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Ban Santa, Pastor Urges, Doubtlessly Igniting Objections

December 23, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ Every once in a while, some brave soul ventures forth to demand: ″Get rid of Santa Claus 3/8″ A chorus of protests inevitably results in various quarters, religious and otherwise.

It has happened again. This time, the Santa-smashing thrust comes from a minister in Kansas.

″Santa Claus should be abolished from the celebration of Christmas,″ says the Rev. Milton M. Miller, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Girard, Kan. ″He should be discarded with last year’s gift wrappings.″

After all, it’s not his birthday, but that of Jesus, Miller says, yet ″it is always Santa Claus who receives the most attention during the Christmas season.

″His face and portly figure appear on the majority of holiday decorations and greetings.″

Miller hoists his challenge in The United Methodist Reporter, a national denominational weekly published in Dallas, declaring that Santa has virtually ″become a god 3/8″

Anything ″that takes the place of God is an idol,″ he adds, suggesting that’s the kind of false substitute being worshipped at Christmas.

Furthermore, he says it engenders some shoddy impulses in the young, both selfishness for things and eventual disillusionment that the whole affair is unreal, a fantasy perpetrated by adults.

″Santa Claus inspires greed,″ Miller says. ″We all have seen little children pushing and shoving in line preparing to tell Santa what they want...

″I have witnessed the sanctuary of a church turn into a madhouse because of the arrival of the man in the red suit as children and adults wait for their names to be called to receive their gifts.″

Besides that, the Santa myth is ″cloaked in untruths,″ Miller points out, and the child eventually learns ″it was all a fake.. .

″There should be no dishonesty associated with such a beautiful holiday. Jesus came to be the truth. Such a lovely story does not need to be surrounded by untruths.″

The argument sometimes is made that Santa is proper for the occasion because children need something ″they can see,″ Miller notes.

He says this is the same explanation given Moses when he descended from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments and found the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, viz.: ″The people wanted something they could see.″

Miller adds, ″The argument that Santa Claus is the ‘spirit of love’ leads me to ask, ’Then where does that leave Jesus? Isn’t he the spirit of love?‴

As for reactions from Miller’s congregation when he once ″put my foot down″ and ordered Santa eliminated, he says it was the adults, not the children, who complained.

″Children love the thought of the baby in the manger and they, with wide- eyued innocence, love to worship him,″ Miller adds. ″They don’t need something to take his place.″

Nevertheless, efforts to oust Santa almost always have produced resistance and repercussions, as was the case in the 1986 season when a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Romano Ferraro, told a children’s class Santa didn’t exist.

When asked by a fifth-grader at St. John Vianney Church in Colonia, N.J., if that meant parents were liars, Ferraro said yes, a parent reported. The episode brought apologies from Ferraro’s church superiors, saying:

His ″zeal to emphasize the spiritual dimensions″ of the occasion unfortunately ″appeared to diminish the importance that many, especially children, attach to some of the cultural and secular aspects.″

It’s a touchy issue, with some church leaders deploring the extent to which Santa diverts attention from Jesus, while others defend the Santa myth, so long the main emphasis is on Jesus’s birth.

In any case, old and young generally treat Santa as a charming fellow and lot of fun, immune to stuffy analysis.

Counter to Miller’s call for ouster of Santa, another United Methodist pastor, the Rev. James Campbell of Davenport, Iowa, writes in an earlier issue of the United Methodist Reporter:

″I’m beginning to wonder if Bethlehem is really as far from the North Pole as we make it... If he (Santa) were made for children, he was born in the mind of adults, in the spirit, the yearning, the brokenness, the hopes of adults.

″He is, in all of this commercial, earthy, secular, materialistic and often corny glory, something of a prayer in disguise...

″He is our yearning and our question, the question of Christmas - ‘Is there anyone there beyond ourselves? And if you are there, do you really care?’ As Christians ... we profess to have heard God’s answer...

″We claim it. We retell it, the story that Christ is born, and born again.″ The light of that story can reach into the silent darkness of others’ yearnings and suffering, Campbell says, perhaps heard in the words, ″Yes, Santa ... there is a God.″

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