A Nativity scene in the southern Califiornia city of Claremont depicting the Holy Family as a separated family held in cages at the U.S. border is sparking controversy and conversations over President Donald Trump's immigration policies.
"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."
—Rev. Karen Clark Ristine
"If this isn't your church's politics, you've got the wrong faith," tweeted music journalist Zel McCarthy.
Vanity Fair writer Anthony Breznican said that the Claremont United Methodist Church tableau, depicting Joseph and Mary in cages on either side of a caged baby Jesus Christ, was an accurate representation of the meaning of the Bible story.
"I love the Nativity story," said Breznican. "I love it not because it is warm and fuzzy, but because it is about perseverance against cruelty."
I love the Nativity story. I love it not because it is warm and fuzzy, but because it is about perseverance against cruelty.
No one saves them. The child is born in squalor, hiding among animals. He rests in a manger — which is not a hay-stuffed crib but a feeding trough. pic.twitter.com/KGmKeqgbU6
— Anthony Breznican (@Breznican) December 8, 2019
Breznican added that the Nativity story points the finger at those who, when faced with evil, do nothing.
"The monster of the Nativity story is not King Herod, the bloodthirsty tyrant," said Breznican. "He is just the backdrop."
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"The villain is the innkeeper, a common everyday person, who sees their dire situation and chooses not to help," Breznican continued. "No room. Sorry. America is full of innkeepers these days."
The exhibit represents "a not-so implicit criticism of the Trump administration’s border separation policies," said Politico reporter Dan Goldberg.
Claremont United Methodist Church Rev. Karen Clark Ristine told L.A. Times reporter James Queally that the scene was intended to use the Holy Family to highlight the "nameless families" who are victims of the border crackdown.
"We've heard of their plight; we've seen how these asylum seekers have been greeted and treated," said Ristine. "We wanted the Holy Family to stand in for those nameless people because they also were refugees."
"We don't see it as political; we see it as theological," she added.
Ristine's sharing of a photo of the scene on Facebook sparked controversy, with some commenters calling the pastor "an instigator; a trouble maker who does not have this country’s best interests," and questioning the purpose of the scene.
In her post, Ristine said that the Nativity scene was meant to send a message.
"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," wrote Ristine. "Jesus grew up to teach us kindness and mercy and a radical welcome of all people."