Southern Religion

Susan Jacoby waxes practical about the White House creche

Susan Jacoby is the token secularist at the Washington Post/Newsweek feature On Faith. Regarding whether President Obama “should display a crèche or a menorah or any strictly religious symbols during the holidays in the White House,” she writes:

Who cares? With 40 million Americans having trouble putting food on the table and 10 percent out of work, there are more important things to worry about than whether the president, following the tradition of his predecessors, is disregarding the separation of church and state by displaying a creche in the White House. For the record, the White house should not have a creche, a menorah, or any other specifically religious symbol on its grounds. But it’s not high on my indignation list. If that makes me a lukewarm atheist, so be it. This annual battle over Christmas is becoming as tiresome as that awful, ubiquitous ditty, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year….” If I had to choose between getting rid of that headache-inducing song and getting rid of the White House manger, I’d choose to ban the song.

Of course J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, disagrees with Jacoby about the religious symbols and also argues that the president is free to do whatever he chooses.

He didn’t take a stand on the song.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, former president of Chicago Theological Seminary, reminds us that the presidential decisions about symbols are in fact nontrivial.

Robert Paraham of the Baptist Center for Ethics gets to the fundamental issue for Christians. It isn’t the choice of White House decorations:

We love little baby Jesus, as NASCAR champion Ricky Bobby, in the movie “Talladega Nights,” reminds us. We adore Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, wise men bearing gifts, shepherds searching, angels singing. We love baby Jesus because he makes no moral claims on us. Instead, we get to project our hopes for the impossible possibility–that all things will be made right.

Yet the biblical story moves quickly from the manger to the man who makes moral claims on people of faith.

The Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount calls Christians to be peacemakers, challenging those who want more war in Afghanistan. The Jesus of “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God’s” challenges Christians to do the hard work of moral discernment in a pluralistic country and drop plans for an American theocracy. The Jesus of “love your neighbor” confronts lawmakers to rethink their commitment to the corporate greed of the health insurance industry and ideologues to abandon their social Darwinism. The Jesus of the Golden Rule calls into question Wall Street’s deceitfulness and unmerited bonuses.

Lest anyone misunderstand, the debate is hypothetical. Christmas decorations at the White House include a crèche in the East Room.

With that in mind, please read all of the replies here.


December 8, 2009 - Posted by | Religion | , , , , , ,


  1. Walker is the Executive-Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; see his title at On Faith.

    Comment by Dougie Fresh | December 8, 2009

    • And a professor at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Also at On Faith. But on reflection, you’re right. His executive director identification is clearer. We’ll change it. Thanking you for the catch.

      Comment by baptistplanet | December 8, 2009

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