Every December, there are handfuls of churches and Christian organizations that put out advertisements to spark discussion about the true meaning of Christmas. Here are two from this year, both of which were unveiled last week and have gotten a considerable amount of press.
Mary is in the pink
This poster was made by St.-Matthew-in-the-City, an Anglican church in Auckland, New Zealand, for display as a billboard outside its church building. It was destroyed yesterday by an angry protestor, who called it—get this—“luciferian!”
According to the church’s website, the purpose of the poster is to emphasize the fearful reality that characterized the first Christmas, and to encourage people to have compassion on others who, like Mary, find themselves in precarious situations, whether that be an unexpected pregnancy, a job loss, or an unfavorable medical diagnosis:
“It’s real. Christmas is real. It’s about a real pregnancy, a real mother and a real child. It’s about real anxiety, courage and hope. … Regardless of any premonition, that discovery would have been shocking. Mary was unmarried, young, and poor. This pregnancy would shape her future. She was certainly not the first woman in this situation or the last.”
I’m not Catholic, so I don’t find this poster controversial at all; I see it as simply a modern retelling of the story of Christ’s conception. Mary was not superhuman; she was a real person with real reactions and fears and, most likely, doubts. But the Catholic Church has made her into this icon of unwavering faith and virtue, so much so that they strip her of emotion, make her plastic, as if she had not one earthly care.
Lyndsay Freer, a spokesperson for the Catholic archdiocese in Auckland, told the Daily Telegraph that she is displeased with the ad: “St. Matthew’s ignores the gospel account of matters surrounding the pregnancy and birth of Jesus, in which Mary is not a shocked solo mother but a young woman who has given her assent and trust to God.”
St. Matthew is asking that people submit captions for the poster at their website. So far, I see some less-than-impressive attempts, and a load of outraged threats and condemnation, as well as some sincere calls to repentance. “Scandalizing!” “Evil!” “Blasphemous!” “Crossing the line!” Offensive, hurtful, misguided, disgraceful. “This is so out of character for Mary.” “Please reconsider repenting on what you have just created.” “I will say extra prayers to Our Lady to beg her forgiveness.” “Your church needs to read the BIBLE.” “This is really false and you ought to be the false prophets with the false teachings of the century.” “I wish I could see you face to face…” “YOU ARE A FRIGGIN DEVIL.”
However you dress it up
This poster was made by ChurchAds.net (previously the Churches Advertising Network), a multidenominational nonprofit in the UK. A modernization of the Christmas story, it features a cast of young professionals decked out in designer fashions and bearing luxury gifts. A cycle courier and a plasterer stand in for the shepherds, and three successful entrepreneurs stand in for the Wise Men. Instead of gold, frankincense (used for perfumes), and myrrh (used for embalming; a memento mori), they bring a Fabergé egg, a Swarovski crystal perfume bottle, and a $77.5 million diamond-encrusted skull by English artist Damien Hirst. The Star, angels, and animals are present in the form of fashionable home décor—a ceiling light fixture, ceramic wall art, and a cow-hide rug. And then there’s a trendy crib designed by Lyndsay Milne McLeod. This is Christianity meets high-street consumerism.
“Christmas starts with Christ” is a nationwide ad campaign that began in December 2009 and is expected to continue through 2013, with a new poster each year (see below). ChurchAds.net solicits funds from UK churches so that they can place these ads in newspapers, shopping malls, pubs, clubs, at bus stops, and on billboards. This year they are also running this clever radio ad:
Here are some Christmas ads from previous years:
He’s on His way (2010; ChurchAds.net; UK)
Poor Joseph (2009; St.-Matthew-in-the-City; Auckland, New Zealand)
Bus Stop Nativity (2009; ChurchAds.net; UK)
King Size Bed (2008; Outreach Media; Australia)