Melbourne churches feel let down by inflatable Jesus

Australians were met with an unusual sight this morning in Melborne as a 46m tall inflatable Jesus - wearing the Australian football team's official kit emblazoned with the slogan #keepthefaith - floated serenely across the skies.

Organised by gambling website Sportsbet, the giant balloon – which weighs in at over one tonne and is a replica of Rio's Christ the Redeemer statue – was set to promote Australia's efforts in the football World Cup.

A spokesman for Sportsbet explained, "'We're actually supporting the Socceroos and asking fans to #KeepTheFaith as we need some divine intervention to progress in the World Cup.

"We wanted to make it loud and clear that we are backing the boys in Brazil and what better way to do so than with Australia's largest ever balloon floating above the Melbourne skyline."

However, despite many on Twitter praising the ingenuity of the campaign – and plenty of people snapping a picture of the balloon on Instagram – it hasn't been received as well by several leaders in the Christian community.

ABC reports that the Chair of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce, Rev. Tim Costello, has condemned Sportsbet for going too far in its self-promotion, underlining that gambling is not approved of in the Bible.

"There seems to be no corporate or civic responsibility to say 'hang on, is nothing sacred?'" Costello noted.

"Is betting to absolutely dominate not just casino and gamble areas and TV rooms, but now literally the sky? This is extraordinary, if they knew anything about Jesus they'd know he'd be overturning tables in the gaming halls, because they're highly addictive and destroy lives."

The Sydney Morning Herald also quotes Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, as criticising the campaign, branding it "a blatant attempt to boost business".

"The fact that it has sought to exploit Christian symbols shows both the power of those symbols and the company's desperation to be relevant," Dr Freier said.

"But the campaign is hypocritical because the Jesus who overturned the money-changers' tables in the Jerusalem Temple would not encourage betting. And it is incoherent, in claiming the Socceroos are so inadequate that they need a miracle but patrons should nevertheless bet on them, while suggesting that the company is the author of miracles."

The World Cup begins this Thursday with the first match, Brazil v Croatia, kicking off at 9pm UK time.