Church Nativity Scene Depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Cages

On Sunday morning, members of Claremont United Methodist Church in Claremont, CA were greeted by a unique and thought-provoking nativity scene. The life-size display depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph as refugees separated in cages topped with barbed wire. The infant Jesus is wrapped in a silver blanket, a reference to the tinfoil-like blankets that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have supplied to detained migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. This imagery is meant to draw parallels between immigrants seeking asylum at the southern U.S. border and the Holy Family’s escape from Nazareth to Egypt in the New Testament.

Courtesy: NBC Boston

“In a time in our country when refugee families seek asylum at our borders and are unwillingly separated from one another, we consider the most well-known refugee family in the world. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Holy Family,” says the church statement posted with the nativity scene. “What if this family sought refuge in our country today? Imagine Joseph and Mary separated at the border and Jesus, no older than two, taken from his mother and placed behind the fences of a Border Patrol detention center as more than 5,500 children have been the past three years.”

This year’s nativity isn’t the first instance of Claremont UMC getting political with their Advent displays. In 2013, the church’s nativity scene depicted Jesus as a bleeding teenager in a black hoodie, his spilled blood spelling out “A CHILD IS BORN, A SON IS GIVEN.” The accompanying statement reflected on the themes of the Advent season and how they relate to gun violence in America, particularly following the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman in 2012. In 2011 (two years before same-sex marriage was declared legal in California), the Advent display depicted glowing silhouettes of a heterosexual couple and two same-sex couples, accompanied by a statement that celebrated Jesus’s “radical message of love.”

Courtesy: Claremont United Methodist Church

Claremont UMC’s senior minister Karen Clark Ristine shared a photo of this year’s compelling nativity scene on her Facebook page, writing that she was “stirred to tears” by the sculptures. She ended her post with the hashtags #holyfamilyseparated and #endfamilyseparation.

Ristine’s public post has caused stark controversy among Facebook users. “Thank you for calling out our hypocrisy and cruelty. There can be no safe space for the evil our nation is committing against these refugees and migrants,” reads one supportive comment. “Thank you for this poignant statement. I hope it helps open peoples’ eyes. We are all people, we are all deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” says another.

“This is so wrong on so many levels. I know you were trying to make a statement as to ‘what could have been,’ but putting a political statement on one of the most Blessed Events ever in history is just wrong,” one critical user wrote. Ristine’s post, as well as other public posts on her Facebook timeline, have been spammed with violent comments and pro-Trump memes.

"It was nice for me to see that people wanted to talk with one another, even though they disagreed," Ristine said in a statement with CNN affiliate KBAC. "So, if this sparks conversation that would be one good goal."


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