A few days before the summer solstice—Stephen Hawthorne's first Christmas in Bolivia—he saw women selling moss in the street, and he bought some for a manger scene. He and his wife arranged their Nativity figures on the moss, put some lights around it, and thought it looked lovely. Soon, members of the evangelical church they attended dropped by. "They were absolutely horrified when they saw what we'd done," says Hawthorne. "We said, 'What's the matter?' They said, 'This is idolatry.'"

Oddly enough, Hawthorne says, when he and his family visited one of the churches that condemned manger scenes, "We in our turn were horrified to see this huge blow-up figure of Santa Claus on top of the church. It was a lesson to us about how people give meaning to symbols."

Hawthorne, who has lived in the country 19 years as a medical missionary with Serving in Mission (SIM), says it's not difficult to understand why Bolivian evangelicals tend toward iconoclasm: "Everybody who's not a Christian would have a little box somewhere in their house, and there will be a little figure of a saint that they'll pray to. They'll look to a figure—and it's not just a nice reminder."

In fact Dave Hoffman, a vice president at John Stott Ministries, says Bolivian pastors told him they had to quit putting Nativity scenes outside their churches because "people that were just walking by the church would actually stop and worship the figure of the baby Jesus in the manger."

But evangelicals in Latin America aren't just fighting for obedience to the second commandment. Increasingly, Hoffman says, they are declining to celebrate Christmas at all, let alone decorate. Their reasons have to do with distancing themselves from what they see as pagan worship ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

June
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
Current IssueCambodia’s Child Sex Industry Is Dwindling—And They Have Christians to Thank
Cambodia’s Child Sex Industry Is Dwindling—And They Have Christians to Thank Subscriber Access Only
From rescues to legal reform, a faithful minority changed the country’s criminal landscape.
RecommendedCover Story: Jesus vs. Paul
Jesus vs. PaulSubscriber Access Only
Many biblical scholars have noted that Jesus preached almost exclusively about the kingdom of heaven, while Paul highlighted justification by faith—and not vice versa. What gives?
TrendingISIS Kills 29 Christians on Church Bus Trip to Popular Monastery
ISIS Kills 29 Christians on Church Bus Trip to Popular Monastery
(UPDATED) Egypt cancels Ramadan’s opening celebration as Copts resist revenge.
Editor's PickDo This in Remembrance
Do This in Remembrance
Participating in the “high holy day” of American civil religion is beneficial for Christians, so long as we do so thoughtfully.
Christianity Today
Always Summer, Never Christmas
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

December 2008

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.