Church and State (of Separation)

JoAnne Artman Gallery
Dec 12, 2019 3:18PM

Throughout history, the United States has been host to numerous waves of immigration. Between 1892 and 1924, 12 million people successfully immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island. Highly efficient, most immigrants were processed through Ellis Island in a few hours and National Geographic reports only 2% of immigrants that arrived on the island were prevented from entering the United States. Even after successfully entering the country, immigrants were faced with discrimination and persecution.

Immigration, and the resulting diversity, is undeniably one of America’s greatest assets and forever changed the cultural footprint of, not only the US, but of the world. However, as a country that was founded on aspirations of democracy, humanity and equality, the United States continues to show prejudice towards the immigrant experience.

Photo Courtesy: Claremont United Methodist Church

The Trump administration faced broad criticism for separating children from their families while they were detained at the southern border before the president ordered an end to the practice in 2018, making it possible for families to be detained indefinitely, but together. Still, media outlets continue to cover the devastating repercussions of children and families being held in detention centers, sparking public outrage and a continued debate about how to handle immigration at the US-Mexico border and the long promised border wall.

In response to ongoing immigration issues and reports of immigrant families still being separated at the southern border, Claremont United Methodist Church in Claremont, California has displayed a nativity scene in which the Holy Family is placed in cages. Showing the baby Jesus in a chain-link cage swaddled in a solar wrap with Mary and Joseph, both positioned in their own cages on each side of the holy infant, reaching out to him.

"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," Pastor Karen Ristine said in her public Facebook post. "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.”

"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," she wrote. "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."

Resonating and deeply touching some spectators, others were offended by the nontraditional scene and the church politicizing the nativity. Creating controversy, Claremont United Methodist accomplished exactly what they intended, sparking a nationwide conversation during a season of reflection, giving, and compassion.

JoAnne Artman Gallery