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.