Whether they want it or not, all residents of two Southern California cities will receive an early Christmas gift in the mail this year: an 83-minute movie on the life of Jesus.
San Juan Capistrano and Canyon Lake residents will be among the 1.1 million households in 10 cities across the United States who will get the Jesus video this holiday season from local churches and Christian leaders.
The campaign is run by the San Bernardino-based Jesus Video Project, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. In eight years, the project's leaders say, 11 million videos have been delivered to residents in 725 cities.
More than 200,000 South Bay households received the movie from local churches last year. A little more than a year ago, the tapes were sent to every household in Aliso Viejo.
In San Juan Capistrano, the $45,000 cost for mailing 11,000 videos to each household was picked up by 14 of the city's 17 churches, plus business owners and individuals. The video also will go to about 4,800 households in Canyon Lake, a gated city south of Riverside.
"People can view it in the quietness in their own home," said Ron Butler, assistant pastor at Canyon Lake Community Church. "They appreciate religious people not knocking in their door. They can choose to watch it or trash it."
Many angry residents in heavily Jewish Palm Beach County in Florida sent the videos back early this year when Campus Crusade for Christ mailed the tape to households there during the week of Passover and Easter.
One postal worker said she hadn't seen that many complaints in 22 years on the job.
In Southern California, the reaction has been much milder.
"We had three people out of 900 who refused it," said Doug Bittenbender, who handed out the videos door to door in San Juan Capistrano before deciding to do the mass mailer, "and they were very polite."
Rabbi David Eliezrie of Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen-Chabad Center in Westminster said: "While I respect the right of freedom of religion, I resent the effort of certain Christian groups to evangelize the Jewish community. And I'd prefer that they focus on their own religious brethren."
For one Muslim leader, the concern wasn't about Christianity but the marketing of religion as a whole.
"I hate to turn religion into another junk mailer in a way," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California Council on American-Islamic Relations. "As a person who believes in God, I don't approve of such tactics because it might offend people who don't appreciate God's message."