Christmas zeal amid the malls is questionedA broad-based...


December 24, 1992

Christmas zeal amid the malls is questioned

A broad-based committee of Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders has strongly criticized what the group calls the "excessive commercialization" of Christmas, but some members of the clergy think the statement goes too far.

Their reservations indicate how fine the line can be between approved and disapproved gift-buying and gift-giving during this season.

"Good will toward all, concern for our communities and love for our families are goals that come from the heart. They cannot be purchased hastily in department stores," says the document, signed by a group of 24 ministers, priests and bishops assembled by the Center for the Study of Commercialism in Washington.

The group included Bishop Herbert W. Chilstrom of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Roman Catholic Bishops John McCarthy of Austin, Texas, and Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit; the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame University; and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, a United Methodist minister who was a signer, said he agreed with most of the statement. But he thought it went too far when it decried the performance of Christmas music by church choirs in shopping malls.

The document asks "all people of faith to speak out against the over-commercialization of Christmas in our media and malls. . . . We have actually witnessed church choirs performing at malls in 'celebration' of the season. We need to inform the advertisers and the stores of our abiding concern."

While agreeing with the general thrust of the appeal, Dr. Wogaman said, "That one detail made me uneasy. After all, the shopping mall is the marketplace of contemporary society. The statement seems to convey the impression that there is something wrong with having a marketplace. This overshoots the mark."

The Rev. Vivian McCarthy, pastor of Rodgers Forge United Methodist Church who was once a student of Dr. Wogaman at Wesley Theological Seminary, said she shared his reservations: "A church choir in a mall is one way to combat the over-commercialization of Christmas."

Both she and Dr. Wogaman said they shared, however, the interdenominational committee's concern that "the delirium of commercial Christmas devours some, leaves others in ruinous debt, and punishes the poor for whom the joy of Christmas always seems a dollar away."

Ms. McCarthy, who encourages purchasing such "alternative" Christmas gifts as the products of Third World artists and craftsmen, said, "I'm not real crazy about the emphasis we give to Santa Claus, but if done right it can be used as a bridge -- to tell children the real story of Christmas."

B'nai B'rith Women:

Daniel Duck, a 6-foot-tall, "goofy looking" bird with an operatic voice, will be singing Christmas carols tomorrow in the halls of the pediatric section of Baltimore's University of Maryland Medical Center, thanks to a national organization of Jewish women.

Other costumed characters entertaining children in the hospital as part of the Humor Cart program of B'nai B'rith Women will be Dr. Lollipop, described as a "bumbling medical practitioner," and an assistant called Nurse Beddy Pan. The role of Dr. Lollipop will be played by Judy Goldblum-Carlton of Columbia.

To help bedridden children feel better at Christmas, the group's volunteers, some dressed as clowns, also plan to wheel a cart stocked with games, books and videos to the hospital's rooms, beginning at 11 a.m.

Anyone who would like to assist with the project should call Ms. Goldblum-Carlton at 964-0582.

Quaker concern:

The Middle Atlantic Region of the American Friends Service Committee, from its Baltimore offices at 4806 York Road, has expressed sympathy for both Palestinian and Israeli victims of violence in the Middle East.

But it called the people who have been killed on both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "silent witnesses to the futility of acts which only serve to provoke further violence and diminish even more the hope for peace."

Saying that "collective punishments of Palestinians, such as expulsions, curfews, house demolitions and mass arrests" merely condemn the people of Israel to further violence, the group urged serious negotiations as the only means to achieving peace in the region.

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