RELIGION
12/14/2011 01:27 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2011

Mary's Positive Pregnancy Test Billboard, Posted By St. Matthew-In-The-City Church, Debuts (PHOTO)

A billboard featuring an image of Virgin Mary's reaction to a positive home pregnancy test is raising eyebrows in New Zealand, with some critics deeming the sign inappropriate. The billboard was erected in Auckland, New Zealand on Tuesday by St. Matthew-in-the-City, a progressive Anglican church well-known for its provocative advertisements.

Reactions to the sign gathered by local television station 3 News included comments from locals that the sign was "really weird" and that it was "inappropriate to have outside a church."

But Church Vicar Glynn Cardy and priest Clay Nelson defended the advertisement, saying it depicts a very real reaction.

"Regardless of any premonition, that discovery would have been shocking. Mary was unmarried, young, and poor. This pregnancy would shape her future," the two men said in a joint statement.

It's that type of real world reality that the church says it hopes to highlight during the holidays, according to the media release.

Although the make-believe of Christmas is enjoyable - with tinsel, Santa, reindeer, and carols - there are also some realities. Many in our society are suffering: some through the lack of money, some through poor health, some through violence, and some through other hardships. The joy of Christmas is muted by anxiety.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Cardy said the billboard's shock value is intentional.

"I think anything that provokes discussion about what the meaning of the Christian faith is, I mean that's our goal, is to provoke people to think about meaning," Cardy told Auckland Now.

In an effort to engage people beyond their initial reaction to the sign, the church's website invites readers to write their own captions for the image.

Some suggestions include:

  • "God give me strength to accept the things i cannot change."
  • "HOLY MOTHER of GOD........oh...that's right...it's me..."
  • "Yay, I hope it's a girl"

The sign will remain posted until Christmas Day, according to 3 News.

This year's billboard isn't the church's first attempt at sparking conversation with the use of controversial imagery.

In 2009, the church placed a billboard featuring Mary and Joseph in bed with the caption: "Poor Joseph, God was a hard act to follow,"according to the New Zealand Herald.

That sign sparked outrage among many in the religious community and was vandalized several times.

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