Unholy Row Over Virgin Mary Image
December 17, 2009
An unholy row has broken out in New Zealand over a church billboard aimed at "challenging stereotypes" about the birth of Jesus Christ.
A dejected-looking Joseph lies in bed next to Mary under the caption, "Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow".
St Matthew-in-the-City Church in Auckland, which erected the billboard, said it had intended to provoke debate.
But the Catholic Church, among others, has condemned it as "inappropriate" and "disrespectful".
Within hours of its unveiling, the billboard had been defaced with brown paint.
The church's vicar, Archdeacon Glynn Cardy, said the aim of the billboard had been to lampoon the literal interpretation of the Christmas conception story.
"What we're trying to do is to get people to think more about what Christmas is all about," he told the New Zealand Press Association (NZPA).
"Is it about a spiritual male God sending down sperm so a child would be born, or is it about the power of love in our midst as seen in Jesus?"
He told NZPA that the church had received e-mails and phone calls about the controversial image.
"About 50% said they loved it, and about 50% said it was terribly offensive," he said. "But that's out of about 20 responses - this is New Zealand."
But Lyndsay Freer, spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Auckland, said the poster was offensive to Christians.
"Our Christian tradition of 2,000 years is that Mary remains a virgin and that Jesus is the son of God, not Joseph," she told the New Zealand Herald. "Such a poster is inappropriate and disrespectful."
The family values group Family First said any debate about the Virgin birth should be held inside the church.
"To confront children and families with the concept as a street billboard is completely irresponsible and unnecessary," Family First director Bob McCroskrie told the news website stuff.co.nz.
Mary and Joseph Billboard Attacked by Knife Wielding Christian
18 Dec 2009
A Christmas billboard in New Zealand which has stirred controversy around the world and was defaced with brown paint, has been attacked a second time, this time by a Christian wielding a knife.
The billboard was then torn down. The church says it will not be replacing it.
As reported in an exclusive by Ekklesia on Tuesday, the Auckland billboard showed a deflated looking Joseph and a disappointed Mary lying in bed together, with the caption "Poor Joseph, God is a hard act to follow."
St Matthew’s in the City, an Anglican church, commissioned M & C Saatchi to come up with the concept with the brief that it had to be sufficiently provocative to keep most other churches from allowing it.
It was designed to challenge stereotypes about the way that Jesus was conceived, and get people talking about the Christmas story.
But a few hours after the billboard went up, an angry man with a pot of brown paint, covered over Mary and Joseph's faces.
The church paid $200 for a new billboard but this was also attacked. Police were called while the person with the knife, reportedly a Christian, was held back by homeless bystanders.
A spokesman for the church had said it would be naive to think it would not be defaced again but they would not be employing security.
The Bishop of Auckland, the Right Reverend John Paterson, says he was "disappointed" that St Matthew's chose to go ahead with displaying the billboard.
He says there are a multitude of other issues for a city and the wider church to focus on than a billboard.
"Discussion of theological perspectives and diversity is encouraged in a respectful way, but this approach is insensitive to communities across the Anglican Church as well as other denominations," he told TVNZ.
The billboard has gone viral with thousands seeing it via the internet and news broadcasts.
The parish already runs a busy virtual church online with 2,000 regular visitors connecting from 170 countries to hear a progressive Christian message.
Glynn Cardy, vicar at the church, told Ekklesia: "I regret to say that tonight our billboard was attacked by a knife wielding Christian fanatic who was then apprehended by a group of homeless people who care about our church. Later in the evening another group of fanatics ripped it down.
"When knives are wielded in the name of God I have two responses. One is to act to ensure the safety of the public and parishioners. We will therefore not be replacing the vandalised billboard with an identical one.
"My second response is one of deep sadness at those in the Christian Church who don’t want to offend any faith position, even the most literalistic view of a male god. By having unity as their priority they inadvertently feed fanaticism.
"We have no regrets about bringing this discussion about Jesus’ origins and the nature of the Christian God into the public sphere – into homes, workplaces, universities and the internet. We are glad that discussion about Santa, food, and present buying was momentary usurped by a discussion about Jesus.
"Thank you to the hundreds of people who sent us messages of support, encouragement, and respectful engagement from all around the world."