Nativity displays Jesus, Mary and Joseph as refugees separated at border

A Southern California church’s nativity scene this year presents Jesus, Mary and Joseph as refugees detained and separated at the border. Each figure is isolated in its own chain-link cage with a barbed-wire top.

The nativity scene is drawing mixed reactions for the way it presents the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt in the context of current U.S. immigration policies. (According to the Bible, the Holy Family became refugees immediately after Jesus’s birth, because they feared King Herod would have him killed.)

The United Methodist Church’s nativity scene aims to highlight the plight of migrants and refugees, which the congregation has been striving to change, says the Rev. Karen Clark Ristine, who is the church’s senior pastor.

“Our intent is to focus on the asylum seekers and the ways they are being greeted and treated and to suggest there might be a more compassionate way to show God’s love,” Ristine says.

“I think as Christians we have a responsibility to proclaim a narrative that might be counter to what the world thinks.”

Claremont’s nativity has been planned for several months. It is one of many “protest nativities” that have attracted public attention over the years.

Other US protest nativities have advocated for gun control, for marriage equality and against war. In fact, one of the first protest nativities was set in New York’s Central Park in 1969 as a statement against the war in Vietnam.

Ristine posted pictures of the nativity to her personal Facebook page and was stunned by the response. The page was shared more than 15,000 times and attracted 4,000 comments in one day. Most have been supportive and have spawned an online discussion from across the world about inclusion, she said.



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