A Christian charity in the U.K. has responded to media reports that it decided to remove Bible references in its latest version of the Nativity story in order to present a more accessible story for a largely unchurched population of youths.
"Whilst we're grateful that our plans to share the real Christmas story with thousands of children have pricked the interest of many, it's a shame that some of the information about our new book, The First Christmas, has been misunderstood," Scripture Union of England and Wales wrote on Sunday in a Facebook post.
Jennifer Babb, church and community fundraising manager at Scripture Union, said the decision to remove explicit Scripture references was aimed at taking "that barrier away — it makes it more of a simple story," according to The Telegraph.
"When we realized that children don't even know the basics of what they are celebrating, then the traditional, simple story is the best way," Babb said.
According to The Telegraph, previous versions of the Scripture Union's Christmas book contained Bible references and asked children to explore the Gospels. Also, the newly published book does not feature visits of the shepherds and the wise men.
Babb said that children in the U.K. have shown declining knowledge when it comes to the Bible over the years, and insisted that the simplification of the story surrounding Jesus' birth is "specifically designed" to engage with children who do not know the details.
"This is all part of our work to invite children and young people to explore the difference Jesus can make to the challenges and adventures of life," she stated.
Paul Stockwell, who is Scripture Union's head of fundraising, told Premier that polls show that "knowledge of the Christian faith and the Christian story is slowing dwindling amongst the next generation."
National surveys, such as one commissioned by the Children's Society in 2013, found that one in five parents in the U.K. do not teach their children that Christmas is the story of Jesus' birthday
Also, 14 percent of kids said that they believe Dec. 25 marks the birth of Santa Claus.
A separate ComRes survey released in September found that only six percent of Britons are practicing Christians, defining the term as those who read the Bible, pray, and attend church on a regular basis.
The results showed that 55 percent of Christians admitted they never read the Bible, while 33 percent said they never attend church, and 29 percent said they never pray.
With that, Scripture Union chose to produce a "retelling of the real Christmas Story" and launched the 95 Campaign to equip and encourage "those with a heart for the 95% of children and young people not regularly in church."
"We plan to get copies of The First Christmas into the hands of many children this Christmas and especially those who may have little or no understanding of the real Christmas story. It features a beautifully illustrated retelling of the Christmas story which is written in a contemporary and accessible style, but which also remains completely faithful to the accounts as found in the Bible," Scripture Union said Sunday.
"While we endeavour to ensure children with little to no knowledge of the Christian faith are able to hear the good news in a way that is accessible to them, we place a great deal of importance on remaining true to our Biblical foundations. Helping children to engage with God's word and the unchanging truths of the Bible will always remain central to our work."
In its vision and mission statement, Scripture Union identifies its priority as "those who don't yet know him" (Jesus). The group also explains that it: wants to see "a new generation of children and young people who have a vibrant, personal faith in Jesus," and creates "opportunities for children and young people to explore the Bible, respond to Jesus and grow in faith."
"Through a wide range of activities and initiatives, we provide opportunities for young people to explore the Bible, respond to Jesus and grow in faith," it says, noting it was established 150 years ago in England.
"We believe every child should have the chance to discover Jesus. And, with an estimated 95 percent of children in England and Wales not part of a church, we're working harder than ever to take the good news of Jesus beyond the church in exciting and culturally relevant ways."