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As with every other year, Thanksgiving Day signaled the go ahead for radio stations to begin playing endless Christmas music, and the arrival of midnight sparked shoppers to begin the now-traditional mad-dash of buying for the holidays. But the lead-up to this gift-giving season has been a bit unusual for the widely-known charitable Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, which delivers toys to needy children during the holiday season. The typically benign and beloved organization has been the center of an intense religious controversy over Jesus.

A Bible-quoting, foot-tall Jesus doll, that is.

A Los Angeles-based toy company, one2believe, offered to donate 4,000 of the battery-operated “Messengers of Faith” dolls, which its website assures will offer children “key selections from John, Mark, Psalms, Luke and Exodus … all recorded in an easy-to-memorize format so that parents, pastors and educators alike can use Messengers of Faith to teach children these vital lessons from the Bible in a fun, entertaining way!” (The equivalent Mary, David, Moses, and Esther dolls were not offered as part of the donation–Jesus was the doll of choice for the Toys for Tots drive. But of course you can order them!)

One2believe’s mission is explicitly Bible-based, and its website states the following on its homepage: “The spiritual development of our children depends largely on how well they grasp and understand the Bible stories. Just as in the days of the Judges in Israel we believe that teaching Bible stories to a child is the precursor to a relationship with God. In fact, we believe this so strongly that we have gone to great effort and expense to develop a number of resources and tools for parents and Christian educators so they can effectively teach the Bible stories to their children and students.”

These resources and tools include the Jesus dolls–toys that the Marines organization initially rejected for Toys for Tots because of their obvious religious associations. This rejection caused big headlines and a widespread backlash against the organization.

The Associated Press reported the initial story, explaining that: “The charity balked because of the dolls’ religious nature. Toys are donated to kids based on financial need and ‘we don’t know anything about their background, their religious affiliations,’ said Bill Grein, vice president of Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, in Quantico, Va. As a government entity, Marines ‘don’t profess one religion over another,’ Grein said Tuesday. ‘We can’t take a chance on sending a talking Jesus doll to a Jewish family or a Muslim family.'”

Yet just days later Toys for Tots reversed the decision, according to The Washington Post in an article, “Reversing Course, Marines to Accept Jesus Doll Gifts.” The change in attitude about the dolls seems largely due to family requests to receive the dolls for their children.

The article says that “When the decision to reject the toys got out, the toy company began receiving hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from organizations and people who would like to receive the dolls. ‘The phones are ringing off the hook. There is a new e-mail every few seconds. It is unbelievable,’ said Michael La Roe, director of business development for the company. ‘We had someone write in from Okinawa, Japan. The word is spreading all over the country and, in some cases, all over the world.'”

So the talking Jesus doll saga seems finally resolved, but one thing that remains unclear to Toys for Tots: How to accomodate so many requests, and get enough of these dolls into the hands of families who want them this Christmas.

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