This Christmas season, St. Matthews-in-the-City in Auckland, New Zealand, has put up a billboard with a different take on the iconic annunciation scenes of yore. Mary, with her traditional blue scarf draped over her head and shoulders, holds a pregnancy test in one hand, covering her mouth in surprise with the other. Her eyes, meanwhile, look thoughtful and inscrutable. The image was created by an ad agency, and the progressive-minded Anglican church intends for it to “spark thought and conversation in the community,” according to its Web site.
Fox News — always to be relied on for thoughtful dialogue — brands the campaign “SICK” in its headline, filing the story as part of its “War on Christmas” series and accusing the “controversial New Zealand church” of “roll[ing] out a publicity stunt.”
“I don’t think it’s particularly controversial,” vicar Glynn Cardy told the New Zealand Herald. “I think it is focusing and wanting to encourage people to think about the real meaning of Christmas. It isn’t about Santa and tinsel, it’s about a real baby.” Cardy added that he hoped that Mary’s situation as a poor, unwed pregnant woman could “encourage people to be kind and compassionate and be tolerant to those that are different to themselves.” So far, the church had only received positive feedback about the campaign on its Web site and Facebook page.
Now, the advertisement has been destroyed by an angry protester, reports the Telegraph. In a hilariously bold showing, Arthur Skinner, a member of an organization calling itself the Catholic Action Group attacked the billboard with scissors — and was photographed in the act.
“Yes, it is vandalism,” Mr Skinner proclaimed proudly outside the church. “I’m guilty. If they want to arrest me, be my guest,” he said. His group had earlier described the Renaissance-style picture as “satanic.” The church responded by staging a prayer meeting 100 parishioners strong in front of the ruined billboard. They’re not sure if they plan to reinstall the contentious work.
This isn’t the first time the church has attracted ire, though. The Telegraph describes another conflict: “Two years ago a billboard outside the same church depicting Joseph and Mary in bed after sex had to be taken down after it was attacked several times by outraged Christians.” Who knew Anglicans were so hip in their branding?