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400 dress as Jesus to put Christ back in Christmas

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HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH | December 24, 2008 01:28 PM EST | AP


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Dressed in flowing robes and thorny crowns, about 400 churchgoers promised their pastor they'd dress like Jesus as a hard-to-miss reminder of the holiday's religious roots.

Members of Praise Chapel Christian Fellowship began showing up that way last week at jobs, shopping malls and restaurants. The demonstration wrapped up Wednesday.

"I know it's a crazy idea," said pastor Kelly Lohrke, whose 600 members attend services in Kansas City, Kan., and nearby Lee's Summit, Mo. "I know it's a radical idea. Christians can have fun with their faith and sharing their faith."

Lohrke said he came up with the idea out of frustration over the removal of crosses, nativity scenes and other religious symbols from public view.

Several groups have pushed the issue this year, with the American Humanist Association plastering ads on Washington, D.C., buses that proclaim "Why believe in god? Just be good for goodness' sake." That story motivated Lohrke protest.

Lohrke, whose church is part of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based Praise Chapel Fellowship of Churches and Ministers International, isn't convinced the founding fathers intended separation of church and state to mean the end of Jesus displayed publicly for holidays.

"It's just absurd," he said, "that Jesus is taken out."

Lohrke brought up the idea at services on Dec. 14, telling parishioners: "We aren't going to preach." If asked about their attire, he said, participants are free to share their faith.

"We've gotten nothing but positives," said Lohrke, who has dressed like Jesus at a Starbucks, a Target store and a post office.

Lohrke posted a video on YouTube declaring "Jesus is Back" and showing a participant in long gown and crown of thorns strolling through a mall, sitting on Santa's lap and averting his eyes as he strolls past a Victoria's Secret store.

"Next year, we are going to make this a big deal," he said.

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On the Net:

Praise Chapel Fellowship of Churches and Ministers International: http://www.praisechapel.com/

Praise Chapel Christian Fellowship: http://www.praisechapelkc.com/

American Humanist Association: http://www.americanhumanist.org/