Jesus, Mary and Joseph are separated in chain-link cages in a hyper-politicized nativity scene that elevates open-borders proponents to the ranks of the angels – and slyly slimes US President Donald Trump as a murderous potentate.
Three chain-link cages topped with barbed wire holding life-size plaster nativity figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph have been placed on display outside Claremont United Methodist Church in the suburbs of Los Angeles, where they have become a lightning rod for controversy.
Claremont head pastor Rev. Karen Clark Ristine insists the “protest nativity” – which went live on Saturday – fulfills Christians’ “responsibility to proclaim a narrative that might be counter to what the world thinks.” A second scene inside the church shows the family reunited.
“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 told the Washington Post on Monday. Posting a photo of the scene to her Facebook, the head pastor was more blunt in her grab for the viewer’s heartstrings: “What if this family sought refuge in our country today?”
The Holy Family takes the place of the thousands of nameless families separated at our borders.
Christian scripture describes Mary and Joseph fleeing with the newborn Jesus to Egypt from Nazareth after King Herod orders all infant boys under the age of two killed, lest one grow up to depose him as prophesied. The nativity story is an ideal for a liberal church looking to pillory Trump – baby-killer Herod the Great is as good a stand-in as any biblical villain for the Bad Orange Man – though Ristine, perhaps anticipating doctrinal nit-picking, insists the installation is less a political statement than a theological one.
That explanation provides an excuse for failing to engage with the most obvious political reference one might draw from the plight of a Holy Family confined in cages – fleeing for their lives in modern-day Palestine, where families are regularly separated from each other, from their ancestral homes, and from their livelihoods with the casual cruelty of an apartheid state that views them as less than human. But even the most smugly #Resistant church would struggle to scale the dizzying heights of public virtue by highlighting the crimes of Zionist Israel, since most Democratic politicians are just as guilty as Trump is of backing them.
Christian Trump supporters didn’t hesitate to defend their territory, pointing out that the Holy Family had actually done their traveling legally – and thus had nothing to fear from Trump’s border enforcement. “So, Joseph and Mary OBEY THE LAW and report for the census decree and you portray them as refugees and compare them to illegal immigrants. It’s no wonder mainstream churches are losing members as they focus more on social commentary than preaching the Word,” one Facebook user snarked.
“How many refugees are you taking in?” another asked more pointedly. “I’m sure your home is open for all to stay. Correct? And by the way, quit using Jesus for political propaganda.”
Protest nativities are nothing new, though their focus shifts with the prevailing moral tradewinds – a 1969 nativity scene in New York’s Central Park served as a protest against the Vietnam War, while a 2017 installation in Dedham, Massachusetts campaigned for gun control. A display erected outside several states’ halls by the Freedom from Religion Foundation to protest the very existence of public nativity displays depicts the Statue of Liberty, flanked by three Founding Fathers, watching over a baby Bill of Rights in the manger.
In an age where Americans are made to feel guilty for trying to wall even the slightest corners of their lives off from politics, “using Jesus for political propaganda” is not just expected – it’s required. Public displays of religion have become cheap and easy ways for political figures to telegraph their morality to the world, the equivalent of wrapping oneself in the flag for the global ruling class. And how better for a leader to communicate how in-step they are with the new postmodern post-nationalism than by littering their lawn with the symbols of religions their constituents haven’t even heard of?
It’s only fitting, now that political ideology has taken religion’s place as the primary fault line along which society fractures – and become accordingly intolerant of anything that smacks of heresy – that it should assume the rest of religion’s trappings as well. We can only hope the enthusiasm for this merger runs out before anyone is burnt at the stake for failing to see divine revelation in the plight of a border-hopping family unit.