By Michael Ashcraft and Nazarii Baytlor —
Check your coffee cup because it’s time for the war on Christmas — and other click bait controversies.
Four years ago, provocateur Joshua Feuerstein stirred up more than a coffee cup of controversy when he posted a YouTube video claiming Starbucks “hates Jesus” after the company unveiled a plain red seasonal cup devoid of Christmas symbols and the word “Christmas.” Hundreds of Christians rolled their eyes, but the video racked up more than one million views before being mysteriously taken off YouTube.
Such are the ways of a segment of Christians, who make waves — and money — spreading Christian controversy on the Internet. They may think they are sincerely warning fellow Christians about the evil of leaders or ideas — or maybe they’re just taking advantage of the Internet phenomenon called “click bait.” (Hosting services like YouTube pay content creators for viral material, so they entice people to click with tantalizing, sometimes polemical, headlines.
If Christians want to win the world for Christ, should they consider a different approach than rants or boycotts directed against Target because they don’t say “Merry Christmas?”
Other online provocateurs allege that Lecrae belongs to the Illuminati, that Joel Olsteen doesn’t preach Jesus and that Kanye West didn’t really get saved. Perhaps it would be best to not click on such stories because it affords traction in search engines.
Of course, there IS a sustained effort by secularists to eradicate Christmas from public life. In 2012, Santa Monica banned nativity scenes from its public park. The ACLU has tried to ban Christian displays on government land arguing it violates the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment. In 2017, President Trump pushed back against these attacks, tweeting, “People are proud to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
And some retailers have come under fire by the American Family Association and the Catholic League for preferring “Happy Holidays” over “Merry Christmas,” ostensibly to include Jews, Muslims and other customers who may not observe Christmas. An AFA boycott of Target in 2005 got the retailer to reincorporate “Christmas” in its publicity.
But many of the online attacks seem more like wild conspiracy theories, having just as much credibility as tabloid news. Just because the person who uploads the criticism claims to adhere to the Bible doesn’t mean his attack has the same authority as the Bible.
Online you can find accusations that Christian rapper Lecrae has sold out to the Illuminati and become an undercover agent. And you can find accusations that Joel Osteen is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Lecrae did in fact pivot to try to reach secular listeners and artists. He said officially he no longer wanted to be identified as a “Christian rapper” but just as a “rapper who is Christian.” And he started producing collaborative work with secular artists. But where did the 2014 accusation of him belonging to the supposed anti-Christian Illuminati come from?
Matt “Bold” Blacet posted a video saying Lecrae “exposed” himself and tagged it “Illuminati.” When you watch the video he downplays the title and says no one can judge Lecrae for his decision to reach out to secular listeners. But the damage is done in the title. It causes people to click. Every click counts for how much YouTube pays you for content.
TruthUnedited accuses Joel Osteen of being “currently the most deceptive pastor in the Christian church in America.” As evidence, it provides a video in which the mega church pastor is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, who pointedly tries to ensnare Osteen in “homophobia.” Osteen cleverly side-steps the trap, affirming that homosexuality is a sin but not necessarily worse than other sins, like temper. TruthUnedited takes issue with Osteen’s assertion that there are “many paths to Jesus” and puts words into his mouth that the Muslim or Jewish conception of Jesus are equally valid.
The Babylon Bee, a Christian satire site, regularly roasts Osteen with mock news accounts, such as the pastor prohibiting the use of the Bible.
But Osteen, with his boundless optimism and perhaps excessive prosperity gospel, does a credible job reaching the unreached. People who are closed to the fire and brimstone message are attracted to Osteen — and consequently the Bible — through his motivational approach. Since Jesus tells Christians to judge a tree by its fruit, it would be wise to avoid chopping down this tree.
When Kanye West proclaimed himself unabashedly born again in September of this year, a spate of Twitter Pharisees immediately judged him as a faker only trying to exploit a new lane of money making with a publicity stunt.
But since September, those attackers have backed off their initial skepticism because the hip hop artist who formerly called himself god kept crediting God with transforming him on every front. He appeared on Jimmy Kimmel and unequivocally stated “I am a Christian everything.”
It is true the Bible says Christians will be persecuted and it’s also true there are active forces of darkness trying to snuff out Christianity.
But why do (some) Christians so quickly fall prey — instead of falling and praying — to the ploys of the condemners? Perhaps it would be best to lay aside our “siege mentality” and the paranoia that causes us to lash out at others, remembering God is fully capable of carrying out vengeance as He sees fit.
Nazarii is learning journalism at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica. His teacher is Michael Ashcraft.