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Washington Post - December 8, 2019

"Ristine rejected the notion of the nativity as a political statement.

“A nativity is the theological equivalent to public art, and the role of public art has always been to offer awareness,” she said. “Jesus taught us kindness and mercy and the radical welcome of all people.”

A Southern California church flipped the lights on its outdoor manger scene Saturday evening to reveal Jesus, Mary and Joseph as border detainees, each figure isolated in its own chain-link cage with a barbed-wire top.

The nativity display from Claremont United Methodist Church, a suburban congregation east of Los Angeles, is raising both praise and ire for its depiction of the biblical story of Jesus’s family fleeing to Egypt in the context of controversial U.S. immigration policies.

The nativity is meant to highlight the plight of migrants and refugees, a longtime cause for this 300-member congregation, said the Rev. Karen Clark Ristine, the church’s senior pastor.

“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 said. “I think as Christians we have a responsibility to proclaim a narrative that might be counter to what the world thinks.”

Claremont’s nativity, planned since July, is one of many “protest nativities” to attract attention in recent years. Some have advocated for gun control, for marriage equality and against war — one of the first protest nativities was set in New York’s Central Park in 1969 as a statement against the war in Vietnam.

Biblical interpretations suggest that after Jesus’s birth, his parents took him to Egypt fearing King Herod would have him killed.

Ristine, who joined the congregation in July, posted pictures of the nativity to her personal Facebook page and was stunned by the response — more than 15,000 shares and 4,000 comments in one day. Most have been supportive and have spawned an online discussion about inclusion, she said.

“Thank you for living the faith and reminding us of the true story — and message — of Christmas,” Shelby Edwards wrote on Ristine’s Facebook page, and a pastor from Australia wrote, “Well done, Claremont.” ...
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