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Church’s Nativity Scene Depicts Jesus, Mary, And Joseph As Detained Refugees In Cages

DEA / ALBERT CEOLAN / Getty Images

Last week, a church in California started a Facebook-wide conversation after they created a political statement out of their church-front nativity scene.

At the Claremont United Methodist Church in Southern California, the church family arranged their nativity scene for the Christmas season. But instead of the traditional manger scene known worldwide, they presented Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in separate cages to mirror the present issues at the U.S. border.

After the display was completed, the Senior Minister from the church, Karen Clark Ristine, shared a picture of it on Facebook, alongside a lengthy description of the societal implications of the display, as well as the biblical ties to their creation of the display.

Ristine wrote:

“The theological statement posted with the nativity: 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.”

Ristine then went on to further compare the holy family with refugees held captive and separated at the U.S. border, claiming that if the holy family were to appear at our border, they wouldn’t find the protection and support they needed.

Ristine wrote:

“Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary were forced to flee with their young son from Nazareth to Egypt to escape King Herod, a tyrant. They feared persecution and death.”

“What if this family sought refuge in our country today?”

Finally, Ristine really drove the analogy home, citing Jesus at no more than two years of age among the 5,500 cited children that have been held at the U.S. border.

Ristine wrote:

“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’s post culminated ultimately into a call-to-action to take care of our neighbors, our loved ones, and those in need. She explained that they brought their message home at Claremont United by showing the holy family in separate cages outside the church, and united in a beautiful nativity scene in the sanctuary of the church.

Ristine wrote:

“Jesus grew up to teach us kindness and mercy and a radical welcome of all people.”

“He said: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’ Matthew 25:35”

“In the Claremont United Methodist Church nativity scene this Christmas, the Holy Family takes the place of the thousands of nameless families separated at our borders.”

“Inside the church, you will see this same family reunited, the Holy Family together, in a nativity that joins the angels in singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will to all.’ Luke 2:14”

Of course, a post as political and religious as this one is going to produce mixed reactions.

The Facebook post has been shared over 22,000 times and has produced more than 2,000 comments.

Some of the responses have been overwhelmingly positive, emphasizing the love emulated by Jesus and by the display of the beautifully completed nativity scene that greets visitors of the Claremont United church when they enter the building.

Facebook
Facebook

Others have been more negative, though to varying degrees.

Some are more technical in their responses, not viewing the holy family as refugees and thus not seeing the point of the analogy. Others have been more judgmental, leaning hateful, in their responses, either for religious or political reasons.

Facebook

Then there are the people who troll around Facebook to share pro-Trump memes who decided the best response was to post on all of Reverend Ristine’s online content, instead of just the post about the nativity.

As well as attack anyone who responded to their spamming of the minister’s timeline.

Jason Woods/Facebook
Jason Woods/Facebook
Jason Woods/Facebook
Jason Woods/Facebook
Jason Woods/Facebook
Jason Woods/Facebook

Such lovely examples of the Christmas spirit on display.

via GIPHY

Whether or not all are going to agree with Claremont United’s display, one thing is for sure: the caged nativity scene is provoking for people capable of it an important conversation about current conditions at the U.S. border and what we’re collectively going to do about it.

McKenzie Lynn Tozan

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan lives in North Chicago, where she works as a poet, freelance writer, and editor. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University, and her BA in English from Indiana University South Bend. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, the James Franco Review, Thank You for Swallowing, and elsewhere; and her essays and book reviews have appeared with Memoir Mixtapes, The Rumpus, BookPage, and Motherly, among others. When she's not reading and writing, she's in her garden or spending time with her family. For more, visit www.mckenzielynntozan.com.