Storm in a Coffee Cup -- Attacking Stereotypes in Place of Reality

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: A new holiday Starbucks cup is viewed on November 12, 2015 in New York City. The coffee giant has
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: A new holiday Starbucks cup is viewed on November 12, 2015 in New York City. The coffee giant has come under criticism by some for leaving any Christmas or traditional holiday signage off of the red cup. While Starbucks has said there is no cultural or political message to the design, critics claim that the company doesn't want to offend non-Christians or those who don't celebrate Christmas. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

As I look through my Facebook feed, I see a lot of people causing a lot of fuss about a coffee cup. By this time, you will undoubtedly know what I'm referring to. Starbucks' newest cup for the December holidays is red. Nothing more. Nothing less. No 'Merry Christmas', no Bible quotes, no holly, no Christmas trees. Just secular nihilistic redness.

As an evangelical Chaplain at Harvard, there seem to be two engines which power my Facebook newsfeed. One is evangelical Christianity, which is driven from people from churches and family throughout my life, including the students and people I love and serve at this school. The other engine is activist intellectual progressivism, which comes from the people I have come to know across Harvard while being here. (Oh, and these aren't mutually exclusive, there's plenty of overlap.) So what have these engines been producing in response to the Cup of Cultural Decline?

Well, the activist intellectual progressivist engine is unsurprisingly producing troves and troves of links to articles, editorials, and blog posts talking about how ridiculous the evangelical Christians are for proclaiming a 'War on Christmas' over a coffee cup. They're pointing out how Starbucks in fact has a Christmas blend to keep in step with the Christian privilege which evangelicals are so desperate to retain. The furor over this cup is cited as further evidence of how out of touch and ridiculous these nameless, faceless evangelicals are.

And the evangelical engine is posting what? Presumably, they're producing the furor about the secularization of Christmas, right? Well, actually it was silence initially. Not a silence of controlled restraint, but a silence of not caring. Then they started posting things like this:

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Out of the many evangelical Christians on my Facebook - some of whom don't hesitate to say outrageous things at times - I am yet to see any complaints about this cup. Even the people who usually love fueling the war on Christmas seem disinterested. Sarah Palin - who wrote an entire book essentially bemoaning how the liberal world is attacking Christmas - does not see a problem with Starbucks' new cups. (Is it bad that my first instinct was that somehow Starbucks must be supporting her political campaigning?) She goes a step further, though, in her usual fashion, stating that this is all some well-crafted liberal conspiracy to make Christians look bad. Bill O'Reilly usually has a lot to say about Christmas, but he's fine with this cup. Sure, Donald Trump wants to boycott Starbucks, but despite his attempts to paint himself as a defender of Christianity, the lack of any evidence of knowledge of his 'favorite book' seems to suggest that this self-portrait is mostly a political ploy.

Any statements of an organized liberal conspiracy are ridiculous, but I do think this entire 'controversy' fits into a common category of attacking a stereotype rather than a reality. Stereotypes always follow a pattern - a few extreme individuals are taken as representatives of a wider population, and become a straw man who is easy to defeat. If you've become irritated by those who are offended by this cup, then try this: Count how many people you actually know who have expressed concern about this cup.

There are certainly issues which are widespread among evangelicals which are rightly critiqued. There certainly are some people who have complained about these cups. But they're few and far between, and generally aren't leaders or representatives of evangelicals. It mostly seems to stem back to one guy and one viral video.

This coffee cup doesn't tell us anything about Jesus, Christmas, Starbucks, or evangelical Christians. But I'm hoping it does teach us something about how quickly imaginary problems can become reasons to stereotype entire people groups.