Controversial billboard vandalized amid protests

Controversial billboard vandalized amid protests December 17, 2011

The billboard above, which I mentioned in this post, is literally coming under attack:

A couple of hundred protesters are outside an Auckland Anglican church calling for a controversial Christmas billboard to be taken down.

The group, which began gathering at 11am, were praying the Rosary and said the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding a pregnancy test kit was an attack on her fecundity.

Catholic Action’s Arthur Skinner, from Whangarei, said they were protesting because the image was blasphemous.

They had a statue of the Blessed Virgin with flowers around it as part of their procession.

Arthur Skinner said the image had nothing to do with scripture.

Yesterday, stunned passers-by watched as a scissors-wielding zealot slashed the billboard and tore off a large chunk.

The grey-haired man appeared to be alone as he attacked the poster outside the St Matthew-in-the-City church in central Auckland before driving off.

Skinner later claimed responsibility for the incident. He was believed to have earlier phoned St Matthew’s vicar Glynn Cardy to say he would “roast slowly in hell” for erecting the billboard.

“He told me I would burn in the fires of hell, that would be my final destination,” Cardy said.

Catholic Church spokesman Lyndsay Freer said she, too, had received an unhappy phone call from who she thought was Skinner about the poster.

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33 responses to “Controversial billboard vandalized amid protests”

  1. Did the poster fight back? The author seems to personify it. “Attacking the poster.”

    This is hardly a surprise. Vicar Cardy can reach out to unwed mothers in other ways, without impugning Mary’s faith and otherwise making a mess of basic theology regarding her conception of Jesus Christ.

  2. The poster impugns Mary’s faith in no way, nor does it make any anti-theological comment on traditional Christianity. If there were home pregnancy tests in the day, there’s no reason to suppose they wouldn’t work–they are geared to a mother’s physical condition. And if Mary were to have a moment where she realized, “It really did happen,” then that in no way implies a lack of faith.

    Vandalism is wrong.

  3. I recall from seminary that there are various levels of ‘bad’ ideas. They can be heretical, false, scandalous and ‘offensive to pious ears.’ The last one is a category of things that are not necessarily wrong, but just shouldn’t be talked about. Like talking about one’s mother’s intimate details or the like.

    I think that the image on the billboard is, at most, ‘offensive to pious eyes’ though it doesn’t reach the level of the rest (heretical, false or scandalous).

  4. My original thoughts about this picture were, “Whatever”. I found it a well-intentioned but clumsy effort, and not really reflective of what we believe about Mary. However, every mother can recognize that moment of “shock and awe” when she first realizes a baby is on the way. And even though Mary rejoiced to be the mother of the Savior, I’m sure she realized that her life was changing in a BIG way.
    The picture isn’t Raphael or Michaelangelo, but I don’t think it is intended to be. I’m surprised that people are having such a cow over it that they resort to vandalism.

  5. Kevin, iconoclasm is usually defined as stripping a place of sacred art, not installing images that some may find disagreeable.

    Fr Sorensen, the bar has to be set pretty low for this billboard to be “offensive to pious eyes.” By the same standard, one could argue for the elimination of a lot of pro-life images.

    That such an image inspires so much controversy is something worth discussing and exploring. Why indeed do people find a piece of 20th century technology so disconcerting in the hands of a 1st century icon of faith? Does this imply, somehow, that today’s faithful Christians are loathe to bring together elements of their faith life and their secular life? Is a sin like vandalism justified because some “pious” people are offended?

  6. Nice try there but i think iconoclasm fits this to a t. From the perspective of catholic doctrine, the poster strips Mary of aspects of her nature and most catechized Christians find that offensive. The worst thing about it is how it suggests that Mary is an unwed mother in the normal sense, which attacks her perpetual virginity.

  7. If we stick to the texts of Sacred Scripture, then we must conclude that this poster is offensive, scandalous, iconoclastic and even heretical.

    Mary concludes her encounter with Gabriel with the words “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She accepts that “nothing is impossible with God” and that she is to be a mother. In her beautiful Magnificat, she affirms her joy and blessedness that she has been chosen as the mother of our Savior.

    The Anglican church that sponsored this billboard displayed a far more offensive one in 2009. There a crestfallen and deflated Joseph is shown lying in bed with Mary. The caption reads, “Poor Joseph, God was a hard act to follow”.

    Even if you don’t hold the Virgin Birth and Mary’s perpetual virginity, you should accord respect to these as sacredly held beliefs of one of the world’s great religions. The kind of cheap irreverence depicted on these billboards is, at best, bourgeois scoffing.

  8. Kevin, I can appreciate that you disliked the poster. But please, don’t go all 1984 on us and reinvent the English vocabulary. I’m mystified as to why a pregnancy test denies perpetual virginity.

    My understanding is that a urine test detects human chorionic gonadotropin, which is produced by a fertilized egg. It’s simple biology, created by God. What was produced by the biology of Mary’s unborn child in no way affects theology. Maybe it’s rather weird in some minds to think of Jesus as a fully-functioning human being with hormones, urine, feces, sweat, saliva, stomach acid, insulin, lymphatic and spinal fluid, and all. But when a human being is confronted by the situations of life and their body, doesn’t it somehow help to be mindful the Lord and his Blessed Mother experienced this?

    Personally, I found the depiction in The Passion of the Christ to be offensive, bordering on sadomasochistic. But I know others found it to be a profound spiritual experience.

    Many Catholics dislike this billboard. We get it. Now get over it. You don’t have to look at it. Only celebrate that the ends justifies the means.

  9. It’s offensive because it portrays doubt. The fact that she would 1.) take a pregnancy test and 2.) then look stunned indicates she did not believe the angel and therefore her “Yes” was meaningless.

  10. I thought it was a great pro life image.

    That fact that she embraced her cross, doubt, questions and all is inspiring, and what I got out of the picture.

    Of course God would not let Christ be aborted, but the question that the billboard asks is what great person will you let be born into the world?

  11. I know there is a common belief that Mary conceived during the annunciation, but it does not seem that Luke establishes this. It would seem to be consistent with Luke for Mary to believe she would conceive at some time after the annunciation. Hence, her pregnancy test might be read, not as her questioning the annunciation, nor of the painter doubting her virginity, but of her interest in knowing whether the promised conception had occurred yet.

    I don’t see any problem with Mary’s awe and astonishment when finding out she was pregnant. That seems to indicate a reverent amazement at the action of God, not doubt.

    I don’t think it is helpful for the image of the Catholic Church for Catholics incensed at what they see as blasphemy to go about desecrating public images of Our Lady. The attack on this image seems to be a form of blasphemy itself.

    God Bless

  12. They vandalized the wrong part. It is not the pregnancy kit that is blasphemous, but showing the Blessed Virgin Mary shocked with her hand over her mouth in disbelief. So much for “My soul rejoices”

    I use blasphemous in the sense Fr. Hardon defined it “Serious contemptuous ridicule of the saints, sacred objects, or of persons consecrated to God is also blasphemous because God is indirectly attacked.”

  13. What’s sad is someone decided that vandalism is the solution to something they didn’t like looking at or disagreed with. There is nothing wrong with that picture—Mary’s in shock, or dismay, because she has it confirmed that she’s pregnant. How is that offensive?

  14. It’s offensive because it basically denies the Annunciation — both the revelation to her and her willing consent prior to her becoming pregnant.

  15. What if the same billboard had the picture of one of the millions of babies slaughtered in abortions and a person had gone up with a knife and destroyed it in anger? It would be interesting to see the posts here by the same people that posted here and on the original post on this topic about marry and the pregnancy test. Would others have said we get your concerns, now get over it?

    At mass today, the sermon was about the Blessed Virgin Mary now being pregnant and the outrage, especially at this time, that could accompany her condition. Being without sin, Mary full of Grace, trusted the angel and gave her yes that was the beginning of our salvation and she knew she was with child out of that grace and trust. Yet, she was a virgin and as some suggest, might have been a girl of about 15 years of age. Mary is at the center of our faith and since her time, generations have called her Blessed. Thus a billboard where it shows that there was even a question or doubt causes offense and outrage. This is OUR mother and we do not take offenses against OUR mother lightly. But we are not muslims who act with violence for what too often seems almost any excuse. If we can pray peacefully outside abortion mills, we should be able to do the same in front of billboards without resorting to violence, even if we see them offending Mother.

  16. We are not Muslims who act with violence for what too often seems almost any excuse.

    Correct. Some of us are Christians who act with violence for what too often seems almost any excuse.

    Please watch the anti-Muslim bigotry, “Mark.”

    Dcn. G.

  17. Thanks to Deacon Greg for drawing attention to this. It got me curious about “Glynn Cardy,” the Anglican vicar who commissioned the billboard. This billboard is not the first controversial one he’s posted. He’s an ordained Anglican minister, but delights in mocking Christianity and orthodox believers. The local newspaper noted that this billboard was a publicity stunt.

    As for the activist from Catholic Action who apparently re-arranged the layout on this billboard, this was exactly what Glynn Cardy was hoping for. It got him more publicity than he could have dreamed.

    It’s no wonder that the Anglican church in places like New Zealand appears to be drifting aimlessly and that so many Anglicans are “swimming the Tiber” and coming home.

  18. “…stunned passers-by watched as a scissors-wielding zealot slashed the billboard and tore off a large chunk.”
    Years ago I worked as an intern for an elderly reporter who wrote copy like that. He had to rewrite all my stuff because I couldn’t write sensationally enough (I bet I could now!). Anyway, I doubt anyone who saw the “scissors-wielding zealot” was “stunned” by it. A man with a scissors cut a poster that was designed to offend people! Who’da thunk it?

  19. If that were a picture of our biological mothers, i think 99% of normal sons would have torn it down too. Probably most daughters too. If it had been a disrespectful image of muhammad, it not only would have been torn down but Cardy et al would now be on the receiving end of a fatwa. A significant difference

    Based on his track record with billboards he has gotten far more attention than he deserves.

  20. Jeffery,
    Have you never had a rejoicing soul and yet you were humanly nervous?
    This happens to me every time I write and preach a homily. My soul is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and I BELIEVE…but humanly I doubt until right before I proclaim the Gospel. Then I am “out of body” until I finish the homily and I sit down to reflect…and typically my reflection is, “What just happened?”. Followed immediately by rejoicing, praise and thanksgiving.
    Do you think that Mary, in her humanity couls not have felt that?
    Just askin’

    Peace to all

  21. Lemons are either sour or sweet depending on how they’re used.

    Not knowing the intent of the Glynn Cardy, I headed toward the sweet….
    Guess I’m headed for the “pit”

    Peace to all

  22. Good points, Oldestof9.

    Where others see shock, I see awe. Where others see doubt, I see humility.

    As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this is designed to be provocative, and it has certainly fulfilled that intention. It’s like an ink blot: we project onto this image our own biases, experiences, beliefs, theologies, relationships. By not giving the image a title or a caption, or any words at all, the artist is leaving it up to each viewer to provide them.

    It also occurs to me that Mary herself wasn’t completely sold on any of this. Luke writes that she was troubled by the greeting of the angel, and describes a skeptical young woman who had to be persuaded. She grilled Gabriel — “How can this be?!” — and needed some proof, some evidence. She needed to be reminded of what had happened to her cousin, and be reassured that “Nothing is impossible with God.”

    I’m not wild about the image, and I don’t think it’s great art. But it’s certainly a great conversation-starter.

    Dcn. G.

  23. “Provocative”…I guess it does “provoke”, doesn’t it. It provokes the St. Athanasius in me. They certainly “projected” their biases on Our Blessed Mother. This openness to interpretation is, by definition, offensive to Christian sensibilities. When you rationalize when the world attempts to define the sacred by their terms, then you have lost the sense of the sacred. Don’t be so “open minded” that your brains fall out.

    And in that same spirit, please have a permissive and open-minded Christmas.


  24. What sometimes I think is missed is that I see Mary’s “yes” as being a liftime re-commitment. I think her final and most incredible Yes was when she stood at the foot of the Cross to comfort her Son. As a mother of children with disabilities, I can tell you watching your child suffer is incredibly difficult and being present for your child during his pain and suffering is even more so. There have been many times when I have wanted to run away emotionally and literally. But Mary never turned away from Her Son and she was there for Her Son while He was being nailed to a cross. What an incredible yes that was. She is truly a hero to me and makes me strong when I want to give up.

  25. Did not see this as being anti-muslim but pointing out the differences we often see in the media between the way protest is done between the two faiths. We seem to take the non violent route of protest, even at abortion mills and do not approve violence. I see that this is different than when muslims sees their faith offended.

    I not below that Kevin also makes this point.. “If it had been a disrespectful image of muhammad, it not only would have been torn down but Cardy et al would now be on the receiving end of a fatwa.” Not sure how one post is anti-muslim and another is not? Just curious.

  26. “Mark” …

    Do not tar all Muslims with the same brush. There are extremists in their religion who make the most noise and grab the headlines. To suggest — as you did — that Muslims as a people all react with violence is patently false and, yes, bigoted.

    Kevin did not makes the same sweeping assertion.

    Dcn. G.

  27. naturgesetz: Think I’d be upset if I had been told by an angle that I was going to become pregnant without any physical contact, and it actually happened! If it is offensive,and denies the Annunciation, so be it but do the easy thing and walk away. Don’t destroy property to attempt to show your displeasure. Write a letter or something to the people who created it.

  28. Deacon, your call on the differences between mine and Kevins. I fully trust you to be fair and will watch this topic going forward. I did not intend it as a bash, but simply that Christians around the world do not react to what is seen as insults in the same way as we see happening with muslims. Kevin talked about it being torn down if it had been muhammad and on top of that a fatwa toward the person posting it. But I will leave it there to keep it short.

  29. Thank you for all the comments. My intention in allowing this billboard to go up was to invite people, particularly people not part of the Christian faith, to think about the courage of Mary. It was not designed to doubt beliefs about the virgin birth or the annunciation. Those who think Mary never questioned what was happening for her are entitled to their interpretation. But for others of us questioning, even doubting, is a part of faith, and a part of courage.

    God bless you all.

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