A controversial church billboard in Auckland has been attacked again.
The billboard outside St Matthew-in-the-City, an Anglican church, depicts an image of Joseph and Mary in bed, and one version of it has already been painted over, before being stolen.
The replacement billboard was attacked on Friday evening by an elderly woman. Police were called while she was held back by bystanders.
The Auckland church had earlier said it is sticking with the billboard, but have now decided to not put up another replacement. The church says it does not want to pose any further threat to public safety.
The billboard has attracted criticism from the head of the Anglican diocese and worldwide attention.
The picture carries the caption "Poor Joseph, God was a hard act to follow," with Mary looking disappointed while Joseph looks dejected.
St Matthew's church says the aim was to provoke conversation about spiritual matters by lampooning the literal Christian conception story and inviting people to think again about what a miracle is.
However, the Bishop of Auckland, the Right Reverend John Paterson, says he is "disappointed" that St Matthew's chose to go ahead with displaying the replica.
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 says.
But the Vicar of St Matthew's, Archdeacon Glynn Cardy, says having debate is always positive.
The billboard has gone viral with thousands seeing the billboard via the internet and overseas news broadcasts.
CNN's anchor and weatherman discussed whether it was amusing and emails are coming into the church from as far afield as Sweden, the Netherlands, Britain, Costa Rica and India.
Cardy says the idea behind the billboard was to move a debate that was inside the church to outside "and certainly people in all sorts of places are talking about it".
He does not doubt that some people have been offended by the billboard, but "the literalness of a male God impregnating Mary needs to be laughed at".
At the same time, "people can laugh at my perspective too".
As for the criticism of insensitivity, Cardy says: "The Bishop has an opinion that is obviously different from ours."
St Matthew's marketing and communications manager, Rev Clay Nelson, points out that with all the coverage the billboard has had the image will remain forever, circling the globe on the internet and causing more to consider what Christmas means.
The original picture was put up on Thursday, but just over five hours later a person, caught on camera by ONE News, defaced it by smearing brown paint over it and overnight, the whole billboard disappeared.
Police have downloaded ONE News' pictures and are investigating that person.
Nelson says the amount of reaction to the billboard is "mindblowing" with the church expecting comment in New Zealand, but not from all over the world.
"The emails are continuing to pour in and 90% of them at this point are positive," Nelson says.
He is trying to reply to all of them, whether positive or negative, but at the moment the emails were arriving faster than he can answer them.
The parish already runs a busy virtual church online with 2,000
regular visitors connecting from 170 countries to hear a
progressive Christian message.
While there has been talk the church might be disciplined over the issue, Nelson says will not be the case.
"Theoretically, the Bishop could say to take it down," he says.
"I just don't expect that to happen."
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