Nativity scene at Claremont church shows Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus as refugees in cages

Two figures in cages
A Nativity scene at the Claremont United Methodist Church shows Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus separated by cages. (Meghan Bobrowsky • The Student Life)

An untraditional Nativity scene depicting Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus as refugees separated in cages was put up at the Claremont United Methodist Church over the weekend.

With its life-size figures, towering cages topped with barbed wire and baby Jesus wrapped in an aluminum blanket, the church alludes to President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has separated thousands of undocumented families at the U.S.’ southern border since he took office in 2016 without a clear plan to reunite them. 

The policy allegedly ended in June 2018 when Trump signed an executive order stopping the practice, but families are still being separated, according to NBC.

“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,” a plaque accompanying the display reads.

The plaque explains how the family was forced to flee from Nazareth — a city located in modern-day Israel — to Egypt to escape a tyrant and possible persecution or death.

“Imagine Joseph and Mary separated at the border and Jesus, no older than two, taken from his mother and placed behind fences of a Border Patrol detention center as more than 5,500 children have been the past three years,” the plaque said.

A sign displayed outside the Nativity scene
The plaque accompanying the Nativity scene at the Claremont United Methodist Church explains the display. (Meghan Bobrowsky • The Student Life)

The church’s Nativity scene “takes the place of the thousands of nameless families separated at our borders,” according to the plaque.

Keck biology professor Lars Schmitz said he found out about the Nativity scene through a Los Angeles Times article and visited it Sunday evening. He described it as “a very powerful installation that provokes and makes you think.

“I think it is good and necessary for the church, considered to be a moral and ethical stalwart, to make the caging of children at the border a central issue,” Schmitz said via message. “This is not about politics, it is about what is right.” 

Inside the church, another Nativity scene shows the family reunited, according to the plaque.

Karen Clark Ristine, Claremont United Methodist Church’s senior minister, could not immediately be reached for comment, but posted a photo of the Nativity scene to her Facebook Saturday evening and said she was “stirred to tears.”

The display has garnered national attention, including over 7,000 comments and 19,000 shares on Ristine’s Facebook post as of Sunday evening and articles in multiple national news outlets like The Washington Post and NBC News, in addition to the LA Times.

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