The Bishop of Lichfield has become the the latest church leader to lambast local authorities for playing down Christmas for fear of offending minority faith groups.

The Right Rev Jonathan Gledhill, in his Christmas message, said a 'tiny minority' wanted to hijack Christmas as part of wanting to 'multi-faith everything'.

His comments came after industrial reconciliation service Acas warned employers to use Christmas decorations which are "secular and not inherently religious" to avoid causing offence to non-Christians.

But Bishop Gledhill hit back by calling on society to make "the very best of our spiritual values in the centre of public life".

"Only a tiny minority among us wants either a mish-mash of beliefs or an empty manger," he said.

"Most of our Muslim, Sikh or Jewish neighbours are glad to be in a Christian country where they respect our faith and we respect theirs, and they seem to wish we Christians were a bit more up-front about our beliefs."

He congratulated Stafford Borough Council who "bravely" purchased new crib figures this year for their town-centre Christmas display, saying this "rather goes against the trend of multi-faith everything".

When he attended the town's Christmas lights switch-on last month he said he was reminded about the marketplace St Paul visited in Athens, when he was able, as a foreigner, to argue with the locals, both sceptics and followers of various faiths.

"The whole point of Christmas is that love is offered by God in the form of a gift that can be accepted or ignored," he said.  "It is the amazing mystery of Christmas that we are free to respond as we will.

"It is because of this that freedom of speech and allowing people to present the truth as they see it is such an important feature of modern Christian democracy.

"It is part of the role of government to provide open spaces – a kind of secular market place if you like – for people to test out the rival truth claims and ideologies of our time.

"In that sense a Christian country is also a secular one.

"But that does not mean that a free country must be one where religion is only a private matter and the public square remains empty of the baby Jesus.

"An empty square is impossible anyway. All governance rests on values, and values are, in the end, a matter of faith.

"Different religions have different values and teachings and these need evaluating, not mixing up."

His message came after the former Bishop for Birmingham, Dr John Sentamu, criticised Birmingham City Council's much-derided 'Winterval'.

He spoke out about official Government Christmas cards which merely wish 'Season's Greetings', Santa on stamps instead of Christ and what he called "Wintervalitis", where local authorities shied away from celebrating Christmas in case it offended people from other faiths.

He said 'illiberal atheists' who aimed to avoid causing offence by removing faith from public life, ended up offending everyone.

"In the eight years since Winterval there have been many other instances and decisions where Christianity is being systematically eroded from public view – more often than not in the fear of offending those who would not be offended in the least or because of the mistaken belief that Christianity has no role to play in the public arena."

Birmingham City Council's Winterval decision in 1998 led to more than 3,000 Christians signing a petition, claiming it was 'political correctness gone mad'.

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