Jesus, Mary And Joseph Depicted As Refugees Separated At Border in Church Nativity Display

The Claremont United Methodist Church in Southern California has erected a Nativity display that uses the religious symbolism of Jesus' birth to draw attention to the plight of migrants at the border.

Karen Clark Ristine, the church's senior minister, posted an image of the Nativity to her Facebook page on Saturday. It depicts Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus each individually entrapped inside cells fenced with chain link and topped with razor wire, with harsh light beaming down on them from above.

Claremont United Methodist Church nativity
A Nativity scene picturing Jesus, Mary and Joseph as caged refugees at the Claremont United Methodist Church in California. Claremont United Methodist Church

Along with the photograph, Ristine wrote: "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. 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 asked, "What if this family sought refuge in our country today?"

The display is an obvious reference to the Trump administration's immigration policies, which have been driven by Stephen Miller, a White House senior adviser. In addition to the proposed wall spanning the southern border, the White House has called for mass deportations, ending birthright citizenship and phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

From the outset of his presidential campaign, Trump made immigrants a frequent target, referring to Mexicans coming across the border as "rapists" and "bad people."

In May 2019, a Guatemalan teenager named Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died of the flu while in custody at the immigrant detention center in McAllen, Texas. A shocking video, recently released, shows how guards left him to die in a shared cell, even though the Border Patrol falsely claimed he was monitored through the night. A record number of migrant children, 69,550, were held in U.S. custody, over the past year, according to the Associated Press.

Referring to Jesus, Mary and Joseph as "the most well-known refugee family in the world" has drawn the ire of several Trump supporters.

The comments below the Facebook post are filled with objections to the church's message.

One critic commented: "By the way...Mary & Joseph wouldn't do anything ILLEGAL!! Especially with The Son Of God with them!!" In fact, Jesus was called in front of the court of Pontius Pilate for the crime of sedition against the Roman Empire.

The Claremont United Methodist Church, which is east of Los Angeles, has a history of working with refugees and disadvantaged people in the community. The church recently raised $10,000 for Justice for Our Neighbors, a nonprofit that provides legal counsel for children detained and separated at the border.

This isn't the first holiday season when a Nativity scene has been used to protest the Trump administration's immigration policies. In 2018, a Texas couple depicted the baby Jesus in a cage labeled ICE (for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), with Mary and Joseph seen weeping outside the cell.