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WELLINGTON (Reuters Life!) - A billboard sponsored by a local Anglican church that shows Joseph and Mary in bed has set tongues wagging in New Zealand, with the Catholic Church condemning it as others found it funny.
The controversial billboard, erected by St Matthew-in-the-City Church in Auckland, shows a dejected-looking Joseph under bedcovers beside a sad Mary. Underneath the image, a caption reads: "Poor Joseph. God is a hard act to follow."
(Church website here)
Church archdeacon Glynn Cardy said the billboard was intended to lampoon the literal interpretation of the Christmas conception story and highlight the real significance of the festival.
"What we're trying to do is to get people to think more about what Christmas is all about," Cardy told local media.
"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?"
The billboard has so far drawn the ire of the Catholic Church in New Zealand, which called it "inappropriate" and "disrespectful." It was also condemned as offensive by family values group Family First.
"The church can have its debate on the Virgin birth and its spiritual significance inside the church building, but to confront children and families with the concept as a street billboard is completely irresponsible and unnecessary," Family First director Bob McCoskrie told news website stuff.co.nz.
The website also showed a picture of the billboard daubed in brown paint, saying it had been defaced a few hours after it was put up outside the Anglican St Matthew-in-the-City Church.
Archdeacon Cardy said the church had also received several emails and phonecalls about the advert, which he said was exactly what it had been intended to do -- provoke debate about one of the most important festivals on the Christian calendar.
"The true importance of Christmas is in the radical hospitality Jesus offered to the poor, the despised, women, children, and the sick, and says: 'this is the essence of God'," Cardy said.
Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by David Fox