In 2009, when St. Matthew’s in Auckland, New Zealand, put up an Advent themed billboard suggesting the Almighty was better in bed than Mary, it only took five hours for it to be defaced. It took a little longer for this year’s billboard – a shocked Mary holding a positive pregnancy test – to be defaced.
Arthur Skinner (one person in a group of protestors) took a pair of scissors to the billboard and removed the offensive bit containing the pregnancy test, leaving Mary still looking dumbstruck, but now (at least from the position of the artist) without a good reason for it.
Skinner was caught and offered ready admission of his acts, saying he would happily be held accountable for the offense. BUT – I’m not making this up – that it should really be the state’s job to enter the church and compel St. Matthew’s by force to stop committing such religious hate crime in the first place. He also said he’ll be ripping down the sign again if it should be replaced.
But Skinner went much further. Much, much further. He said the sign was Satanic, “the ultimate Satantic attack, when Lucifer attacks his worst enemy, the Blessed Virgin.” He said Anglicans are “basically heretics” operated by “a gay, feminist-type lobby.” And then he tipped his hand, saying,
“There’s only one faith – The Roman Catholic Apostolic Faith – because we go right back in our papal line to Christ.
“All the other sects and cults are in fact man-made. It doesn’t mean we condemn the individuals in them, we simply condemn their teaching.’
He said those responsible for the poster would “certainly burn in hell” if they did not repent.
Skinner’s remarks come as a softball, and doubtless we’ll supply our own responses to them. If he was acting just to give air to the name of his group, tough luck, because at least in this small instance I’m not publishing it. You might guess it does contain the word “Catholic,” and that, of course, does not mean it’s sanctioned in any way.
There are rumblings within St. Matthew’s about whether the sign should be replaced or left as it is. If replaced, it will say that St. Matthew’s has a consistent word to give this time of year about the paradox and shocked delight of the incarnation. If St. Matthew’s leaves the sign as it is, I hope they’ll feel free to expose a new angle and a new conversation about art and speech – particularly in Advent and Christmas, when we need to remember that it requires real human bodies with real human needs to host life and give birth to real human children.
Either way, so long as it is faithful in its approach, St. Matthew’s has a startling opportunity to further engage the public in a fruitful discussion and Gospel reflection. Perhaps they owe Mr. Skinner a word of thanks.