing to do with it.)

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Carson expounded on his religious beliefs and responded in particular to Trump’s efforts to paint him as part of an unconventional faith, i.e., not a true religious conservative deserving of evangelical support. During a rally last month in Florida, Trump noted that as a Presbyterian, his religious views are “middle of the road.” He then added, “I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about.”

Unfortunately, Carson’s views on celebrating Christmas did not come up in the AP interview, but he did address the issue of an end-of-the-world prophecy held by many Adventists. Ellen White, who together with husband James helped found the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1844, predicted that the government, with the help of Christians who observe the Sabbath on Sunday, will eventually persecute Seventh-day Adventists for their Saturday worship, leading somehow to the End of Times.

“I think there’s a wide variety of interpretations of that,” said Carson. “There’s a lot of persecution of Christians going on already in other parts of world. And some people assume that’s going to happen every place. I’m not sure that’s an appropriate assumption. If you look at what’s going on today with persecution of Christians, particularly in the Middle East, I believe that’s really more what’s being talked about.”

Regarding the Adventists’ perceived anti-Catholic prejudice, which White expressed in her Nineteenth Century writings, Carson rejected that claim. “I love Catholics. My best friend is Catholic. I have several honorary degrees from Catholic universities,” he said.

One wonders, however, what he might think of the recent comments of the world’s pre-eminent Catholic, Pope Francis. In a powerful sermon at the Casa Santa Maria, the Pope told churchgoers that, although the holiday season is nearly upon them, now is not a time for celebration.

“We are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes, all decked out, while the world continues to wage war,” Pope Francis said. “It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. The whole world is at war.”

Nat Parry is the co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush. [This story originally appeared at Essential Opinion, https://essentialopinion.wordpress.com.]

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12 comments for “Ben Carson and the ‘War on Christmas’

  1. bobzz
    November 30, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    The early church had no place in the public square, no vote, no Merry Christmas greeting, no nativity scenes; they shunned military service and political office holding. They had no public postings of the Ten Commandments on a 2.5 ton of granite in the Forum. If Christians attended public Greco-Roman schools, they had no public school prayer, no ‘in God we trust’ on money or ‘under God’ in a national pledge (how ironic is that?). They had none of the cultural trappings American Christians seem to deem essential to the faith. The early church lived an alternative life style that riled the authorities and generated sporadic state persecution. They flourished because they were different; we are rightly criticized because we are more nationalist than Christian. We say we are not persecuted because we live in a ‘Christian’ nation. No, we are not persecuted because we are a chamaeleon church that blends with militarism, nationalism, ‘democracy’, individualism, materialism—point made, no need to go on. The early church knew Christ and followed him; we have refashioned a Christ in our own image. It all began with Constantine despite recent trends to rehabilitate him. He was no Theodosii (Theodosius I, II), but he got the ball rolling. I realize that most travelers on this site are not religiously inclined, but I do respect all that write and comment, and I trust none will see this as offensive—except maybe the religious right.

    • Mortimer
      November 30, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      They had none of the cultural trappings American
      Christians seem to deem essential to the faith.
      — bobzz
      .
      cultural trappings
      american christians
      deem essential–
      were/are

      militarism, nationalism, ‘democracy’,
      individualism, materialism—
      separatism, division, nationally superior
      as core belief..?

      Founding fathers were
      born/bred supremists
      in search of colonial wealth,
      via economics of slavery

      they sought to acquire
      human cargo
      as means of wealth creation
      and accommodation to whims.

    • F. G. Sanford
      November 30, 2015 at 7:41 pm

      Bobzz, no offense taken. Some would call me an unbeliever, but I love Christmas. Pretty decorations, beautiful music, good stuff to eat, happy times, I even collect Christmas ornaments. I haven’t read his book yet, but on the face of it, I suspect that Constantine is portrayed as “Christ’s Ventriloquist” by Eric Zuesse. But even though I retain my doubts, it seems like every year…there’s a Christmas miracle. For instance, this year, I found out Carly Fiorina isn’t really Italian! Praise the…well, Merry Christmas!

  2. Reba
    November 30, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    This article has me scratching my head and wondering how the author could write without actual facts. I’m wondering how he could make a claim such as “Seventh-day Adventism rejects the celebration of Christmas.” As a Seventh-day Adventist, I, along with my entire Adventist family and all of my many Adventists friends have thoroughly enjoyed and celebrated the beautiful Christmas season. My Christmas memories are very special – filled with family, giving, Christmas music, a Christmas tree, presents, and at the very center, Jesus. I suggest this author stick to topics he is familiar with and abstain from writing about topics he knows nothing about.

    • bobzz
      November 30, 2015 at 9:24 pm

      Reba:
      I took this off a Seventh Day Adventist web side: http://www.adventist.org.au/celebrating-christmas. Other questions are addressed.

      Do Adventists celebrate Christmas or other Christian holidays?

      Answer: Seventh-day Adventists do not celebrate Christmas or other religious festivals throughout the calendar year AS HOLY FEASTS ESTABLISHED BY GOD. The only period in time Adventists celebrate as holy is the weekly Sabbath (from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset). Pardon the all caps, but the writer is talking about Christmas as not celebrated as holy, established by God. One may celebrate it as a tradition, which is fine, but Adventist doctrine is correct. It was not established by God. I hope that helps.

      • Reba
        November 30, 2015 at 11:21 pm

        Ok, perhaps I misinterpreted the author’s meaning. To me, he seems to insinuate that Adventists are very different than other mainstream Christian denominations in their beliefs on Christmas. Isn’t that the premise of this article? He seems to be under the impression that Adventists do not celebrate Christmas (he even uses the word ‘anti-Christmas’ to describe “Adventist narrative”). This, in my personal experience, is undeniably false. I have never, in my many years of associating with Adventists, found one that was anti-Christmas or who didn’t celebrate the season. There are valid things he could be critical of when it comes to Ben Carson (his policies, certain statements he has made, etc), but this particular point is baseless in my opinion – it is a viewpoint that is not based on reality or fact. Perhaps he should get to know an Adventist or two or at least visit a church before writing so confidently about what they do or don’t believe.

        I don’t think respected journalism is about jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. It should be about fact-finding and research.

        • Nat Parry
          December 1, 2015 at 9:57 am

          Hi Reba, thanks for your comments. As referenced in the above article, there are numerous essays posted on Seventh-day Adventist websites dealing with the topic of celebrating Christmas, which I quoted and linked to. I strived to provide balance and context to these references, even noting that “numerous articles written by members of the Church offer rather thoughtful, nuanced and historically informed analysis on this controversial topic.”

          But from what I can tell, at least according to your denomination’s official websites, the message is clear that “Seventh-day Adventists do not celebrate Christmas or other religious festivals throughout the calendar year as holy feasts established by God.”

          By the way, I don’t mean to criticize this and actually find it admirable that the church would so resolutely stick to the actual teachings in the Bible, unlike the “War on Christmas” right-wing zealots. This places the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the same company as the early English settlers of America, who as strict adherents to the teachings contained in the gospel, noted that December 25 is not the birthday of Jesus, but is simply related to the Winter Solstice and the pagan traditions of Saturnalia and Yule.

          • Reba
            December 7, 2015 at 10:14 am

            Thank you for your response, Nat. I can understand better now what you were trying to convey. You are correct that we don’t celebrate Christmas as a holy feast day ordained by God because it simply is not. However, we DO celebrate Christmas and could in no way be considered “anti-Christmas.” Just because we don’t know the exact day of Jesus’ birth doesn’t mean we can’t/don’t celebrate that wonderful event.

            We can also agree on the crazy extremes some people have gone to in the so-called “war on Christmas.” The reason for the season has nothing to do with how we say a greeting or whether or not certain symbols are printed on a certain red cup! That’s just completely missing the point.

            I understand that everyone celebrates the season differently. In our home, we celebrate the fact that our God loves us – humanity – so much that Jesus left the splendor of Heaven to enter our world of sin simply to reveal to us the character of God and to endure a torturous death on a cross in order to pay the price for our sin. That, to me, is the beautiful and timeless reason for celebrating the Christmas season. We celebrate this within the context of traditional things like Christmas carols, a Christmas tree, a nativity scene, an advent calendar, exchanging gifts, etc., and by giving more of ourselves, our money, and our time in helping others.

            Thank you for respectfully responding to my comments and for clarifying your viewpoint.

  3. Rich
    November 30, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Now being the Christmas season, Nat Parry needs to ID and visit a variety of Seventh-day Adventists and do some first-person research. Afterward, he’ll be in a position to correct his story and so, no longer look like a fool.

    Christmas, the name itself, refers to a mass at this time of year, so how many Protestant faiths celebrate masses at any time of the year?

    The most careful scholarship points in the direction of Jesus Christ being conceived, not born, around Christmas time, and so born in late September or earliest October.

  4. Quartz001
    December 1, 2015 at 12:42 am

    It’s pretty ridiculous.

    Happy Holidays Faction Strikes North Pole, Merry Christmas H.Q.
    http://www.theniladmirari.com/2015/11/war-on-christmas-happy-holidays-faction-strikes-north-pole-merry-christmas-headquarters.html

  5. Daniel Buxton
    December 1, 2015 at 9:39 am

    I am an Adventist. Celebrating Christmas is not a problem as long as Christ is clearly at the center of it. This is along the lines of Romans 14:5 “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” The keeping of Christmas by Adventists is neither officially promoted nor condemned by the church. So also with the Biblical feast days, if you want to keep them that is fine just don’t try to guilt trip other people into keeping them. Again, I suspect some of the tenor of this article is influenced experiences with Jehovah’s Witnesses; for some reason that group and sometimes Mormons frequently and erroneously get confused with the SDA church.

  6. Tim Veach
    December 1, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Another hit and run piece on Ben Carson. Adventists do celebrate Christmas. I should know, I have been an Adventist most all my 56 years of life. The site that is quoted in this whack piece says, “Seventh-day Adventists do not celebrate Christmas or other religious festivals throughout the calendar year as holy feasts established by God”. This is true, they don’t celebrate them as holy feasts established by God; however, they do celebrate Christmas and other festivals established by humans. We celebrate most all holidays.

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