St Matthew-in-the-City Church in Auckland, New Zealand, has put up a billboard depicting a dejected-looking Joseph beside Mary in bed, beneath the caption, ‘Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow.’
The aim, according to the church’s vicar, Archdeacon Glynn Cardy, is to provoke debate, to ‘challenge stereotypes’ about the birth of Jesus, to lampoon the literal interpretation of the biblical stories of Jesus’ birth.
Glynn Cardy’s homily on the subject can be read here.
It’s difficult to know where to start on this one. But here goes.
First, deliberately causing offence is no way to start a debate.
Second, it is disingenuous of Archdeacon Cardy to suppose that anyone (apart from himself, perhaps) supposes that the Virgin Birth involves ‘a spiritual male God sending down sperm so a child would be born’. No reputable Christian thinker has ventured to be dogmatic on the physiology of the Virgin Birth.
Third, the Archdeacon’s preferred alternative, that Christmas is about ‘the power of love in our midst as seen in Jesus’ sounds plausibly religious, but is in fact so vague as to be meaningless. And especially so when divorced from the historical events that the Christmas story proclaims.
Fourth, placarding scepticism on a billboard like this will do nothing to commend faith in Christ. What was it that someone said: ‘Tell me about your convictions, if you have any. I have enough doubts of my own’?
Fifth, I suppose that much of the negative reaction to this ill-conceived attempt at shock tactics will come from Roman Catholics. They will see it is a affront to the reputation of the Virgin Mary. Lyndsay Freer, spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Auckland, says that ‘Our Christian tradition of 2,000 years is that Mary remains a virgin and that Jesus is the son of God, not Joseph.” But this, of course, is to divert attention somewhat away from Jesus himself and towards Mary, and to perpetuate the unbiblical myth that Mary remained a virgin all her life.
A scan of the web site of St Matthew-in-the-City suggests that this church should not presume to speak either for Anglicanism in particular or for Christianity in general. Indeed, it would seem that its version of ‘progressive Anglicanism’ favours ‘non theistic faith’. Which is just another way of saying, ‘It’s not just that we don’t believe in the Virgin Birth. We don’t even believe in God.’
I see that St Matthew’s is holding carol services this Christmas. I wonder what they’ll being singing?