An advertisement depicting biblical figure Jesus as an organ donor has been banned by the advertising watchdog, with complainants labelling the ad “sacrilegious” and “deeply offensive”.
The advertisement, which appeared on various forms of social media, was intended to promote a recently released documentary called Dying To Live, an Australian feature-length film which focuses on the country’s lack of organ donors.
In the ad, two Roman soldiers approach the Jesus figure on the cross and ask him if he “thought about maybe becoming an organ donor”, to which he responds, “is this really the best time to be bringing this up?”
However, the two soldiers convince Jesus to sign up as an organ donor, providing him with a smartphone to do so. Afterwards, Mary and Joseph appear and tell Jesus they support his decision before the two soldiers take a number of selfies with the Son of God, quoting various hashtags related to the documentary.
The Advertising Standards Bureau received a number of complaints regarding the advertisement, with complainants accusing the ad of discriminating against or vilifying Christianity.
“This ad mocks the beliefs of Christians, by making fun of Jesus’ death on the cross and treating this horrific event with a sickeningly casual attitude. I am horrified that my faith is simply used as a tool for controversy and cheap attention-grabbing,” wrote one complainant.
“This ad is sacrilegious and mocks Jesus’ death on the cross. An ad mocking any other religious figure, such as Mohammed, would never be accepted as appropriate, nor should a mockery of Jesus,” wrote another.
In response, the producer of the film Gifting Life Pty Ltd acknowledged some members of the community may find the short “insensitive” but dismissed suggestions it vilified or discriminated against the Christian faith and said the producers had been as sensitive as “reasonably possible” to ensure the ad did not offend.
“We do not personally believe the short trivialises the Christian faith, but that it highlights the positive message within it of Jesus’ act of giving life, and that with this exists a strong parallel to that effect of the important message we are promoting around donation,” the producers said in response.
“Our intention was not to offend any members of the community, but to highlight the important issue of donation in a way that raises discussion and debate around it nationally and within this key demographic.”
However, the ad watchdog did not agree, and banned the ad on the basis it did not sufficiently consider how its content would offend some members of the Australian Christian community, and despite the depictions being humorous, they exceeded what “most members of the community would deem appropriate”.
“This depiction of Jesus on the cross was not merely the use of a traditional religious image in an unusual context or irreverent manner, but rather the depiction amounted to a disparaging take on an important religious belief,” the watchdog said.
“In this instance, the panel considered that the demeaning take on an important Christian belief did amount to vilification of Christians and the Christian religion.”
The producers said they would remove the ad from YouTube and cease its online broadcasting, however, they also intended to appeal the decision via the ASB’s Independent Review panel.
The short can still be viewed in full on the company’s YouTube channel.