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A Resource by Mark D. Roberts

Christmas Tree Controversies

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2005 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at . Thank you.

Table of Contents
Part 1 Christmas Tree Controversies: Introduction
Part 2 "Holiday" or "Christmas" Trees: Sorting Out the Issues
Part 3 A Memo to the President of Lowe's re: Christmas Trees, Section 1
Part 4 A Memo to the President of Lowe's re: Christmas Trees, Section 2
Part 5 A Memo to the President of Lowe's re: Christmas Trees, Section 3

Christmas Tree Controversies: Introduction
Part 1 of series: Christmas Tree Controversies
Posted for Monday, December 5, 2005

What could be simpler and sweeter than a Christmas tree? How could something so beloved and apparently innocuous possibly be the cause of controversies? Yet, it's true. These days, even Christmas trees are getting folks riled up.

The most notable recent controversies have to do with what Christmas trees should be called. I suppose I should have said: The most notable recent controversies have to do with what seasonally-relevant evergreen trees and their artificial substitutes should be called. The use of the phrase "Christmas tree" begs one of the most controversial of recent questions. Whether we're talking about the 48-foot tall White Spruce from Nova Scotia that was erected on the Boston Common, or the 80-foot high Engelmann Spruce in front of our nation's Capitol, or the much humbler firs sold at Lowe's Home Improvement Centers, American's are arguing about what these trees should be called, at least in the public square. While House Speaker Dennis Hastert prefers the plain ol' "Christmas tree" moniker, the ubiquitous Barry Lynn, executive director of American United for Separation of Church and State, said that the label "Christmas tree" excludes people of others faiths.

But the "Christmas tree" vs. "Holiday tree" debate isn't the only controversy swirling around these days. With the growing popularity of artificial (either "fake" or "faux" depending on your bias) Christmas trees, the natural tree folk are fighting back. A headline in the Indianapolis Star reads: "Fake Trees Cut Into Tradition." Artificially-inclined folk are fighting back with ammunition from medical science. A news story from Columbus, Georgia asks, "Are Christmas Trees Making You Sick?" Yet the natural tree folk aren't taking this affront sitting down. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently ran a story entitled, "Researchers Fight Back Against Artificial Trees." It seems that even scientists are getting into the brawl over Christmas trees.
Yes, even such a humble and noble tree gets folks upset these days.

On the religious side, there are a host of other issues associated with Christmas trees. In particular, some Christians attack the Christmas tree as a remnant of pagan religion that should be avoided by true believers at all costs. Other Christians argue that the Christmas tree as we know it grows from essentially Christian roots, and that the pagan history is irrelevant today.

So, whether we're talking about the public square, or aesthetics, or tradition, or health, or economics, or theology, Christmas trees end up being a source of controversy. In this short series I want to toss my two cents worth of wisdom into this fountain of controversy. Along the way I'll offer some interesting Christmas tree history, and perhaps give you a reason to smile. Tomorrow I'll start in on the "Christmas tree" vs. "Holiday tree" argument.

"Holiday" or "Christmas" Trees: Sorting Out the Issues
Part 2 of series: Christmas Tree Controversies
Posted for Tuesday, December 6, 2005

"Holiday tree" or "Christmas tree" – which shall it be?

In my last post I began my examination of several Christmas tree controversies. These days the most prominent of all has to do with the name given to seasonally-relevant evergreen trees and their artificial substitutes when they're displayed in public or sold to the public. For years everybody referred to these trees from the Pine family (Pinaceae, including spruces, firs, hemlocks, and pines) as "Christmas trees."

But recently, government institutions and major corporations have banished this phrase and substituted "Holiday trees" in its place. For example, in 2003 the Law School of Indiana University erected a Christmas tree covered with non-religious ornaments. When a professor at the law school objected on the grounds that the tree was "exclusionary," law school officials agreed, and replaced the Christmas tree with two non-descript fir trees and a poinsetta-filled sleigh. The unhappy professor wasn't satisfied, however.

This sort of diminution of the Christmas tree has sparked a backlash, as many people have objected to the linguistic neutering of their beloved evergreen. In response, some government officials have been scrambling to reframe their "Holiday trees" as "Christmas trees." For example:

• In California, former governor Gray Davis had changed the name of the former Capitol "Christmas Tree" to "Holiday Tree." But current Governor Arnold Schwarzennegger, in a bold move, restored the original "Christmas Tree" label.

• In Boston, the decorated White Spruce on the Boston Common was at first to be called a "Holiday tree," until public outcry helped to restore the name "Christmas tree."

• Since the late 1990's, the decorated spruce outside of the Capitol Building in Washington D. C. had been called the "Capitol Holiday Tree," after years of being called the "Capitol Christmas Tree." But, this  year, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert asserted his authority, restoring the name "Christmas tree" to the Capitol decoration.

This sort of scenario has been played out in cities, states, educational institutions, and businesses throughout the country. The most recent non-governmental example concerns Lowe's Home Improvement Centers. Lowe's began it's tree promotion this year by offering "Fresh Cut Holiday Trees." (In a bit of sweet irony, however, the Spanish portion of the Lowe's promotional banner read "Arboles de Navidad recién cortados," or "Christmas Trees Recently Cut." I guess it's okay to offend Spanish-speaking non-Christians. Anglos are more touchy.) But soon Lowe's was being pummeled by unhappy Christians and others who demanded a return of Christmas. So Lowe's relented, deciding to sell "Christmas trees" after all.

Perhaps my favorite part of this story is Lowe's attempt to explain it's retreat from the neutered "Holiday trees." Here's an excerpt from their official explanation:

To ensure consistency of our message and to avoid confusion among our customers, we are now referring to the trees only as "Christmas Trees." We have also removed the banner that read "holiday trees" from the front of our stores. ¶ Lowe's apologizes for any confusion the banner created.


I took the picture above in late November, when Lowe's was still selling "Holiday trees." The picture below shows the exact same location on December 4th. The only remnant of the Holiday tree sign is the remaining white tie (inside the red circle).

Don't you just love that? Lowe's is simply trying to remove unnecessary "confusion." I can see their point. Suppose a Jewish customer came to Lowe's, and seeing the sign "Holiday Trees," didn't realize that they were really Christmas trees, and so bought one. Ah, the scandal! And Christmas celebrants would have been lost, looking in vain for Christmas trees when the sign in front of the firs read "Holiday trees." Of course I do wonder how removing the sign altogether makes for less confusion. (And, for the record, I drove by the Lowe's tree lot today, and noticed that their selection was pathetic. Call 'em whatever you will, Lowe's had lousy seasonal celebration trees today.)

In discussions of what to call Christmas trees, there are actually several issues at stake, but they often get jumbled together. For example, I believe we need to address the following questions distinctly:

1. Should a public institution (government body, public university) display a seasonal-celebration tree at all?

2. If a public institution displays such a tree, what should it be called?

3. If a corporation chooses to sell (or to put on display) Pine-family trees in the weeks prior to Christmas, what should that corporation call these trees?

The first two questions have to do with Constitutional law and the First Amendment. The third question, therefore, is a simpler place to start, since nobody denies the freedom of a corporation (like Lowe's) to sell trees and to call them whatever they wish. The issues in this case are not legal but moral, cultural, and economic. In my next post I'll address the question of what Lowe's should or should not call its seasonally-relevant evergreen trees.

A Memo to the President of Lowe's re: Christmas Trees, Section 1
Part 3 of series: Christmas Tree Controversies
Posted for Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Mr. Robert Niblock, President, Lowe's Companies
Mark D. Roberts, blogger
December 7, 2005
What to Call Your Holiday/Christmas Trees

Dear Mr. Niblock,

Admittedly this is unsolicited advice, perhaps even unwanted advice. But, given the recent furor over Lowe's promotion of "Holiday trees" rather than "Christmas trees," I thought I might offer some thoughts on what you should do next year. What should you call your seasonally-relevant evergreen trees?

The Case for "Holiday Trees"

Though I haven't been privy to internal Lowe's conversations about what to call the trees, I expect these have been motivated by a desire to treat customers well in order to sell products, not the least of which would include celebrative pines. Lowe's is, after all, a business that seeks to make a profit, and that does so by having happy customers who come back again and again (as I do, by the way).

Rather than making up the case for "Holiday Trees" myself, I've combed the Internet to find out what folks on this side of the debate actually say. Their arguments generally take the following forms:

1. The use of "Holiday Trees" is more inclusive than "Christmas Trees."

When the City of Boston was trying to decide what to call its decorated tree, Antonia Pollak, the city's commission of parks and recreation, said in defense of "Holiday tree," "A lot of people celebrate various religious holidaybut also enjoy the lights, and we're trying to be inclusive." In  similar vein, Charles Walsh wrote in the Connecticut Post, "What's so terrible about trying to include as many people as possible in the era of good feeling that supposedly extends from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day?"

2. The use of "Christmas Trees" excludes people who do not celebrate Christmas.

This if the flip side of the first argument, obviously. It has found proponents among law professors at Indiana University who objected to the placement of a Christmas tree on campus. One said, "The tree is placed there to celebrate a Christian holiday – it is not put there in the middle of summer. . . . To honor one religion and not honor others is exclusionary." One of this professor's colleague's agreed, saying that the presence of the Christmas tree "discomfort[ed] those non-Christians who felt excluded." Similarly, Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said, according to a USA Today story, that using the term "Christmas tree" "excludes people of other faiths and backgrounds."

This guy wasn't too fond of Christmas trees either, though I'm not sure he'd like "Holiday trees" any better.

3. The use of "Holiday Trees" is sensitive to the diversity of people.

Obviously this is closely related to arguments 1 and 2, but it uses the buzz word of "sensitivity." So, for example, the spokeswoman for Annapolis, Maryland, which lights a "holiday tree," explains, "It's a sensitivity for people of different faiths." Simlarly, Marc Steczyk, spokesman for Fishers, Indiana, provides this rationale for the town's "tree lighting ceremony": "We want to be sensitive to all ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs." Then Mr. Steczyk adds one of my favorite lines in this whole debate: "We're in the business of treating people how they should be treated." Now there's a credo for all of life, don't you think? Treat people how they should be treated. That's deep.

So, Mr. Niblock, the primary case for "Holiday Trees" claims that this label is more inclusive than the exclusive "Christmas Trees," and that "Holiday Trees" is more sensitive to the diversity of people in our country, many of whom do not celebrate Christmas. Thus the "Holiday trees" proponents seem to be nicer and more sensitive people. Or, in the classic line of Marc Steczyk, the "Holiday trees" folk simple treat people how they should be treated.

The next part of this memo will lay out the case for "Christmas trees." But you'll have to wait until tomorrow to get the other side of the argument. Thanks for your patience.

A Memo to the President of Lowe's re: Christmas Trees, Section 2
Part 4 of series: Christmas Tree Controversies
Posted for Thursday, December 8, 2005

Mr. Robert Niblock, President, Lowe's Companies
Mark D. Roberts, blogger
December 7, 2005
What to Call Your Holiday/Christmas Trees (continued)

Dear Mr. Niblock,

Yesterday I laid out the case for calling seasonally-appropriate evergreen trees "Holiday trees" rather than "Christmas trees." Those who support this view believe that the "Holiday trees" label is more inclusive than the exclusive "Christmas trees," and that sensitivity to the diversity of America calls for the more inclusive name. Today I want to summarize the other side of the debate.

The Case for "Christmas Trees"

The argument for "Christmas trees" begins by denying the claims of the "Holiday trees" side:

1. The use of "Holiday trees" is not inclusive in any meaningful way.

Sure, one can imagine that "Holiday Trees" feels inclusive to people who don't celebrate Christmas, but do they even want to be included in the whole celebrative evergreen scene? Moreover, if Lowe's is selling trees that look like Christmas trees to people who celebrate Christmas, in what sense does it include others to call them "Holiday trees"? Will folks who celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanza feel better knowing that the trees are somehow meant to include them, when they have no interest in the trees? I rather doubt it. If Lowe's sold menorahs for Hanukkah but called them "Holiday candlesticks," I wouldn't feel included so much as bemused. Why make the effort to include me in something I don't need to be included in? I'd wonder whom you're trying to fool.

2. The use of "Christmas Trees" does not exclude people in a way that should be avoided.

Now here is a Christmas tree to worry about. As near as I can tell, Santa is emerging from the tree like Godzilla in Tokyo. He's got part of a house in his left hand, presumably something he destroyed. And he's got a giant snowball in his left hand. I'd say we ought to avoid this Christmas tree at all costs, even if it is in the middle of South Coast Plaza.

You can't keep from excluding people in one way or another. And, though it sounds like heresy in our hyper-sensitive culture, excluding people is not necessarily a bad thing. Let's face it, much of what Lowe's sells implicitly excludes people who are not handy with tools. The store caters to the "do-it-yourselfer," and therefore excludes folks who don't fit into this category. Lowe's doesn't have a sign that says: "Competent do-it-yourselfers only. All others stay away." But neither did it used to have a sign that said, "Christmas trees. No non-Christians welcome." Or consider another example. The bathrooms at Lowe's have signs that exclude either men or women, since they include only one sex. If I said I was offended by the fact that I couldn't use the women's restroom, you'd probably tell me to get a life (nicely, of course). And, in fact, that's exactly what I would need to do. Excluding is a part of life, and just because somebody is excluded from something doesn't mean that person should take offense.

"Ah," folks on the other side of the tree debate would say, "but the use of 'Christmas tree' excludes and offends lots of people, and this offense has to do with deep feelings. So it is important." I agree that some people are offended by the display of Christmas trees or by calling them "Christmas trees." But the number of the offended is hugely exaggerated by people who support "Holiday trees," including some members of the media. In fact, it seems that more people who don't celebrate Christmas are offended by the effort to include them in the holiday tree phenomenon than the other way around. Let me explain.

I spent a couple of hours yesterday surfing the Internet, trying to find evidence of people who felt excluded, and thus offended, by Christmas trees. After considerable effort, I did find the two law professors at Indiana University who fit into this category. Also, I found some atheists who feel that the "Christmas tree" moniker excludes their preference for celebrating Winter Solstice with a Solstice Tree (no joke). That's all the offended people I could find. Admittedly, my effort wasn't a scientific survey. But I did find lots of people who fit into the "likely to be offended" category, but who in fact are not offended by "Christmas trees" and are more offended by the implications of "Holiday trees."

Are Jews in American offended by the existence of Christmas trees or the use of "Christmas trees" to describe them? Not Nathan Diament, a leader among Orthodox Jews, who said, "Most Orthodox Jews certainly wouldn't get upset by a Christmas tree – it's not viewed as an offensive religious symbol." Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for the Boston Globe wrote in a recent column:

As a practicing Jew, I don't celebrate Christmas. There is no Christmas tree in my home, my kids don't write letters to Santa Claus, and I don't attend church on Dec. 25 (or any other date). Does the knowledge that scores of millions of my fellow Americans do all those things make me feel excluded or offended? On the contrary: It makes me feel grateful -- to live in a land where freedom of religion shelters the Hanukkah menorah in my window no less than the Christmas tree in my neighbor's.

In fact, many Jews are offended by the effort to include them in Christmas by speaking of "Holiday trees." For example, Gil Student, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, wrote,

"While Christians consider the renaming of the holiday symbol an affront to their religion, I find it offensive to my Judaism. . . . Using an ambiguous term that implies it has significance to Judaism is, in my opinion, extremely offensive to Jews (and presumably members of other religions) and is simply inaccurate." (emphasis added)

Similar sentiments were expressed by Muslims. One wrote, "I am a Muslim but I do not find it offensive that the Capitol Hill Christmas Tree is called a Christmas Tree instead of a Holiday Tree." Jehad Aliweiwi, a leader of Canadian Muslims said,

It is a Christmas Tree for Christ's sake, pardon the pun. I, for one, a Muslim, am not offended by the presence of a beautifully decorated tree adorning homes stores and offices. It's rather pleasant to look at, to say nothing of the goodies underneath it. . . . That renaming the Christmas tree as a Holiday Tree as a sign of inclusivity, is so ridiculous of a notion, I am tempted to completely dismiss it if it was not serious.

Now there may very well be Jews and Muslims out there who are offended by the whole Christmas tree notion, and who want to be included in the holidays by the use of "Holiday trees," but, apart from a law professor in Indiana, I couldn’t find any evidence of this. On the contrary, the very people whom one might think would take offense at the "Christmas tree" label are offended by the change to "Holiday tree." It insults their own religious faith and it shows callous disregard for their own traditions, which do not include evergreen trees in winter celebrations.

3. The use of "Christmas trees" is not insensitive to the diversity of people in our country.

In fact, it seems that the opposite is true. The notion that Jews and Muslims and others want to be included in the "Holiday tree" phenomenon shows a lack of respect for what they actually believe and practice. The only people who seem to want to be so included are the atheists who celebrate Winter Solstice. But the vast majority of Americans who do not celebrate Christmas themselves are happy to let Christmas celebrations continue, complete with "Christmas trees" on display and for sale.

4. If you really want to offend lots of people and lots of potential customers, go with "Holiday trees."

The use of "Holiday trees" is, in fact, insensitive to a vast number of people who actually want to buy "Christmas trees" because, lo and behold, they celebrate Christmas. Of course you discovered this to be true this year, when your "Holiday trees" promotion backfired. I would guess that the use of "Holiday tree" offends at least ten times as many people as "Christmas tree," and probably fifty times as many people. If you don't believe me, check out the Mark D. Roberts Offense-o-Meter to the right. Click on either "Christmas Tree" or "Holiday Tree" and see what you find. This is science at its very best.

So you do the math, Mr. Niblock. If you want to welcome customers and sell products and make a profit, go with "Christmas trees" in the future.


Tomorrow I want to conclude this memo with some comments about the problems associated with the fear of offending people.

A Memo to the President of Lowe's re: Christmas Trees, Section 3
Part 5 of series: Christmas Tree Controversies
Posted for Friday, December 9, 2005

Mr. Robert Niblock, President, Lowe's Companies
Mark D. Roberts, blogger
December 9, 2005
What to Call Your Holiday/Christmas Trees (continued)

Dear Mr. Niblock,

Today I want to finish up my memo to you with some more general reflections on the role of being offended in our society.

The Two-Edged Sword of Inoffensiveness

The current American effort to avoid offending at all costs is a two-edged sword that ends up cutting both ways. As soon as you change your behavior in order not to offend somebody, that effort ends up offending somebody else. This has been experienced by many who have tried to be inoffensive by calling seasonally-appropriate evergreen trees "Holiday trees." The effort not to offend some people has, in fact, offended many others.

Offended by Bilingual Signs?

It's easy to imagine other examples of this unfortunate cause and effect scenario. Consider, for example, the case of signage at Lowe's Home Improvement Centers. In a recent trip to my local Lowe's, I noticed that all the major signs in the store were bilingual (English and Spanish). So, as it turns out, I needed to buy "madera" (lumber). I had a very enjoyable time walking through Lowe's with my son, who is taking Spanish in school, discovering what familiar items are called in Spanish. I wasn't offended by the signs. On the contrary, I was pleased. I also thought that it was smart of Lowe's to have Spanish signs in Southern California. (And, no, I won't razz you about the fact that your "Holiday trees" sign had "Arboles de Navidad", or "Christmas trees" in Spanish.)

However, I can imagine that your bilingual signs might offend some people. On the one hand, they might offend racists who are upset over the growing number of Spanish-speaking people in the U.S. On the other hand, the bilingual signs might offend people whose primary language is neither English nor Spanish. In the city where I live, and which is home to my favorite Lowe's, many more residents speak Chinese than Spanish. It's possible that some of these folks might be offended because the Lowe's signs aren't in Chinese. They might even feel – gasp! – excluded.
Together, we will improve your home.

Offended by Christmas Colors?

Now if this seems a bit far-fetched, consider the following: Your "Fresh Cut Holiday Trees" signs were in seasonally-relevant red and white colors, just like Santa's suit. Anyone could recognize the Christmas color scheme. You certainly weren't attempting to use Kwanzaa colors (black, red, green) or Hanukkah colors (blue and white). So your signs were clearly leaning in a pro-Christmas direction, even if they used the word "holiday" rather than "Christmas."

Could this possibly be offensive to anyone? Yes, it could, I'm sad to say. Did you know, that the school district in Plano, Texas banned the use of Christmas colors in all school-related activities. At their "winter break" parties, for example, students cannot wear Christmas colors. Now suppose a member of the Plano school board vistis the Lowe's in their town. That person might be offended by the "Holiday tree" banner's colors. Oh, the humanity!

How We Should Respond to Those Who Are Offended

So what should Lowe's do in its effort not to be inclusive and not to offend people? What should we all do in a multi-cultural society if we don't want to offend people?

Unless we want our culture to dissolve into a fetid pool of mushy hurt feelings, we can't let the fact that somebody is offended by something guide our behavior. We must first investigate the nature of the offense. Before we remove the offense, we've got to ask: Is the offense warranted? Should this person be offended? Or should this person be encouraged to grow up?

The question of whether offense was intended by the offending party is something to consider, though it's not the whole story. Surely there are times when people do offensive things on purpose, either to shock or to hurt. It wasn't long ago, for example, when I accidentally cut somebody off on the freeway. The other driver waved at me, though with his raised middle finger. Surely he was intending to offend me, even though I had not intended to wrong him. 

Yet there are times when we inadvertently offend people, and ought to apologize and change our behavior even when we didn't mean to hurt. For example, a friend of mine I call "Bob" had grown up in the United Kingdom. As an adult, he came to the United States because he was called to be a pastor of an American church. Well, Bob was a fiery preacher and he used lots of hand gestures. One of his favorite gestures involved pointing his solitary middle finger up in the air. Naturally, some of his parishioners were offended by this, since it seemed that Bob was "giving them the finger." He had menat no offense, however. In the U.K., a raised middle finger is just a gesture. If you want to offend, you need to show somebody a V-sign with the palm facing toward yourself. So Bob did not intend an offense. Nevertheless, he realized, rightly, I think, that he needed to apologize and change his behavior if he wanted to be an effective preacher in the U.S.A.

So, I'm not suggesting that we should dismiss all claims of being offended as the problem of the purported victim. And I'm not saying that good intentions are always enough to justify potentially offensive behavior. Yet I am saying that we mustn't be ruled by people's claims to be offended either. Rather, we need evaluate claimed offenses carefully and decide which should lead us to change our behavior and which should not.

The Unintended and Unfortunate Result of an Offense-Driven Society

Those who seek to defend the "rights" of the offended often claim that they're standing up for minorities in the face of an oppressive majority. Even if only .1% of all people in America are offended by the phrase "Christmas tree," for example, this offense should be taken seriously by everybody to insure that the majority won't tyrannize the minority. This sort of argument sounds generous at first. But it leads to a nasty dead end, or even to a reversal of the intent to protect minorities. Let me explain.

Suppose, for example, that in 2006 Lowe's once again sells "Christmas trees." And suppose that 100 people throughout the country claim to be offended by this and write nasty letters to Lowe's. So, in an effort to be sensitive to this group, Lowe's decides to sell "Holiday trees" in 2007. But, suppose, further, that in 2007, 10,000 people throughout the country claim to be offended by the lack of "Christmas" in the tree promotion. What will Lowe's do? No doubt you'll go back to "Christmas trees," because this will minimize the offense and lead to more sales, especially from the folks who intend to buy trees. It's very unlikely, after all, that the "Holiday tree" crowd will actually want to purchase holiday trees. So, if the desire to minimize offensiveness governs your behavior, then the majority will end up dominating the minority. And this will happen whenever being offended rules the day. When the majority starts whining about being offended, their whine will be the loudest, and will carry the day.

I'd suggest, therefore, that we stop worrying so much about whether people feel offended or not, and start evaluating our actions in terms of real harm (or benefit). When someone feels offended by something, we must ask if this feeling, however genuine, is reasonable, and is therefore something that should lead to behavior change. Often, when someone claims to be offended, our response needs to be, "I'm sorry you're offended. We did not mean to offend you. Please don't take offense in the future. But we're not going to change our behavior in this case."

Offended by Sex in Church

Let me provide an example of this from my pastoral ministry. Some years ago I preached a sermon series on sexuality. I explained in advance to the congregation why I was doing this, and that I would speak bluntly about sex without being profane. I said that I would understand if some folks needed to absent themselves from my preaching for a while, though I hoped they would stick around. Well, the vast majority of my congregation responded very positively to the series. But I had one man say to me, "Mark, many people are offended by this preaching series. They don't what to hear about sex in church. They want to be inspired. So you should think about stopping your series and preaching about something more edifying." I was upset by this comment, and worried. Perhaps I was offending people. Perhaps I should change subjects midstream. I was confused and distraught.

What did I do? First, I thought carefully about why I was preaching on sex. I knew my motivations were pure and that I was trying to help my congregation deal in a godly way with an important subject. I also believed that I hadn't gone over the line of decency my preaching, with crude humor or language that was inappropriately explicit. Though I had offended a few people, I came to the conclusion that I was doing the right thing, nevertheless. I checked out this conclusion with a few trusted church leaders, folks who would tell me the truth. They confirmed my judgment.

So, I went back to the man who had told me about the many who were offended. I explained my process and my conclusion. I apologized for offending, and assured him that was not my intent. He wasn't pleased, as you might imagine. So then I asked if I might know the names of the offended parties, so I could speak with them directly. He hemmed and hawed in response, not wanting to reveal the names. I was adamant, however, because I really wanted to reach out to those I had offended. Finally the name said to me, "Well, okay. There really aren't a lot of people who are offended. Mostly, it's just my wife."

Afterwards, I thought about how close I had come to changing my preaching focus, backing away from material that was ministering to hundreds of people, all because one person was offended. Her hyper-sensitivity, acting upon my hyper-sensitivity to criticism, almost let me to do the wrong thing.


So, Mr. Niblock, in the future I'd urge you and your colleagues to think more carefully about the whole "Christmas trees" issue. Such a process, I believe, will leave your "Holiday trees" signs in the museum of bad ideas, where they can be displayed alongside New Coke, Furbies, and Marxism. I expect you can find other ways to make sure that folks who don't celebrate Christmas continue to feel welcome at Lowe's.