The ad poses theories about what may have happened to Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago. The 30-second spot was made by Compass Bible Church in Aliso Viejo to advertise its upcoming Easter service.
It ends with the words "Did it really happen? Why we actually believe in the resurrection." The ad was to run on 45 movie screens in Orange County during previews before films.
The church paid more than $5,000 for the ad to run in movie theaters for three weeks, starting April 1. But the ad was pulled and the money was returned.
"They told us the ad was great, it looked nice. It's just that we couldn't put the name of Jesus in the ad," said Dr. Mike Fabarez, senior pastor at Compass Bible Church.
In a statement, National CineMedia Media Networks (NCM) said the company "maintains sole discretion over what advertising content we accept in our FirstLook pre-show. Compass Bible Church was made aware of our advertising content guidelines, and was given the opportunity to revise its ad accordingly to promote its Easter services in movie theaters. Compass Bible Church chose not to do so," wrote Amy Jane Finnerty, NCM Media Networks.
NCM does provide a list of what may be restricted, such as mention of nudity, alcohol or drugs.
"There are certain things that they won't advertise, and there was no mention of Christ or Christianity or anything like that that would preclude us from having an ad," said Fabarez.
Some moviegoers surprised to hear about the banned ad.
"I think just people overreact. I think everyone has their own opinions," said Mission Viejo resident Joey Trujillo.
"If it's one of those ads that plays when people are getting situated and stuff, no one even really looks at those," said San Juan Capistrano resident Holly Caroe.
"It's reminding people that Easter is coming up," said Orange County resident Carolynne Templeman.
"It would irritate me because I don't want to come to the movies and see anything about any religion," said Orange County resident Suzie Kane.
For now Compass Bible Church will forgo the big screen and promote Easter elsewhere. They still expect about 5,000 people to attend Easter Sunday service at the church.