Churches in Australia are at the centre of controversy for erecting signs declaring that "Jesus Loves Osama".
The slogan, a reference to Osama bin Laden, the al-Qa'eda leader, has provoked a storm of controversy across the country despite its Christian message of forgiveness which many feel is a central to their faith.
Small print at the bottom of the sign urges churchgoers to "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you", a quotation from Matthew 5:44.
But John Howard, the Australian prime minister, said that the church should have chosen a less offensive way of spreading its message.
"I understand the Christian motivation of the Baptist church," he said.
"But I hope they will understand that a lot of Australians, including many Australian Christians, will think that the prayer priority of the church on this occasion could have been elsewhere."
Peter Jensen, the Anglican archbishop of Sydney, known for his conservative views on homosexuality, said that the signs were confusing and potentially offensive.
"There is a truth in it," he said on Southern Cross radio. "But, what we've got to say is, 'Jesus doesn't approve of Osama.' It makes it sounds like, 'Oh, Osama's doing the right thing'."
But a spokesman for the Central Baptist Church told the Australian Daily Telegraph that it was merely "sharing the gospel".
He said: "Osama is the head of terrorism. We are saying that Jesus Christ loves everyone in the world, even this man. ... All we are doing is sharing the gospel."
But NSW Baptist Union spokesman Alan Soden says while he can understand people may be offended, the sign reflects Christian teachings. "[Jesus] said we should love our enemies as controversial as that may be," he said. "The bottom line to me is we're all sinners. "He loves us all, no matter who we are or what we may've done."
The Central Baptist Church on George St in Sydney also defended the sign - outside its front doors and facing the street - and said it was designed to convey that Jesus Christ taught the importance of loving everyone.
The billboard also includes a quote from the Gospel Book of Matthew: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." It is reported that several other inner city churches have placed similar messages on their billboards. Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the parish, Hy Lam, said the billboard was merely intended to spread a Biblical message of peace and compassion. "Osama is the head of terrorism. We are saying that Jesus Christ loves everyone in the world, even this man," she said. "The Bible says God loves everyone ‚Äì even Osama bin Laden is included in that. All we are doing is sharing the gospel."
Primary reporting by Doug Hynd