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Claremont United Methodist Church
World News

Church defends making political statement with caged nativity

by Tola Mbakwe

Claremont United Methodist Church in Claremont, CA has received a lot backlash after Rev Karen Ristine, who leads the church, shared the image of the nativity on Facebook stating its relevance to the current immigration crisis in the United States.

She said: "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. 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 centre as more than 5,500 children have been the past three years.

"Jesus grew up to teach us kindness and mercy and a radical welcome of all people."

After quoting Matthew 25:35, Rev Ristine said that inside the church people could see a more traditional nativity.

"You will see this same family reunited, the Holy Family together, in a nativity that joins the angels in singing 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will to all'. Luke 2:14," she said.

While the post shared on 7th December garnered some support, like one person who said: "My highest respect to you for your social conscience, many people like you are needed, especially in these days, Thank you!" it was also met with some hard criticism.

One person commented: "What about the ILLEGALS coming into this country and killing someone? The parents and that child are separated forever in this life ... Horrible display."

Rev Ristine's post has garnered more than 14,000 comments and 24,000 shares on Facebook.

On 9th December the church released a statement acknowledging that it has considered both points of view on the heated conversations taken place on Facebook.

"We hear the passion in peoples' responses to our nativity display," the church said.

"This is Christianity in action. Our nativity has evoked an important conversation, and we ask that you hear the passion - in the voices of others as well as your own. When passion turns to compassion, the Spirit inspires us all."

The church also explained the background of its nativity display.

"We want to directly address a concern raised by some," the statement added.

"We find the detention and family separation policy immoral in any administration, and this congregation has opposed those policies since their inception. For those who have asked why we did not do such displays previously, please know that we have. In both 2009 and 2012, in particular, our nativity displays attempted to raise similar awareness on immigration policy concerns.

"We believe and proclaim that all people are made in God's image. The message of our nativity encourages us to see God's image and the love of Christ in every person."

The church said while it cannot respond to every single comment on the nativity, it is "grateful for the conversations the nativity has inspired."

The church added: "We hope they raise greater awareness in each of us for God's care for the least of these."

It ended the statement quoting Matthew 25:35: "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."

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