Claremont Nativity

Political Nativity: California Methodists Display Caged Holy Family

on December 9, 2019

A Progressive United Methodist congregation in Southern California is marking the Advent season with an outdoor nativity display featuring the holy family in cages.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the depiction of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as refugees in cages likens one of the most well-known images of the Christmas season to photos that have become synonymous with criticism of the Trump administration’s border separation policies.

“We don’t see it as political; we see it as theological,” Claremont United Methodist Church lead pastor the Rev. Karen Clark Ristine told the Times.

“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,” Ristine posted on the church’s Facebook page, likening economic migrant detainees to those fleeing persecution as refugees.

The United Methodist Church has an official stance opposing any immigration restrictions.

This isn’t the first time Claremont has politicized a nativity display. In 2013, the church depicted Trayvon Martin, a young black man shot and killed in Florida, in place of the infant Jesus, in a black hoodie, bleeding from an apparent bullet wound. That 2013 display, according to the artist who fashioned it, was intended to spur discussion on gun violence.

The church’s annual bid for publicity appears to be successful: in 2013 the Trayvon Martin-themed display was reported in national as well as local publications. This year, the Times is joined by CBS News, the Washington Post and several local TV affiliates offering coverage.

IRD has previously covered a transgender nativity. Any choice to replace Christ with a political statement or gender-swapping affirmation is just that – making our own statement, rather than coming to worship the Lord who arrived in a humble manger.

  1. Comment by David on December 9, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    A better reflection of the modern holiday would be to have Mary and Joseph hold Walmart shopping bags with baby Santa in the manger. Keep Saturn in Saturnalia!

  2. Comment by Dan W on December 9, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    If this pastor (lol) and her flock wish to misrepresent the Gospel at one of the holiest times of the year, it doesn’t say much for their witness to the lost sheep.

  3. Comment by Dan W on December 9, 2019 at 9:56 pm

    Mary responded,
    “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
    How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
    For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations
    will call me blessed.
    For the Mighty One is holy,
    and he has done great things for me.
    He shows mercy from generation to generation
    to all who fear him.
    His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
    He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
    He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.
    He has helped his servant Israel
    and remembered to be merciful.
    For he made this promise to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.”

    Luke 1:46-55 New Living Translation (NLT)

    (The Magnificat seemed an appropriate response)

  4. Comment by Palamas on December 9, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    If they didn’t do this when Obama’s administration did it (which they didn’t, or we would have heard about it), it’s politics pure and simple. Not that that would make it right, but at least you could accept that they were making a moral statement, rather than a 3D version of “Orange Man bad.”

  5. Comment by Jim on December 9, 2019 at 6:25 pm

    “We don’t see it as political; we see it as theological,” Claremont United Methodist Church lead pastor the Rev. Karen Clark Ristine told the Times.

    You wouldn’t know good theology if it walked into your office and personally introduced itself. Your theology is a figment of your twisted mind.

  6. Comment by Robert C Howard on December 23, 2019 at 9:01 am


  7. Comment by td on December 9, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    For these people, personal politics continues to trump the gospel. Jesus still encounters the same problem with the religious elite that he did in the ancient world: religious elites wanted a political messiah that would enforce their political views and Jesus had to keep reiterating that he was not a political leader, but was God, the Word made flesh.

  8. Comment by Jim on December 9, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    Excellent TD.

    Jesus himself said “render to Caesar that which is Caesars’ and to God that which is His.” Caesar has immigration rules and regulations that are the law of the land. These so-called progressives pick and choose which Jesus they want to trot out.

  9. Comment by Ignacio Castuera on December 14, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    Read the whole pericope! Jesus first unmasked the true character of his detractors who were carrying coins with an image in violation of the commandments. Jews were permitted to mint their own currency yet the traitors who questioned Jesus were willing to carry coins with “ eikon to epigrapha”
    The followers of Jesus rendered all to God and nothing to Cesar, that’s why they were persecuted

  10. Comment by Jim on December 15, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    You are missing Jesus point- two kingdoms The heavenly kingdom & the earthly kingdom- the apostle Paul in Romans 13:
    13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

  11. Comment by td on December 9, 2019 at 6:37 pm

    The irony of this display is that the displayers probably don’t even believe that gospel narrative of king herod’s slaughter of the innocents and the holy family’s flight into Egypt to which they are referencing. Don’t they think the infancy narratives are all mythical?

  12. Comment by David on December 10, 2019 at 8:19 am

    The Gospel of Luke does not recount this story, relating instead that the family went to the Temple in Jerusalem, and then home to Nazareth. Attempts to make Jesus the “new Moses” had to have him come out of Egypt.

  13. Comment by td on December 10, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    Well, the gospel of Matthew does tell this narrative. And the church has upheld that narrative for 2 millenia.

  14. Comment by John Schuh on December 16, 2019 at 5:25 am

    Bethlehem is virtually a suburb of Jerusalem. As for this, Egypt would be a logical place to go to go beyond reach of Herod, given the large Jewish population there.

  15. Comment by td on December 17, 2019 at 6:45 pm

    Perhaps instead of assuming that parts of the gospels are fabrications to make a point, you should allow for the awesome power of God to reveal himself through mighty acts. Maybe you should allow the possibilty that the flight to Egypt occurred not only to protect the infant Christ, but to display Him as the new Moses who transforms His people and sets them free.

  16. Comment by Steve on December 9, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    Treating the holy family like the $120k duct taped banana.

  17. Comment by DT on December 9, 2019 at 9:38 pm

    Well said TD. This display is shameful. It’s extremely political, disgraceful and inappropriate. It only fuels disbelief in non-believers. There will be a day when those who created the display will be held accountable.

  18. Comment by JR on December 11, 2019 at 9:56 am

    I wholly agree, the display is shameful.

    Because it strikes at the core of who we, as Americans, are and have become.

    It should make you feel shame. It makes me feel that way.

  19. Comment by Johan on December 10, 2019 at 7:55 am

    Interesting; I had thought that honest liberals thought that the Bethlehem birth story was a late literary creation, since it appears (in dissimilar forms) only in Matthew and Luke, and then is never mentioned again by Matthew or Luke (or by Mark, John, Paul, or anyone else in the NT); that it was a fiction to get Jesus born in the city of David. So it’s interesting that liberals will make use of traditional beliefs when it suits their political purposes.

  20. Comment by td on December 10, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    To be fair, we should assume that they were not referring to the journey to Bethlehem, but the fleeing to Egypt narrated in Matthew after the visit of the Magi.

  21. Comment by John Schuh on December 16, 2019 at 5:34 am

    The devil is in the details. Trump is continually blamed for doing stuff that Obama did earlier. Or in the case of regulation, his undoing what Obama did. After the Democrat lost control of the House in 2010, Obama made much new law based on the executive authority. Trump undid much of this by the same authority. Sauce for the goose is sauced for the gander,

  22. Comment by Be angry do not sin on December 10, 2019 at 9:38 am

    Someone ought to steal the Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child from the cages and replace them life sized pictures of our ex-president, the Speaker of the House, and the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Then put Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child where people who really appreciate the meaning of this season can see them.

  23. Comment by JR on December 11, 2019 at 10:45 am

    One wonders why you think those three should be caged…

    I suspect that would say more about you than it does about them.

  24. Comment by K.G. Goodwright on December 10, 2019 at 11:39 am

    Why would Jesus’ family be turned away at the border? They were going to Joseph’s hometown to be counted and pay taxes. They weren’t immigrating.

  25. Comment by td on December 10, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    To be fair, we should assume that they were not referring to the journey to Bethlehem, but the fleeing to Egypt narrated in Matthew after the visit of the Magi.

  26. Comment by K.G. Goodwright on December 11, 2019 at 11:09 am

    I understand. Jesus probably wasn’t an infant at that time. It looks to me like the baby is lying in a manger but I understand what you are saying.

  27. Comment by Rebecca on December 14, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    TD, you keep repeating the flight to Egypt. I had never heard about the flight to Egypt as having anything to do with the nativity until the last ten years or so. There was the Nativity in Bethlehem and then the flight sometime afterward, right? Christmas is about the nativity (birth) of Jesus, not a flight to Egypt- birth not flight. We celebrate His birth.

  28. Comment by John Schuh on December 16, 2019 at 5:35 am

    Right on.

  29. Comment by td on December 17, 2019 at 6:38 pm

    I totally agree. It is part of the display’s political nature to misconstrue the gospel, the incarnation, and the nativity.

    However, to take this display as having any relevance, you have to assume that they are referring to the flight to egypt.

  30. Comment by DH on December 10, 2019 at 11:50 am

    Perhaps next year have Mary and Joesph leaving Planned Parenthood abortion clinic. It was an unwanted pregnancy >

  31. Comment by Scott on December 10, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    I found this entire story highly upsetting. It was featured prominately on Fox’s morning shows which are the most watched on Cable TV with millions of viewers. The mentioned multiple times that it was a United Methodist Church (I don’t blame Fox, they were reporting a fact). Now millions of people see this as what the UMC stands for and millions of conservatives will be turned off by the UMC. The church needs to stay out of politics and this was a blatant political move. I don’t think this pastor complained when the Obama administration put kids on cages which is when in 2014 all the pictures of kids in cages the media loves to put on TV and then complain about the Trump administration. In a divided nation when the church picks a side it turns off half of the population and loses our chance to evangelize them. New England AC seems to have their annual conferences scripted by Move ON dot Org and their worship attendance is in a free fall. This church has painted us all with a progressive brush and we all suffer for these type of actions!

  32. Comment by JR on December 11, 2019 at 10:00 am

    ” I don’t think this pastor complained when the Obama administration put kids on cages which is when in 2014 all the pictures of kids in cages the media loves to put on TV and then complain about the Trump administration.”

    Fair point. Counterpoint, the story about that didn’t hit the media (or at least, didn’t catch the public ire) during the Obama administration. It has done so this year.

    The better response isn’t to shift the blame here. It’s to own the fact that, as Americans, we are responsible for the actions of our government. So accept that this display is a reasonable interpretation of your religious and civic dynamic, or fight against the actions that make this display such a shameful representation.

  33. Comment by Jim on December 11, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    JR- where do you get off saying we are responsible for our government’s actions? That’s ridiculous. But if you believe that then YOU are responsible for the FBI’s abuse of power with the Trump campaign!

  34. Comment by JR on December 12, 2019 at 8:36 am

    Hi Jim,

    Welcome to democracy 101.

    Maybe this will ring a bell: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    All governmental power in the US derives directly from the People. All actions of the government are, when you drill down to it, our responsibility as a democracy.

    Just because I voted otherwise, that doesn’t absolve me of that responsibility. You are as responsible for every action of our government as I am, regardless of whom you voted for or against. We own those actions.

    Happy to take your questions on that.

    What’s interesting in this particular situation is that we could maintain strong border controls and immigration policy, BUT NOT PUT PEOPLE IN CAGES. Being kind to those who are refugees would fit in quite easily with our religious view and not put us on the defensive about what our government (i.e. us) is doing.

  35. Comment by Jim on December 15, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks doctor JR for your lecture on US Government.

    Are you aware that the most recent photos of people in fences were actually prior to the November 2016 election? We have a responsibility to the legitimate men, women AND children in this country to provide a safe environment. The governments role is and should be to protect its citizens. So spare us your righteous indignation on matters you know little about.

  36. Comment by TH-VA on December 16, 2019 at 12:51 am

    JR ….. congrats on your lobotomy. It seems it was a blazin’ success. I am not responsible for actions taken by the govt, with which I disagree, no more than I am responsible for the thug that murders someone. You seem to have missed the civics lesson on personal responsibility. By your logic, if we attempt to bring someone to Christ, yet they reject his teachings, we are to blame. The fallacy of your argument is that God has given us free will and how we live our lives, is on each of us individually.

  37. Comment by SkippingDog on December 11, 2019 at 11:44 pm

    The UMC is already in schisim over LGBT, separating those who reflect the love of Christ from those more accurately described as punitive fundamentalists. No decent person will stay with the latter.

  38. Comment by John Schuh on December 16, 2019 at 5:39 am

    The LGBT are th schismatics. Imagine what John Wesley would say about their rejection of Christian sexual morality.

  39. Comment by Edwin on December 11, 2019 at 9:48 pm

    Clearly hthe display reminds us all that if belongings are not properly secured someone here illegally.

    It’s sad that this church had to point that out so crassly, but at least by securing it this way they still have their nativity.

  40. Comment by Randy Thompson on December 13, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    It seems to me that this is not a comment on immigration policy, but on the fact that our government separated children from their parents. Period. And yes, this is something Christians should be concerned about, although a politically conservative position doesn’t seem to think so.

  41. Comment by TH-VA on December 16, 2019 at 12:58 am

    So, you don’t mind that some of those so-called “parents” were actually “child trafficers” ?

  42. Comment by Donald on December 14, 2019 at 6:06 am

    I know that Baby Boomer theory on the issue of truth statements, adopted by the Progressives worldwide is, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” But some of us still care about the truth. The “refugee cages” were employed by President Barak Hussein Obama.

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