By Stephen McDill
While attending a recent press conference at the Mississippi State Capitol, an MBJ reporter and accompanying photographer noticed something very subtle. Just steps away from the first floor security desk sat a small, plain Nativity.
For the religiously uninitiated, the Nativity is your standard Christmas lawn decoration consisting of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus usually accompanied by sundry livestock, a reference to the traditional birth of Jesus Christ.
Directly across the foyer from the Nativity was an equally discreet sign from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Wisconsin-based humanist group. “State/Church. Keep them separate,” the sign begs in bold lettering. The reverse side wishes passersby a happy Winter Solstice and reminds them that “religion is but a myth that hardens and enslaves minds.”
There’s way too much emotion from both sides when arguing the merits or mishaps of America’s doctrine of the separation of church and state.
Here are a few thoughts. The state Capitol is a place of business- political business. Granted plenty of Christians are involved in Mississippi politics (the state is often dubbed the “buckle of the Bible Belt”). Also, plenty of secular Mississippians are just as active in serving our state.
Let’s look at the numbers. FFRF claims to have 16,000 members nationwide but not one Mississippi chapter is listed on their website. Contrast that with the reported 115,000 Catholics and more than one million Protestants living in the Magnolia State. If we were going by numbers then surely a Nativity is more representative of a Mississippi Christmas than a Winter Solstice sign.
Thankfully, America does not go by numbers when it comes to religion. All are welcome no matter what their boat or plane’s point of origin. Mississippi is no more a theocracy than Massachusetts or California and its as much a melting pot as anywhere else in the country. So unless our state Capitol is ready to make room for Ramadan lanterns, Hindu diyas and Jewish menorahs, maybe the safest symbol to invite next year is the good ole Christmas tree.
Indeed, one such tree towers above both sign and Nativity today in all its glittering splendor, perhaps indicating the country’s most common and truest spirit at Christmastime: a celebration of peace and prosperity. A time of gifts, acts of kindness and maybe some caroling around the fireplace.
Regardless of how you celebrate December, MBJ wishes you a happy rest of the week as you relax with your family and friends. We’ll meet you back here on Monday.
Holidays and Holy Days
By Stephen McDill