Mayor Pulls Nativity, Then Reinstates It

Mount Vernon (Ohio) Mayor Richard K. Mavis said on a radio call-in show that he was eliminating the Nativity scene from the city’s public square this Christmas season to avoid controversy.

The switchboard lit up. People were upset. By the afternoon, after consulting with legal experts, the mayor went back on local radio station WMVO and said the Nativity scene would be displayed after all.

Tuesday’s fuss over the display of religious Christmas decorations on the historic square of the Knox County seat might have come unusually early this year.

But it is a reminder of a debate that reverberates every year across Ohio, from state parks to cities.

Is it appropriate and legal for governments to display the manger, baby Jesus, and Mary and Joseph on public land at Christmas, or is it an unlawful violation of the separation between church and state?

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld government-sponsored Nativity scenes when they are displayed in context with other, secular symbols of the Christmas holiday such as Santa Claus, reindeer and a tree.

That is what Mount Vernon now plans, Mavis said yesterday.

The Mount Vernon Nativity scene has been displayed for years in the traditional, conservative community about 40 miles northeast of Columbus. It’s a cherished part of the Christmas celebration, city Councilman John Fair said yesterday.

Fair said the mayor told the council late last year that he had received a complaint about the display. “I said, ‘Fine, let the person sue us.’

I think other people agreed.”

Mavis said two Knox County residents complained to him last year that the Nativity scene was unconstitutional. The city law director agreed because it was a stand-alone display and that is why the mayor initially decided against displaying it this year.

Tuesday morning, a city worker moved the Nativity scene to Mount Vernon Nazarene University, where it was to be displayed this year. E-mails circulated immediately that the Nativity scene had been moved, and someone called in to the radio show to ask whether the rumors were true.

“I said yes. That lit up the switchboard,” Mavis said.

Mavis said he changed his mind after doing some research. Officials in Lancaster and Delaware told him that their Nativity scenes are constitutional because they incorporate secular holiday decorations in the same spot.

Other central Ohio communities have dealt with Nativity challenges.

Reynoldsburg in 2006 skirted controversy by ending its tradition of including a Nativity scene in its municipal holiday display, leaving Frosty the snowman and Santa Claus by themselves.

Whitehall temporarily removed its Nativity scene outside city hall last year after someone complained to the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The Nativity scene is lawful because it’s part of an overall holiday display that includes secular decorations, and it will be back this season, Whitehall Mayor John Wolfe said yesterday.

“It is kind of bogus, but it would probably pass constitutional muster these days,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the foundation’s co-president, of such displays.

“It depends on the circumstances, and where it is,” she added, noting that another U.S. Supreme Court ruling disallowed a Nativity scene, even though it included a menorah and a Christmas tree, because it was placed too close to the entrance of a county government building in Pittsburgh.

Gov. Ted Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister, ordered Christian creches back into two state parks last year while rejecting efforts by Zoroastrians and pagans to add their own, nontraditional holiday displays.

“The governor believes that Nativity scenes are an established and appropriate part of our American holiday displays, and he does not believe that holiday displays at state parks need to come down,” spokesman Keith Dailey said.

Town Drops Christmas From Parade, Company Withdraws

A famed fireworks company is pulling out of a holiday boat parade because “Christmas” was dropped from the event’s name.

Fireworks by Grucci won’t lend its sparkle to Patchogue’s Nov. 23 parade — decorated yachts on the Patchogue River — because the organizers have renamed it the Patchogue Holiday Boat Parade. It was the Patchogue Christmas Boat Parade last year, when the Grucci company donated $5,000 worth of fireworks.

The company’s vice president, Philip Butler, who has criticized the secularization of Christmas in the past, said parade organizers were “using all the themes of Christmas and plagiarizing all those themes.”

Organizers in the town on Long Island, near New York City, said the parade has had several names over its roughly 15-year existence. The name was changed again this year after complaints that the use of “Christmas” seemed to make the parade less inclusive.

“When I think about fireworks, I don’t think about Christmas anyway,” Mayor Paul Pontieri said.

Denver Allows Pumpkin Sales, But Not Christmas Trees

With the struggling economy, many Denver churches are looking for new ways to raise money.

Ubiquitous pumpkin patches in church parking lots are one example.

But some churches want to know why, if they can sell pumpkins, they can’t sell Christmas trees.

City legal analysts said it’s a gray area in the city ordinances because of zoning issues.

At Calvary Temple, the pumpkin profits help pay for children’s programs, and after a decade of selling during the fall, the church decided to try out Christmas trees in the winter.

But Pastor Todd Walker said a city inspector told them they needed a permit to sell trees because the church is in a residential area.

Denver Council member Charlie Brown is proposing a clarification that would allow occasional church sales.

“Pumpkins were classified as agricultural, therefore they could sell them. Christmas trees were not. This is the silliness of the ordinance,” said Brown. “If they’re allowed to sell pumpkins now, why should they not be allowed to sell Christmas trees? I mean, there is kind of a connection there.”

In the Mayor-Council meeting Tuesday, though, some City Council members expressed concern that the proposal is too broad and would invite too many sales in residential areas.

AFA Launches “It’s Ok to Say Merry Christmas” Campaign

A major conservative Christian group defending “family values” said Saturday, October 18, it has launched a campaign to counter attempts by companies and individuals to “ban” Merry Christmas greetings. The move comes shortly after at least five chaplains were fired for praying in “Jesus name,” adding to concerns among evangelical Christians that speaking about Jesus Christ outside church gatherings is becoming increasingly difficult in the United States.

“It’s hard to believe that there are companies and individuals who want to ban “Merry Christmas” and replace it with “Holiday Greetings” because, they say, they don’t want to offend anyone,” said Donald E. Wildmon, Chairman of the American Family Association (AFA).

He said his organization has launched ‘Project Merry Christmas’ which includes printing buttons and glossy stickers with the text: “It’s OK to say Merry Christmas !”

“Christians can take a stand and proclaim to our communities that Christmas is not just a winter holiday focused on materialism, but a “holy day” when we celebrate the birth of our Savior. We can do it in a gentle and effective way by wearing the ‘It’s OK to say Merry Christmas’ button,” Wildmon said.

The action seems part of a wider attempt to defend evangelism and open talk about Jesus Christ in America, following outrage among Christian groups that the governor of the American state of Virginia, Governor Tim Kaine accepted the allegedly forced resignation of five Virginia State Police Chaplains after they prayed publicly “in Jesus’ name.”

Police Superintendent W. Steven Flaherty reportedly enforced a strict “non-sectarian” prayer policy at all public gatherings, censoring and excluding Christian prayers. He then accepted the resignation of five chaplains who said thet refused to deny Jesus “or violate their conscience” by “watering down” their prayers.

House Republican Leader Morgan Griffith and Republican Delegate Charles W. Carrico issued statements defending the chaplains, questioning Governor Kaine’s role in terminating the chaplains. They vowed to introduce legislation “protecting police chaplains’ right” to pray according to their own conscience.

Governor Kaine suggested he himself was being persecuted by the politicians. “It is disappointing that Delegate Griffith would make such a political attack on Governor Kaine about his faith,” his office said in published remarks.

AFA’s Wildmon said his group’s Project Merry Christmas may open doors for the Gospel. “Some might think simply wearing a button or displaying a Glossy Sticker is a small thing, but God can use small things to make a big point, and to create opportunities to share the Good News. And what a great time to do that at Christmas,” he said.

Democrat Accused of Voting “Present” on Christmas

For the second time in a week, Republican Anne Northup has criticized U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat, for failing to support a 2007 federal resolution honoring Christmas.

Northup, 60, who is seeking to regain Louisville’s 3rd District congressional seat that she lost to Yarmuth two years ago, mentioned the vote yesterday in a meeting with The Courier-Journal editorial board.

She also questioned Yarmuth about it Friday in a debate at the Louisville Forum.

“I don’t know why he didn’t vote for Christmas,” she said in yesterday’s interview with the editorial board which was broadcast live on the newspaper’s Web site. She noted Yarmuth previously had voted for resolutions honoring Muslim and Hindu religious observances.

Yarmuth, 60, said yesterday Northup’s comments — coming nearly a year after the vote and about three weeks before the election — “seem less a sincere concern than a pure political attack.”

He said he voted “present” instead of in favor of the December 2007 Christmas resolution because he thought it “failed to properly honor a sacred religious holiday,” according to a statement from spokesman Christopher Hartman. Yarmuth was one of eight House members who voted present.

Yarmuth offered a similar explanation Oct. 10 before the Louisville Forum, where Northup used her single chance to question her opponent to ask him about his vote on the Christmas resolution.

“You were there but you couldn’t bring yourself to vote for that resolution,” Northup said.

Yarmuth, appearing exasperated, said he voted present to protest what he thought was a resolution that trivialized Christmas because it followed “meaningless” resolutions, such as one designating “Watermelon Month” and another creating “National Marina Day.”

“When we had much more serious problems to deal with, I decided to vote present as a way to protest,” he said.

Resolutions honoring people or events are common in Congress.

Yarmuth later issued a letter of apology to constituents, saying his vote of present on Christmas — while voting in favor of resolutions such as the one honoring Ramadan, the Islamic holy month — was not meant to slight other religions as less important.

Yarmuth used his single question to Northup at the debate to ask her about her proposal to allow private investment of some Social Security funds.

Northup yesterday told the editorial board she was skeptical of Yarmuth’s “various explanations” on the Christmas vote and said she believes it shows he’s “too liberal.”

“There are some people who feel that Republicans and Christians and Evangelicals are somehow all aligned and he’s on the other side,” she said.

Northup insisted her criticism about the Christmas vote has nothing to do with the fact the Yarmuth is Jewish, saying “No, no, no!”

Neither Northup nor a campaign spokesman could be reached late yesterday.

Yarmuth, in his letter last year to constituents explaining his vote, said he is very respectful of Christians and Christmas.

“I’ve celebrated Christmas all my life and some of my best memories both as a child and a parent are of waking up Christmas morning and unwrapping presents under our family tree,” it said.

Energy Costs, Red Tape Cause UK’s Biggest House Display to Go Dark

Bernard and Denise Lumsden have decided to stop a 20-year tradition of covering their house in decorations – featuring some 50,000 bulbs – because they can no longer afford it.

The pair, from Brislington, Bristol, last year had a £1,200 electricity bill – double the cost of the previous year.

And rising energy prices would likely have seen the cost skyrocket further this year.

The couple also have to pay more than £300 to make sure their grotto-like semi is safe for the public.

So despite the display raising £15,000 for children’s charities, Mr Lumsden, 58, is now selling his collection of lights, decorations and accessories.

Their house is turned into a grotto

The father-of-three, a retired lorry driver, said: “We are both so sad and choked up about it. Just talking about it is upsetting.

“We are going to miss seeing the big smiling faces on the children and the mums, dads and their grandparents.

“Three generations have been coming to see your lights and it’s going to be very weird not having them around.

“With all the electricity costs, the red tape we have decided to stop. Npower looked into our bill and we had to tell them that it was the light display.”

In 2006, the Lumsdens’ home in Savoy Road was crowned the best decorated house in the country, after a vote on national television.

In its heyday the place was adorned inside and out with dazzling lights and decorations.

Colorado Springs Debates Christmas Debates

It’s 77 days until Christmas – a time of year when some teachers get a little nervous about what they can or can’t do in the classroom:

Is it OK for the choir to sing “Silent Night?” Can they wear sweatshirts with Santa on them? Can they put up a tree in the classroom?

To help them tiptoe through the holly without legal folly, Falcon School District 49’s school board is considering a revision to the district’s Commitment to Religious Neutrality policy.

The revised policy would require the school district’s attorneys each fall to research case law, judicial interpretations of new laws or resolutions, and other legal matters on religious expression and federal holiday observances in schools. In turn, district officials would provide guidelines to teachers and other staff in September.

The board will vote on the proposal Thursday at its 6:30 p.m. meeting in the administration building at 10850 East Woodmen Rd.

Board member Mark Shook, who presented the resolution during a recent board work session, thinks such information will help teachers “not be intimidated by misinformation,” and be able to plan events without worry.

“There is a lot of rumor and incorrect information floating around out there all the time, and this should clear that up,” Shook said.

The change is not geared to putting an end to school celebrations, but to ensure that the constitutional rights of staff and students to observe celebrations aren’t denied, he said.
Board member Kent Clawson said the policy would largely protect teachers.

“Every year there are questions from teachers who want to do some holiday project. This would give them guidance.”

But it is not without some controversy – especially because the wording refers specifically to Christmas.

Kelly Jo Salling-Davies, whose daughter attends elementary school in the district, attended the work session where the change was proposed. The district’s religion neutrality regulation already addresses such questions, she said. It states that it’s permissible to teach the history of religion, comparative religion and religious influences in art, music, literature and social studies.

“My concern is why tack on a paragraph that deals only with Christmas. Doesn’t that promote Christmas?”

She sent an e-mail to the board suggesting that if they amend the regulation, it should be done in a neutral way so it isn’t subject to a legal challenge. To do that, she believes the policy should refer to the “religious holidays,” not “Christmas holidays.”

Shook said the resolution specifies Christmas because it’s the holiday that brings on questions always arise. He said there will probably be discussion of that issue during the meeting. “But I don’t think we need to mention every holiday. There is no reason to write ‘War and Peace’ on this.”

Another D-49 decision involving Christmas met with controversy two years ago. At that time, Falcon’s school board voted to use the term “Christmas break” instead of winter break on its school calendar.

“Changing the name of our break was heated and emotional,” Shook says. “So we know people care about this issue.”

Oklahoma City Wants a Jesus Statue

A decade ago, the city of Edmond was forced to pay more than $200,000 in legal fees after losing a court battle to keep a cross on its city seal.

Just last year, a city art commission backed down from a decision to use public funds on a statue of Moses at Edmond’s First Christian Church.

Now, the same commission in this conservative suburb north of Oklahoma City is moving full speed ahead with plans to use public funds to erect a statue of Jesus Christ on a city sidewalk in front of a downtown business just in time for Christmas.

“This is the third major unconstitutional effort they’ve engaged in in recent years,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “It’s a little surprising, because normally people pause to take a breath before they violate the constitution again.”

The Edmond Visual Arts Commission last month approved spending $3,900 in city funds to help pay for the 26-inch-tall bronze statue of Jesus surrounded by three children. Titled “Come Unto Me,” the sculpture will be placed in front of Sacred Heart Catholic Gifts, a downtown shop.

“I don’t see a problem with it. I’m not a church,” said shop owner Karen Morton, who privately raised the other $3,900 before seeking matching funds from the commission. “I’ve had absolutely no negative calls or anyone coming into the store with negative comments.”

June Cartwright, the chair of the commission who supported funding the statue, defended the decision and said the sculpture was viewed simply as a piece of art and not a religious endorsement.

“It is a piece of artwork,” Cartwright said. “It doesn’t state that it is specifically Jesus. It is whatever you perceive it to be.”

A message left Tuesday with the artist, Rosalind Cook, was not immediately returned, but her Web site describes the image as depicting Jesus with three young children.

Lynn said using public funds on the project is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.

“You cannot promote what is obviously a very specific religious image using tax dollars,” Lynn said. “The city lawyers should have stopped this. This isn’t even close to the line. This is way over it.”

Edmond’s city attorney, Stephen Murdock, responded: “I think there are differences of opinions regarding that issue.”

Murdock declined to say what his recommendations were to the commission.

Michael Salem, the Norman attorney who successfully challenged Edmond on its use of a cross on the city seal, said the issue is more one of fairness than being anti-religion.

“It’s a slippery slope that the city wanders into when it does this,” Salem said. “Once they have set down that path, this means that if an application is made by some other group that wants to put some kind of religious object up in front of their business, then the city could be obligated or required to pay for it also.”

Green Bay Wins Nativity Lawsuit

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) against the City of Green Bay. Liberty Counsel successfully represented the City of Green Bay in a controversy over last year’s Christmas display with a Nativity scene at City Hall. On September 15, David Corry, Senior Litigation Counsel for Liberty Counsel, argued the case on behalf of the city.

FFRF did not file suit until after Christmas, once the Nativity had already been removed. Judge William Griesbach dismissed the FFRF’s case, stating that the group does not have standing to bring the claims, which he described as “so fleeting and slight that they do not warrant pursuing in federal court.” Judge Griesbach also noted that there is “a strong incentive for budget-conscious local governments to accede to demands from groups like the plaintiffs that government buildings and other property be cleansed of all signs and symbols of the country’s religious heritage.” In this case, the city refused to be intimidated by FFRF and requested that Liberty Counsel defend the city in the lawsuit.

FFRF uses intimidation and threats of attorney’s fees against local communities who take any action that might acknowledge religion. Its co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, in a threatening letter to an Ohio town, derogatively referred to its Nativity as a “shack” and derisively wrote that the display “jarred” the conscience. The organization also unashamedly unveiled its “Imagine No Religion” billboards at Christmastime. FFRF is the most extreme, anti-religious, separationist organization in the country, claiming that its members are atheists and agnostics.

The United States Supreme Court has upheld government-sponsored Nativity scenes when displayed in the context of other symbols of the Christmas holiday, such as Santa Claus, a reindeer, or a Christmas tree. The City of Green Bay displayed all those elements and even included wreaths with ribbon and lit candles.

Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, stated, “The federal court gave the City of Green Bay an early Christmas present. Freedom From Religion Foundation is a radical organization that seeks to cleanse religion from America. The fact is that America has a rich religious history, and Nativity scene displays are consistently constitutional.”

Save Christmas Group Admits Folly, Quits

“It’s hopeless to try to work against business interests which set new records with each Christmas season,” says Birger Sivertsen in the campaign “Gi oss Julen tilbake” (Give us back Christmas), based in Norway.

He admits that the battle is lost.

“We’ve lobbied against the worst firms and our members have taken part in massive e-mail campaigns, but to no avail,” says Sivertsen.

More than 30,000 people have signed the campaigns petition since the autumn of 2002. The list of signatures was handed to Handel og Servicenæringens Hovedorganisasjon, the confederation of shop owners.

“Looking back, we can see that our work has been a complete waste of time. Shop owners don’t care if the great majority of people don’t want to have massive Christmas celebrations forced on them from the end of September. They don’t care if they take the pleasure, the expectation and the excitement out of the greatest holiday of the year, by turning it into a gruelling three-month celebration,” says Sivertsen to news bureau NTB.

He still thinks that the campaign has achieved a lot to the extent that it has started a debate about the issue and by involving young people. Nevertheless, the campaigners are giving up. The shop owners can start Christmas whenever they like without fear of criticism.

UK Hotel Bans Children at Christmas Dinner

CHILDREN have been banned from having Christmas Day dinner in a hotel restaurant.

Lochgreen House was nicknamed Loch Grinch House by customers who are angry that kids are being shut out.

One parent tried to book a table at the Troon hotel for the whole family.

She said: “We were told children are not allowed on Christmas Day.

“I have always thought Christmas was all about families and especially for children.

“My parents have enjoyed many a meal at Lochgreen and eight years ago they celebrated their golden wedding there.

“Now, they won’t be back. Where has the Christmas spirit gone?”

Bosses at Lochgreen, which is owned by ex-Kilmarnock Football Club chairman Bill Costley, say children can stay at the hotel over Christmas.

But kids under 12 will get their turkey dinner in a separate room from other guests.

Costley claimed the hotel was only reacting to customer demand.

He said: “At Lochgreen House we have the greatest respect for the wishes of our guests. We know that many people wish to spend their Christmas meal in elegant and peaceful surroundings, enjoying a convivial atmosphere with friends and family.

“It is for this reason that at Lochgreen only we have decided to bow to public demand and enforce an age restriction of 12 years.

“Lochgreen is special to the people of Ayrshire with its beautiful furnishings and antiques and its aura of peace in a hectic world.

“We all love children. I have six grandchildren myself, but there are times when we want peace and, as life is all about choice, we are providing this option to our guests.”

Loch Grinch – nicknamed after the Dr Seuss character who stole Christmas – charges £75 for their Christmas Dinner.

Inevitably, there’s not a chicken nugget in sight. Instead, guests are offered a range of dishes, including braised haunch of venison and baked fillet of halibut with a tartar crust.

The other five hotels and three inns in Ayrshire which are owned by Costley & Costley do welcome kids for Christmas Dinner.

Canadian School Board Gets Railed for Dissing Christmas

Letter to the editor in the Orillia Packet & Times of Ontario, Canada:

Before I begin, let me preface this letter. I am writing this out of profound respect for my parents, grandparents, and all of our predecessors who have made this country what it is. I can trace my roots in Canada back five generations. Our forefathers, through hundreds of years of their efforts, are responsible for what we, as Canadians, have today. They have given us a proud heritage with copious rights and a myriad of freedoms which every person in our great country enjoys.

An email from my employer, Durham District School Board, has spawned this letter. I’d also like to mention that one of the main thrusts, Durham board is currently promoting in our schools is “respect.” We (all board employees) received an email last week, inviting us to our “second annual holiday celebration.” Holiday is replacing the word “Christmas.” I was told this is done out of consideration and sensibility of our “new Canadians/ residents,” and out of respect for their cultures, customs, religions, traditions; as some do not celebrate Christmas.

Why do you think so many people come from all over the world to Canada? To enjoy what we have, the rights and freedoms (freedom of speech, the press, religion, etc.) that are in place and thriving here — the rights and freedoms previous generations here worked for, fought for. How many countries are there in this world that any of us could go to and hope to change part of their traditions, customs, let alone renaming one of the main religious holidays on their calendars? Can you name even one?

I am not prejudiced in any way. I believe we are all equal. This country and the people in it have embraced and respectfully welcomed people from all over the world along with their customs, their cultures and traditions, which many continue to practice and observe here. This is how it should be.

But, wait a minute. As a Canadian, I have customs and traditions, too. The email that I received inviting me to a “holiday celebration” infuriated my sensibility. It deeply offended me, because it is disrespectful to our forefathers and our culture. As a Canadian, it is very important to me to call Christmas, Christmas. Let us not forget why it is called Christmas — the birth of Christ. Yes, go back a few years when this was basically a Christian country. This is another right that our ancestors fought for.

We are known as a polite, considerate, mannerly people. This country has worked hard to welcome everyone and be an all-inclusive society, but this should not be at the expense of born-and-bred Canadians losing their customs and traditions. Christmas has been known as Christmas for how many years in this country and we should not be made to feel ill at ease in our native land for continuing to use the word Christmas. It is time we start standing up for our rights and who we are. Christmas may be only the beginning. Easter could be next.

I know this is a few months premature; I will blame the Durham board for sending out their “holiday celebration” email. In closing, let me be the first to wish each and every resident of our great country a very Merry Christmas. May the peace, hope and love that is Christmas, remain with you always. Brenda Reynolds,

Sunderland

Charity Urges Public to “Give Christmas Cards the Sack”

A UK charity is urging people to save paper, time and money this Christmas by taking part in a poster initiative.

St Richard’s Hospice is ‘giving Christmas cards the sack’ and asking residents to send their seasons greetings in a more eco friendly way, which will also benefit the charity.

The new scheme will see large Christmas card posters put up in schools, offices and clubs where people can write a message to their colleagues instead of sending Christmas cards. Last year more than 100 firms signed up for the scheme and raised a total of £4,500.

Fundraising assistant Joanna Street said: “This is a great way to save paper, time and money by writing your seasonal messages to friends and colleagues on one of our giant Christmas card posters.

“Also, if you make a donation to the hospice your money will help us care for patients and their families in Worcestershire.”

Church Group Retells Christmas Story as a Horse Race

Following posters depicting Jesus Christ as Che Guevara, Santa Claus and the foam on a pint glass, the Church Advertising Network is now “re-branding” the Christmas story as a sporting event.

In one of the joke-filled recordings, which will be broadcast on commercial radio stations across Britain during December, a commentator tells the tale of Jesus’s birth as if it were a horse race called the Christmas Day Stakes, complete with the sound of cheering crowds and thundering hooves in the background.

The voiceover runs through the main characters in the nativity story as if they were horses, starting with “Angel Gabriel with Mary” and moving on to “Mary, Joseph and donkey coming in on the inside” followed by “three kings and Herod”.

The 30-second advert ends with the commentator declaring the winner to be “Baby Jesus, from Mary, Joseph and virgin birth”.

In the other advert, the commentator refers to the holy family as if they were players on a football team. It begins with a “nice pass” from Gabriel to Mary before the “innkeeper gets in the way” at Bethlehem and the shepherd “looking completely stunned”.

It continues: “Jesus on for mankind, mankind really sagging in the first half.”

The advert ends as if Jesus has scored a goal, with the commentator shouting: “Absolutely majestic.”

Both of the adverts then feature a voice inviting radio listeners to “be part of the action at church this Christmas”.

In addition to the irreverent adverts, the Church Advertising Network is running a competition with a prize of £500 for the best re-telling of the Christmas story in under 30 seconds. The winning entry will be uploaded onto the popular video-sharing website YouTube.

The organisation, an independent group whose members come from the Church of England, the Methodists and the Salvation Army, insists its campaign is necessary, as research has suggested that just 12 per cent of British adults and 7 per cent of young people have a good grasp of the Christmas story.

Chas Bayfield, the creative director behind the adverts, said: “We wanted to carry on with this idea of retelling the Christmas story, but in a medium suitable for radio listeners.

“The new radio ads take on the style of a sports commentary and hope to engage in a humorous way with the youth audiences and encourage them to go to church to hear the Christmas story in full.”

Francis Goodwin, chairman of the Churches Advertising Network, added: “The increasing external pressures to secularise Christmas and even the attempts to rebrand it as ‘Winterval’ show that we cannot be complacent about actively promoting the Christmas story to a new generation, some of whom may never have had the invitation to get to know Jesus.”

However, some church organisations said that although they welcomed attempts to educate people about the true meaning of Christmas, taking such a humorous approach could backfire.

David Phillips, general secretary of the traditionalist Church Society, said: “It wouldn’t necessarily be the approach I would take and I can see the problems with it. It could be counter-productive and make people think it is just foolishness.

“But I can see why they’re doing it. So few people have a grasp of the facts, which is a serious issue that churches must face. How have we got to this stage, when so many children are taught in Church of England schools?”