Culture

California Church Nativity Scene Has Holy Family Separated in Cages

Facebook screenshot of nativity scene with Baby Jesus, Joseph, and Mary in separate cages.

I love Christmas. From the soaring music of Handel’s Messiah to the Christmas lights popping up around the neighborhood to the children’s Nativity plays, there’s no shortage of joyous festivity around this time of year — and it’s all to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. But to many liberals, it presents an opportunity to take pride in their Trump Derangement Syndrome, while accidentally also attacking Barack Obama.

Take Claremont United Methodist Church, for example. On Saturday, Karen Clark Ristine — the church’s senior minister — shared images of its new Nativity display. Yet rather than showing Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in a stable with angels above, shepherds on one side, and wise men on the other, it has the Holy Family in cages.

Ristine said she was “stirred to tears by the Claremont UMC nativity. Inside the church, the Holy Family is reunited.”

“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 said in a statement. “What if this family sought refuge in our country today?”

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

“In the Claremont United Methodist Church nativity scene this Christmas, the Holy Family takes the place of the thousands of nameless families separated at our borders.”

Stirred to tears by the Claremont UMC nativity. Inside the church, the Holy Family is reunited. The theological…

Posted by Karen Clark Ristine on Saturday, December 7, 2019

This rhetoric should feel familiar. Last year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez compared the Holy Family to modern refugees in a series of tweets. She shared an article from Jesuit activist Fr. James Martin arguing that Jesus was a refugee.

The Holy Family were indeed refugees. The three wise men followed the star to Bethlehem, and met with King Herod. They told Herod that a king had been born, and Herod asked them to lead him to Jesus, intending to kill the baby.

Joseph had a dream telling him to flee to Egypt, which saved Jesus’s life; the wise men did not return to Herod after meeting with the Holy Family. This enabled Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to escape from Herod’s massacre of babies, remembered on the Day of the Holy Innocents, December 28.

There are key differences between the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt and modern refugee crises, however. Most modern refugees from Syria, Iraq, Venezuela, Honduras, Somalia, and other war-torn countries do not intend to return to their home countries. They seek to make a life for themselves somewhere else.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, James Martin, and other liberals who make this argument glance over the fact that Jesus did not grow up in Egypt. The Holy Family returned to Nazareth.

Furthermore, there are many legal and historical differences between the Holy Family and modern refugees. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were not breaking immigration laws when they crossed into Egypt. Egypt, like Israel, was part of the Roman Empire at the time, so the Holy Family’s flight would have been more like refugees from New York City fleeing to Cleveland than like Venezuelan refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Egypt had neither a modern democratic voting system nor a modern welfare system, so even if Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had stayed in Egypt, they would not have received benefits or the right to vote. These modern guarantees justify immigration restrictions (and arguably make them extremely necessary).

Liberals like AOC, James Martin, and the leaders behind this California Nativity display are trying to hijack the Christmas story for political ends. Indeed, Ristine’s “theological statement” concluded by quoting scripture. “Jesus grew up to teach us kindness and mercy and a radical welcome of all people. He said: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’ Matthew 25:35.”

Ristine is trying to use Christmas as a trump card to circumvent the messy immigration debate. Christians should love and serve all people, including illegal immigrants. But that does not mean the American government should be unable to bring peace to the border and to enforce immigration law — the same immigration law that legal immigrants abide by.

Immigrants who worked hard to abide by U.S. laws — passing citizenship tests few native-born Americans could pass and waiting years to get full citizenship — are appalled when Democrats insist that illegal immigrants should receive the same benefits. The system desperately needs reform, but it is unjust to treat legal immigrants the same as illegal immigrants.

Yet the biggest irony in Claremont UMC’s politically-charged Nativity display may be the rebuke it sends to former President Barack Obama. Claremont UMC leaders likely intended the display as an attack on Trump, but when it comes to “kids in cages,” the stronger rebuke applies to Obama.

The infamous photos of “kids in cages” by the border came from 2014 under the Obama administration, not under Trump. Photos showing immigrants sleeping on the concrete floor also date from Obama’s tenure, in 2015.

There is also more than a little irony in Democrats like AOC seizing on the story of Herod’s massacre of babies to advocate for unfettered immigration while themselves supporting the slaughter of unborn babies in abortion. Jesus’s brief babyhood exile was only necessary because of a tyrant killing babies for his own political purposes. Democrats should consider this before they politicize Christmas.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.