Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. .... Philippians 1:27-28a
Well, the calendar says it's only the beginning of November, but I'm ready to start singing, "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas." That holy-day spirit has been motivated by the fact that I have just received this year's first report of a business that wishes to ban the Savior's Name, even as they use it to rake in a pile of cash.
This year that villainous distinction is being awarded to The University Town Center Mall in Sarasota, Florida. In the past, the upscale mall has, like many others, wooed customers in by offering special presentations, sales, and activities in the weeks leading up to the Savior's birth.
That same thing will happen this year, sort of.
The difference is that this year, there was a twist in the mall's invitation to choral groups, which entertain and inspire shoppers. This year the request reads, "For choral groups, the mall prefers no clearly recognizable Christian music, such as carols sung in English, spirituals, or gospel."
All of this means
1. "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Rudolph, the Red-Nose Reindeer," and "Frosty the Snowman" are allowed and welcome, while the "Hallelujah Chorus" is not.
2. "Silent Night" is verboten, but "Stille Nacht" is permitted for those groups that wish their presentation to be offered in the original language.
3. Muslim music, Buddhist ballads, and Hindu hymns are welcome, but "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is not going to be well received.
Now in a land which guarantees freedom of speech, I have to defend the mall and say it has a right to accept or censor any music it wishes. Nobody ought to take that freedom away.
By the same token, in a land which also has freedom of religion, I have to defend those groups and those shoppers who agree with Paul, who said, "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that ... I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit ... and not frightened in anything by your opponents."
As for me and my house, you can be sure that if I lived in Sarasota, Florida, an unrepentant University Town Center Mall would have lost my business this holy-day season. I think there are a lot of other malls in that beautiful city that would accept my cash -- and my Christ.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, there was a time when the Savior's Name was respected and welcomed. Even those who were not believers could see the beauty of His work, the loving strength of His words. How sad there are many in our nation who would gladly erase His Name. In contrast may my actions proclaim Him who is good news of great joy. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
UPDATE: LAST-MINUTE REVERSAL: After considerable national pressure the mall has reversed its decision by stating, "The materials created and distributed by a third party company relating to the hiring of performance groups for UTC were not reviewed by UTC staff in advance of distribution .... These materials do not in any way represent an existing center policy or viewpoint. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused within the Sarasota community."
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries
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