‘We Don’t See It as Political at All’: Claremont Pastor Explains Nativity Scene Depicting Holy Family as Refugees

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A baby Jesus is depicted inside a cage in a Claremont church nativity scene on Dec. 8, 2019. (Credit: KTLA)

A baby Jesus is depicted inside a cage in a Claremont church nativity scene on Dec. 8, 2019. (Credit: KTLA)

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A pastor at a Claremont church that unveiled a nativity scene over the weekend showing Jesus, Mary and Joseph in cages said the message is not political, and that the congregation is not trying to change people’s minds. Instead, it's meant to raise awareness.

Rev. Karen Clark Ristine of the Claremont United Methodist Church told KTLA on Monday that the committee responsible for picking the theme for the nativity scene unanimously decided as early as July to portray the issue of family separation. This year's scene went up Saturday night, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The senior pastor said regardless of whether the theme is controversial or “simple,” it calls on congregants to reflect on how they can be more compassionate.

“What if the holy family, who were refugees when they needed to flee Nazareth to Egypt for fear for their lives and the life of Jesus, what if they were seeking asylum at our borders?” Ristine said. “We would hope that they would be treated with compassion as we hope all people are.”

The highly criticized Trump administration border separation policy drew outrage from both sides of the political aisle before the president ended it last summer.

Ristine explained that the holy family is meant to be seen as being housed in different detention centers. She said another display inside the church shows the family's reunion, representing “the love that God intends.”

The church did not intend the depiction as a publicity stunt or to change anyone’s mind politically, Ristine said.

“We don’t see it as political at all, we see it as theological. We see it as us listening to the words of Christ when he calls us to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty,” the reverend said. “It doesn’t need to change anyone’s opinion, but hopefully reflects them to act with compassion.”

"I think we need to be challenged in our ideas and I think that this is an amazing display especially in this time of year and what is going on in this country," community member Yvonne Cervantes told KTLA.

Ristine said the church intends to keep the nativity scene up through Jan. 6, known in the Christian faith as the epiphany, or the day the three wise men visit the baby Jesus.

Founders Metropolitan Community Church Los Angeles in Los Feliz also has a nativity scene depicting the holy family in cages. The installation also includes signs that read "For Adoption," "Detention" and "Deportation," video shows.

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