Debates about the place of Christianity in public life regularly resurface in Europe. Recently, after the Pentecost Monday holiday, the mayor of Grenoble, France, sparked controversy when he argued French society has evolved beyond religious days off. Pointing to the large number of secular people who don’t follow the church calendar and Muslims who celebrate different religious days, Éric Piolle proposed removing Christian holidays from the civic calendar.
The French currently celebrate Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Pentecost Monday, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, All Saint’s Day, and Christmas. Those days off could be replaced, Piolle said, by days to commemorate key moments in French history.
We asked five evangelical leaders from French-speaking Europe: Should Christians embrace proposals to replace public religious holidays with secular ones?
Pierre-Sovann Chauny, systematic theology professor at the Faculté Jean Calvin, Aix-en-Provence:
No. Removing Christian religious feasts from the civil calendar should be rejected. We need to maintain an awareness of what French history owes to Christianity and should continue to emphasize the public character of the spiritual life of Christians. These holidays also provide Christians with opportunities to bear witness throughout the year to the life, death, resurrection, and reign of Christ. Finally, the existence of these holidays consolidates our religious freedom. Their removal could, on the contrary, be a step toward persecution.
Fabien Fourcasse, pastor of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Amiens:
I'd say no. It’s our tradition. Besides that, the presence of religious holidays on the calendar expresses something of God's plan for society. Too often, believers confine themselves to God's plan for the individual. By celebrating these holidays publicly, we indicate that God has a plan for the whole of creation: humankind, but also animals, plants, minerals, and so on. But promoting the presence of Christianity in the public sphere calls on believers to proclaim and live according to God’s plan, and allow more people to know Christ.
Victoria Déclaudure, author and Assemblies of God pastor in Angers:
I’d say yes. No biblical text requires evangelical believers to celebrate any particular day. Some of the proposed secular holidays, such as the celebration of the end of slavery or the advance of women’s rights, would resonate very positively with the gospel. It’s hard to imagine doing away with Christmas or Easter, though, which are deeply rooted in European culture and history, and which are celebrated by everyone according to their own sensibilities.
Jean-René Moret, author and pastor of the Evangelical Church of Cologny, Switzerland:
Yes. There are no mandatory holidays for Christians, according to the New Testament. Following Paul, one can consider all days as equal, or pay attention to particular days (Rom. 14:5). The situation where Christians have been able to determine the calendar of entire societies is atypical; our mission is not to maintain it. On the other hand, where possible, we should insist that believers of different faiths be allowed to take the days off they need for religious holidays.
Gilles Boucomont, author and Protestant United Church of France pastor in Paris-Belleville:
Let’s reevangelize the country instead of fighting over days! Massive de-Christianization means that having mainly Christian dates for public holidays seems out of step with the realities of French society. Only 10 percent of Christians are somewhat devout, and some of these holidays don’t even unite all French Christians, like August 15, celebrating the Assumption of Mary, and Ascension Thursday, which isn’t even celebrated by Catholics in other countries, like Spain.