The church was aiming to leverage the Christmas season to promote theological conversations. Specifically, they had five purposes:
- To invite people to think about the virgin birth and the nature of God.
- To say that there was more than one Christian way to think about the
virgin birth and God. Indeed there are many.
- To promote the Progressive view of Jesus having 2 human parents and God
being the power of love in his life.
- To ridicule the very literalistic view that God is a male and literally
- To invite people outside of the church to see a type of Christianity here
at St Matthew’s that they might be able to relate to.
The scope of this post, however, is not their theology but their advertising. The billboard’s main point is that Jesus was conceived by Mary and Joseph. But this message did not get across.
Most Protestants and, likely, most with no church affiliation thought the billboard was simply comparing Joseph’s ability in bed to God’s. Catholics were outraged because the billboard implied Mary wasn’t a virgin. Still others thought it was a good joke and it was about time “the church” got a sense of humor.
It outraged many Christians throughout the country–so much so that it was defaced within a few hours. The church replaced it with another print. That, too, was ripped apart by a knife-wielding vandal. And the church replaced it with yet another print. The billboard was stolen again, and the church finally decided not to replace it. [Note: the local homeless people who the church ministered to tried to stop the Christians from vandalizing it: Christian Ethicists, work that one out.]
Their message was completely lost in the noise of the resulting media focus on those offended by the billboard. Their five aims with the billboard were completely missed by the majority of their target audience. Their message was lost (though the church’s vicar claimed success for three of the five aims and partial success on a fourth).
But this story begs the question: is all publicity good publicity? By that metric, the billboard was a raging success. The ad rose above the clutter and noise of the traditional Christian stories written or broadcast around Christmas. It provoked controversy, outrage, vandalism and thorough media coverage for the church.
So what do you think? Is this simply an adventure in missing the point, or further proof that there’s no such thing as bad publicity?