A Southern California church’s nativity scene depicts the baby Jesus and his family as caged refugees held in separate cells, Reuters reports. The church’s pastor insists it’s not a political statement.
It’s a common sight all across Christendom this time of year. Churches — and in some cases, private homes and businesses — display a nativity scene as part of their holiday decorations. Such depictions usually include the baby Jesus in a manger and his mother, Mary and his father, Joseph praying over him. They may also include an animal or two, shepherds, or the Three Wise Men. Sometimes churches will even use live actors and animals for the scene.
However, Claremont’s United Methodist Church has put a different spin on the traditional nativity display this year. Instead of depicting the stable in which centuries of Christian art depict Jesus as having been born, surrounded by his parents, the scene depicts the Holy Family held in separate cages. In one, Jesus, wrapped in a foil blanket, rests in a makeshift crib. In another cage is Mary, according to LAist, her arms outstretched towards her newborn son. Joseph is held in another.
The scene calls to mind the news that dominated the headlines for a few weeks earlier this year, that of immigrant families being separated at the border and held in different detention facilities.
However, the church’s pastor, Reverend Karen Clark Ristine, says that though the scene is about the plight of migrant families, it’s not a political statement, but rather a theological one.
Thought-provoking nativity scene outside the Claremont United Methodist Church in California. pic.twitter.com/sALqoDRto4— ty stiklorius (@tystiklorius) December 8, 2019
“We know that this infant baby Jesus… grew up to be a Christ who calls us to compassion for our neighbor, compassion for one another… We see the Holy Family standing in for the nameless families. And we hope it inspires people to think about compassion,” she said.
Ristine says that her congregation has a history of helping refugees and migrant families, including holding “immigration clinics” to help people navigate the process of obtaining citizenship or residency.
“It was just really important [to continue] that part of the tradition, and family separation became the issue,” she said.
Not everyone is accepting of that particular message, however.
Visitor Tony Papa, for example, said that he’d consider finding a different church if his own put up such a display.
“I think is disgusting. I think it’s political and this is aimed at Trump. If I were a member of this church, I’d drop out, I really would, it’s very disgusting,” he said.