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Stamps

Last year, I made a series of posts about an alleged controversy regarding whether the Royal Mail was willing to sell religious Christmas stamps:

Royal Mail Christmas Stamps

Royal Mail Christmas Stamps Update

Royal Mail Christmas Stamps Part 3

This Isn’t The Royal Mail Christnas Stamps Blog, Honest

I have now received an email from a friend, telling the same story. The main Christmas stamps this year are on a pantomime theme, but you can get Madonna and Child stamps as an alternative. He says he went to buy Christmas stamps and was only given the ‘secular’ stamps. Checking the Royal Mail site shows the panto stamps are the main ones, but the Madonna and Child ones are available for those who want a more ‘traditional’ image – see here. What is unclear from the Royal Mail is whether it is compulsory for their staff to offer customers a choice. It may be that if they offer a choice, that makes both designs equal in importance. That would contradict their policy of alternating between a religious and a ‘secular’ theme for the stamps. However, the other side is that you have to be ‘in the know’ to ask for the explicitly Christian stamps.

My friend who emailed me today entitled his message ‘Keeping Christ in Christmas’, and that is a wider issue than stamps, although I can see why they are part of the concern. The danger is the continued relegation of Christianity to the private sphere, away from the arena of public truth. That trend has been continuing for centuries: since the Enlightenment, if you believe the late Lesslie Newbigin, and since Thomas Aquinas separated grace and nature, if you believe the late Francis Schaeffer.

Where Christ fits into society’s Christmas (if that is even a valid question) is one symptom of the wider problem: what is the public rôle, if any, of faith? A classic Anglican view, especially in the UK where it would often be linked with established status, would see secular stamps as a threat. It would be about taking the spiritual out of the public sphere. I recall that some years ago George Carey argued against disestablishment on the grounds that it would be a further privatisation of faith. Whether he was right is another matter, but that would be a typical Anglican approach.

A more Radical Reformation (e.g., Mennonite?) view might be rather more ambivalent. Let the state and public sphere do what it will, Christians must get on with being faithful, even if there is opposition, hostility or apathy. We are the ones who keep Christ in Christmas. As we do so, it is part of our witness. Personally, I suspect this approach is more suited to the times we are in, where Christianity is largely out of favour in our society. We are being pushed to the margins. However, that is a potential advantage in the long term should generally postmodern conditions prevail for a long time. Postmodernity often welcomes the idea of truth coming not from powerful places but the margins. This is not the same as the privatisation of faith; it is about recognising that we are exiles in Babylon, a model that is increasingly important to many of us.

A third view might be that of the Revivalist. In a desire to see the Gospel command hearts and minds much more (or ‘as it used to’), there would be fierce protests against the secularisation of Christmas. This is one step on from the establishment view that ‘we are a Christian country’: it sees the issue as one of sin. I long to see a ‘revival’, but find this style unhelpful. Militant Christian protests backed by fervent intercession couched in terms of ‘praying against people’ will not help our cause. 

There are other views we could explore, but it’s late in the evening and I need to finish this. I suggest there is no harm in us asking nicely about the stamps, but we must be careful about our tone and we should not make this a crusade or act as if some terrible injustice has been done to us. The majority non-Christian culture just won’t understand.

Those are my initial thoughts. What do you think?

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About Dave Faulkner

I'm a British Methodist minister, married with two children. I blog from a moderate evangelical-missional-charismatic perspective, with an interest in the 'missional' approach. My interests include Web 2.0, digital photography, contemporary music and watching football (Tottenham Hotspur) and cricket.

Posted on November 26, 2008, in Current Affairs, Religion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Another interesting and thought provoking post – I had read a couple of weeks ago about the two ranges of Christmas stamps.
    If I read you correctly it would seem that like you I think this is one of those really awkward issues for us to deal with. We could as you suggest adopt a number of stances but in one sense we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t because one or other of the differing viewpoints you mention is likely to take issue with us because we may have taken a differing view to them.
    Perhaps the post office are really at fault here! I would have hoped that if a policy was in place it would be adhered to, giving the appearance of being ‘fair’ to both religious and secular stamps. If there is room for two types of Christmas stamp then perhaps the ideal situation would be to have one type as the main one each year with the other type available by request.
    I have to be honest I am not sure that people are unduly concerned (apart from phlatelists) what is on the stamps and if there were a choice between a special stamp for whatever reason or a ‘plain’ stamp at a penny less most folk would go for the cheaper option.

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  2. Thanks for a thoughtful comment, FP. I posted on the subject, because I’ve found Christian friends getting worried by the issue. It may seem trivial to some, but it feels important for others. They feel that an act of religious discrimination is going on, and are naturally upset. I’m not sure that’s the case, although equally I wonder whether the Royal Mail understands the nature of the Christian concern from some quarters. They wouldn’t necessarily know the bigger picture, where some Christians feel a lot of things are going against us in society, and see what might be quite innocent policy decisions as a threat.

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  3. Yes indeed, Will, who proclaims Jesus and what version of him? The latter, of course, is also a problem for the church! Not that we should mind who proclaims Christ (given the generous comments of Paul in Philippians 1), and maybe that’s why I wonder about all the knee-jerk negativism. There, I knew I had to have a biblical basis for my thoughts!

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  1. Pingback: At Week’s End « Ramblings from Red Rose

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