A church billboard that shows a shocked Virgin Mary holding a positive pregnancy test has caused controversy in New Zealand.

St Mathews in the City Church in Auckland launched its latest advertising campaign with the aim to avoid the "sentimental, trite and expected to spark thought and conversation in the community."

The billboard was put up in Auckland on Tuesday, with critics straight away deeming the billboard unsuitable. It was designed by illustrator Elena Panaita from the design agency Whybin TBWA.

Defending the billboard, the vicar of the progressive Anglican church wrote on the church's Web site: "It's real. Christmas is real. It's about a real pregnancy, a real mother and a real child. It's about real anxiety, courage and hope.

"Regardless of any premonition, that discovery would have been shocking. Mary was unmarried, young, and poor. This pregnancy would shape her future. She was certainly not the first woman in this situation or the last."

People have taken to the church's Web site to express their anger at the billboard, with people leaving comments such as "Can it be any more offensive?" and "Seriously? You should be ashamed of yourselves. Using the Mother of your Saviour like that. It is a very sad day today when a Church can mock our Mother."

The billboard is set to remain in place until Christmas Day.

The site also invited visitors to come up with a caption for the billboard, with some questionable responses.

Robert from Auckland suggested: "Now, which way to the abortion clinic?" Nick from Wellington also suggested "Was it Luke or John .... or what's his name Joseph??"

This is not the first time that St Mathew's Church has caused controversy because of one of its advertising billboards.

In 2009, the church put up a billboard with showed Mary and Joseph together in bed with the assumption they have just had sex. The caption beneath the picture read: "Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow."

The billboard unsurprisingly caused outrage among the religious community and was eventually taken down after it was vandalized several times.

The Church's first ad campaign in 2009 saw Joseph in bed with Mary  Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2074105/Virgin-Mary-positive-pregnancy-test-Church-launches-controversial-ad-campaign-time-Christmas.html
The Church\'s first ad campaign in 2009 saw Joseph in bed with Mary Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2074105/Virgin-Mary-positive-pregnancy-test-Church-launches-controversial-ad-campaign-time-Christmas.html#ixzz1gar1bDKj