Commentary: What the Pope Can Teach Republicans About Christmas

We've become a society whose values are out of alignment.

Posted: 12/02/2013 12:39 PM EST

After Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, get ready for Trivial Tuesday. That's when Republicans launch their annual holiday feast of complaining. Yes, for the next four weeks, 'tis the season when right-wing curmudgeons grumble about an imaginary "war on Christmas."

Here's what's in store. Fox News will find a company somewhere that has chosen to hold a "winter holiday sale" instead of a Christmas sale. Sarah Palin will write yet another inflammatory Facebook post, this time about a school that has banned teachers from saying "Merry Christmas" to their students. And supposedly serious commentators will race to condemn a city hall somewhere that's been bullied into replacing its traditional Christmas nativity scene with a Kwanzaa kinara.

Christmas, of course, is not in any danger of disappearing. It's the only federal holiday that coincides with a major religious holiday. But that hasn't stopped Fox News and other critics from labeling President Obama as the Ebenezer Scrooge of Washington.

In an article ominously titled "You won't believe how Obama is celebrating Christmas," Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes warns the president is taking the Christ out of Christmas. "Most of us mark the Christmas season by celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ," Starnes reported. "President Obama, on the other hand, will be marking the Christmas season by celebrating ObamaCare."

What? How dare he!

The Fox News article focuses on a new Obama Internet ad campaign that includes the following sinister message: "This holiday season, talk to your loved ones about health insurance."

Yeah, that Obama has some nerve talking about health care instead of Jesus. His audacity reminds me of another well known public figure who last week released a 224-page statement that repeatedly whined about access to health care but never once mentioned Christmas. That would be Pope Francis.

In a lengthy "apostolic exhortation," the pope called on Christians to focus on "education, access to health care, and above all employment." It was a comforting change of course for a church that until recently has been known as much for its opulence as for its sense of social justice. And even as Western consumers launch into a frenzied month-long period of Christmas shopping, Pope Francis warned against an "idolatry of money" and "an impersonal economy."

But there's more. The pope explicitly condemned market-based "trickle-down theories" espoused by conservatives who believe the wealth generated by capitalism will magically filter down to the poor and needy. Here in America, we've seen this pyramid scheme exposed as a fraud as the stock market soared to new record highs last week while African-American unemployment remained stuck at 13.1 percent.

In fact, while Republicans argue the poor are just too lazy to get a job, the Washington Post this past week reported on a struggling 55-year-old Black man who takes two buses to work everyday for a 4 a.m. job that pays just $5.25 an hour. And, similarly, the New York Times reported on a 58-year-old pizza delivery man who makes $7.25 an hour and then has to work all night on the graveyard shift at a second job just to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, a typical Fox News contributor gets picked up at home and chauffeured to work to earn hundreds of dollars just for five minutes of TV time to talk on the air and complain about the lazy poor, while the actual poor are taking public transportation to work for early-morning and late-night-shifts at labor-intensive jobs and still can't pay their bills.

We've become a society whose values are out of alignment. As Pope Francis wrote, "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"

For that matter, how can it be that a right-wing Christian group has time to promote its plans to place a nativity scene in the rotunda of the Florida State Capitol on Tuesday, but has nothing to say about newly released video showing Florida police officers harassing the elderly and the poor. The Bible clearly calls on its readers to "defend the rights of the poor and needy" but says nothing about erecting plastic statues to replicate a nativity scene.

That's the problem. Modern right-wing Christianity has been marked by empty symbolism, devoid of the deeper meaning in Christ's message of love. For American Christians, this holiday season should not be a time to refight a silly war with tiny towns that outlaw Christmas ornaments that never existed in Christ's time. Instead, it should be a time to fight for jobs, health care, education and social justice. That's closer to how Jesus lived. And that's the real message of Christmas.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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