Baby, It’s Cold…Inside
by Troy Cady
It has been interesting reading various responses to this year’s Christmas Culture War battle. Many Christians have already been upset for years now about a perceived threat to their liberty by being told they should greet people in public this time of year by saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
No one gets a fine or time served as punishment, mind you, but the accompanying disdain that results from transgressing this new social more extracts enough of a penalty to embitter the average evangelical.
And now many of them are upset that the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Dean Martin has been removed from radio playlists because listeners have complained it supports a narrative that disempowers women.
The way I see it, the response to this by some Christians has been to take offense at the taking of offense by people who want the song removed. Many folks (Christians among them) reason that it’s just an innocent song about some playful back-and-forth between a man and woman who fancy one another. The man wants the woman of his romantic interest to stay a while longer (presumably because he wants to snog a bit) and the woman protests demurely, “I really should go. I ought to say no.” But the man persists, no matter how many times she says no. One of his ploys to get her to stay is to argue, “Stay here by the fire. Baby, it’s cold outside.”
Those who are upset by the song’s removal argue: “Good grief! Can’t we have any fun anymore? Lighten up! It’s just an innocent flirtation. When will the Thought Police take a break, already? People these days are offended by the smallest things. Bunch o’ snowflakes...”
I can understand and appreciate why some of my Christian friends might be upset by the song’s removal, but I must admit: as a pastor, I’m a little perplexed at this response—and I find no small measure of irony in it.
When I first became a Christian, I was VERY conservative because I came to faith in the midst of a conservative Christian cultural environment. By “conservative” I do not mean Republican, necessarily. I don’t mean it in a political sense; I mean it in a social sense.
I came to faith just a couple months before I turned 15 and most of the Christians I knew then (the Christians who were part of the church we attended) frowned upon things like: card playing, gambling, cussing, drinking alcohol, smoking, premarital sex, listening to “secular” music, dancing, and going to the movies. In fact, when I first came to faith, I thought that listening to any kind of rock music was sinful, even so-called “Christian” rock. If it had a beat to it and felt too…pleasurable…it had to be wrong. I listened to a taped seminar once where the teacher taught Christians to burn their secular music. Though I didn’t go as far as that, I did get rid of it all. (In fact, when I was 19 I asked the woman who is now my wife to get rid of her secular music tapes. Crazy, I know!)
The point is: though this was not entirely representative of all evangelicals of the 1980s, it was not uncommon. Though many look on this now as positively medieval, there was (I must assert) something amazing about it (in a good way). For all the faults of such a mindset, it must be said that evangelicals of that stripe did what they did because they wanted to be holy. That kind of passion for personal piety and dedication to it, despite its unpopularity, is rare these days.
Of course, one could argue that a better understanding of holiness causes one not to retreat from the world but to be fully present to it. Biblical holiness is a holiness of closeness, identification, and solidarity.
At any rate, during this era of evangelicalism, Billy Graham was kind of like our pope. If ever there was a man who knew how to show people what it means to be a Christian, it was him.
And one of the things people really respected about him was his commitment to addressing some classic sins that had taken down too many big-time preachers in his day: greed, power, and sex.
He took the sin of greed seriously by limiting his income and being held accountable to it by others. He took the sin of power-mongering seriously by limiting the number of speaking engagements he accepted. Finally, he addressed the many sexual infidelities of his televangelist counterparts by refusing to meet alone with a woman, in private and in public.
This last measure had come to be known among evangelicals as The Billy Graham Rule (and it is still known as that today). Of all the rules Billy abided by, this one (it seems to me) garnered the most respect among his fellow evangelicals and I would assert that probably most evangelical pastors adopted the same practice prior to the year 2000. In fact, The Billy Graham Rule is still prevalent today among a good portion of evangelical pastors, if not the majority.
In any case, most evangelical Christians today would say that, if a man is going to meet alone with a woman (especially in a private place, like an apartment or home) they certainly should avoid having sex together, unless they are married. That one is still a big no-no.
Because of this, many evangelical Christians still frown upon a man being alone with a woman when they are unmarried, especially if they are romantically interested in each other. They reason that it’s like asking an alcoholic to be a bartender; it’s just best to avoid putting yourself in a space of temptation.
With that in mind, I find it a bit ironic that evangelical Christians (of all people) would object to the removal of a song from the radio which portrays a scene where the unmarried man and woman are fixin’ to get it on.
After all, I remember the days when Christians were instructed to write the owner of a certain convenience store requesting they stop selling Playboy—or the Christian would get their entire church to stop buying from that store. Yes, there was a time when some Christians would have written to the radio station themselves, saying, “Take that song off…or else.” At the very least, there was a time when Christians would have avoided even listening to such a song or such a station that played that kind of song. “Why support something so…sinful?” we reasoned. “Why invite temptation?”
This evangelical cultural background truly causes me to wonder why I have read so many posts from evangelicals in the past couple of weeks advocating that the song should be kept on the air. “Why the turnabout?” I ask. What has changed?
The culture wars. Many evangelical Christians today are simply tired of being told what they may or may not say, do and think. They remember when they could wish someone a Merry Christmas without being told it’s insensitive.
They lament the pushing out of God in the public sphere and they feel bullied by “the left.” It was the same bullies who pushed prayer out of schools. It is the same bullies who twist “freedom of religion” by advocating that, if one religion is going to be represented visually in a government space, every religion has the right to be represented visually in that same space.
To many evangelicals, pluralism is a four-letter word.
And you can add “tolerance” to that list, too. “The bullies use tolerance like a weapon,” the evangelical observes. Those on the left are tolerant of everyone except evangelicals, they feel. Everyone is free to think and say what they want, but when the evangelical tries to say what they think, they are pushed down as intolerant—and we can’t tolerate that now, can we? “They’re just tolerant of everyone who agrees with them. That’s the truth,” …so says the evangelical.
“Besides,” the evangelical thinks, “America was founded as a Christian nation. Just when—and why—did we lose that distinctive? And how can we return to it?”
This is the context. The culture war has more nuance to it than that, to be sure—but from an evangelical standpoint, this captures the crux of it. It’s the “liberal policing” that drives them mad.
And this is why many are responding with mockery and defiance to the insinuation that a song like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is unhelpful if we are to overthrow old habits that enthrone cavalier attitudes when a woman says no to a man’s advances. Evangelicals experience this declaration as nothing more than coercion by a group of leftist bullies. Many evangelicals feel that, not only is such a declaration just plain silly, it reflects a deeper rationale that lies at the very heart of everything that is wrong in America today.
This is why American evangelicals spend a lot of time, energy and money advancing a particular interpretation of the First Amendment—and all the other amendments, for that matter. They reason that, if America was founded as a Christian nation, the Constitution is part of the Christian’s charter. This is why some evangelicals expend more energy in the fray of political discourse than they do studying the Bible or simply expounding its simple message of a God who is love itself.
The idea and ideal of free speech is often the center-point of such cultural wrangling. American evangelicals spend a lot of time defending free speech partly because they know what it feels like to be denied free speech. Sometimes, what they want to say is labeled as “hate speech” by others, even when they are trying to express their ideas in a respectful way. They resent the labeling of different viewpoints as “hateful.” So, surprisingly, you will sometimes see evangelicals defending the venom of white supremacists (yes, in the name of Christianity).
“Our way of life is at stake, our freedom of speech,” they reason. “What will become of Christianity in America if we are not free to speak up? Indeed, what will become of America itself?”
This is cause for war, we reason. Someone must take a stand and do what is right.
But how does one fight a culture war, anyway? It appears to me that many evangelicals have chosen to fight the culture war with the very materials that created the war in the first place. As a pastor, this is troubling to me.
Related to this is the strategy of fighting the culture war via the arsenal of capitalism. I alluded to this strategy above when I referenced the practice of boycotting a certain seller unless that seller brings their practices in line with what is considered to be proper and good by whoever is concerned. So, Christians have historically boycotted stores (like Target or Starbucks) and products by sponsors of unseemly television programs to get a certain program cancelled.
The problem with using this strategy to fight a battle is that the same strategy can be used against you—and such a strategy tends to be coercive or, at best, manipulative, instead of invitational.
Of interest on this front: this is precisely what we see in the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” debacle, but it is not without precedent.
It is now fairly well-known that many Americans have decided to boycott Chik-Fil-A because that company has contributed to charities that are hurtful to many gay and lesbian people. You have the right to disagree with someone’s lifestyle, but the minute you do something to bring harm to that person is the minute you stop getting my support, financial or otherwise. So goes the logic; we will hit you where it hurts: in the pocketbook.
In this way, both left and right have chosen to fight the battle on at least two fronts: constitutionally and commercially. The first argues for competing ideas concerning what free speech entails—and whether there is a limit to such a freedom. The second, however, tends to lay aside the question of free speech to achieve a goal of cultural engineering. It uses the forces of capitalism to obtain a competing vision of what entails a just (moral? good?) society. The war consists, in fact, of competing “moralities” or “goods.” What one group sees as moral, the other sees as immoral. So the question becomes, “What is just in the face of such variant visions of morality? How do we live side-by-side in a peaceful way with those who differ from us? Should we just 'make peace' with it all or should we fight for what we think is right, even though others disagree?”
These two battle fronts are important to keep in mind when it comes to the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” controversy. In particular, it has been interesting to me to see some evangelical Christians playing the “free speech” card in response. “Whatever happened to free speech?” some have retorted.
But the removal of the song from the radio playlist was, properly speaking, only incidentally an issue of free speech. The weapon used in this instance was good ol’-fashioned commercialism. Radio is a business and a group of people simply let that business know they didn’t want that song being played anymore because it reinforces norms that shouldn’t be normal anymore.
It’s the same reason people object to our current president’s way of communicating. Many have already made the observation that the president’s frequent bullish tone is not something we should normalize in our way of being together. We want a society of civility, even if we disagree with each other. If there were a way to legally curtail his arrogant and denigrating way of speaking about others, many people would take it.
Apparently, there were enough people who objected to the song that the radio station decided it was in their best interest (as a business) to remove it from the playlist. But evangelicals really have no right to object to this strategy, because they have historically fought the same war with the same weapon. If you want the song put back on the playlist, pick up that weapon yourself, at any rate. After all, it’s there for your use whenever you want it. And it’s so powerful.
We know that by experience, unfortunately. It’s like a drug that you just want to keep using.
As it’s Christmas, I need to ask: “How is a Christian supposed to fight a war, anyway?”
Though the Bible speaks about “spiritual battle,” the message of Jesus’ life has something so radical to offer us, it should stop us all in our tracks.
First of all, the weapons of the Christian are not of this world. In fact, the only weapon Jesus ever used was not a weapon at all. It was the cross; it was a weapon used against him.
His answer was love. When they said “die”, he picked up love. He picked up love for those who were killing him, for those who wanted to silence him, to take his voice away.
In infancy, he had no words; and, in death, he had few. His life of love was his message.
He could have defended himself, but he didn’t. He let love be his defense.
One of the things I often say when training others on conflict transformation is that the worst response you can offer when attacked is to defend yourself or attack back—but it is typically the first response of most people.
This is why it saddens me that so many Christians feel compelled to defend…a song—instead of stopping to listen. To be sure, they feel compelled to defend more than a song. To them, it is a way of life, an ideal of freedom—and the song just happens to represent the larger issue at stake.
That is also why it matters to those who wanted the song removed. It represents a larger issue at stake. It’s not just about “the song.”
That is why I advocate that, when things like this happen, Christians need to stop long enough to listen, to enter into the world of those who have raised an objection. If we do that in this case, we might hear them saying, “It’s not okay to dismiss a woman when she says no to a man. Shut up and listen to her, dude. Be a gentleman. No means no. This has to change, already.”
To be sure, the song is popular because it clearly resonates with a cultural script that is familiar to us. So, some people have put their finger on this song and have identified that the cultural script it reflects has hurt countless women over the years, even if only inadvertently and, seemingly, in innocence. Personally, I’m grateful these listeners did what is surely unpopular for many Americans by saying, “Enough. We shouldn’t normalize this anymore, or dismiss it casually.”
You might say, “Lighten up”—but to women who have been hurt because they’ve been told to “lighten up,” your word is not a healing word. As Christians, we should be the first to hear that pain, even between the lines of a “cute” song.
I want to appeal to my fellow Christians (as I have done in the past) to stop reacting in such a knee-jerk way when someone from the “left” challenges your assumptions or cultural preferences. Our cynical or embittered responses reveal to others a smallness of spirit, a coldness, a callousness of heart that fails to take into account the experience of those different from us. And, ironically, nothing could be further from the warmth of the Christmas spirit than such a cynical, combative response.
Baby, it’s cold inside. Warm up; slow down and listen. Lay down your defenses, your weapons.
Remember: the weapons you use can (and most likely will) be used against you—the very same weapons. When that happens, it is the utmost hypocrisy for us to cry foul.
So, why not just pick up the cross—not as a weapon, but as a sign of humble love and service? If others see you pick up the cross, maybe they’ll see the mysterious, beautiful wisdom in picking it up themselves. And, think about it: if everyone picks up the cross, we will have no more war. Yes, the cross is the one “weapon” that wins the war—because it isn’t a weapon.
Pick up the cross. See the other in their humanity, their experience, both their pain and strength. Stop fighting with the weapons of this world. Show a better way. It’s infectious.