The Claremont United Methodist Church has erected a Nativity scene portraying the Holy Family separated and held in cages at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Rev. Karen Clark Ristine, senior minister at the church, posted a photo of the Nativity scene on Facebook, saying the depiction had stirred her “to tears.”
“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. Ristine wrote.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Holy Family. 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,” she said, calling this the “theological” interpretation of the scene.
The California minister went on to invite her readers to imagine Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as victims of present-day immigration policies.
“What if this family sought refuge in our country today?” she asked.
“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,” she said.
“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,” she said.
The provocative Facebook post elicited nearly 8,000 comments and 20,000 shares, split between supporters and critics.
Many of the comments took issue with the reverend’s politicization of the Christmas story, while also calling into question the intentions of the church in making this partisan statement.
“This is a good example of what it means to take the Name of God for your own vain and gain,” wrote one woman. “Claremont UMC are false teachers and false prophets. Claremont UMC is getting human trafficking money and funds in the guise of charity and are tax exempt while pushing false narratives and political agendas, and they profit at the expense of taxpayers, and they exploit the people they claim to help.”
The Rev. Ristine is not alone in comparing contemporary American politics to the rulers of the time of Jesus. Several days ago, Pope Francis compared President Donald Trump to King Herod, the ruler who massacred male infants in an effort to kill the baby Jesus, as recounted in Saint Matthew’s gospel.
Speaking with a Jesuit community during his recent visit to Thailand, the pope offered a thinly veiled condemnation of the U.S. president and his administration, suggesting that like King Herod, Mr. Trump separates families at the border while allowing drugs to freely flow into the country.
“In other parts there are walls that even separate children from parents. Herod comes to mind,” Francis said. “Yet for drugs, there’s no wall to keep them out.”