Dec. 9 (UPI) -- A church's Nativity scene in Southern California that depicts a baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in separate cages at the U.S.-Mexico border has drawn a lot of attention as a statement against the Trump administration's immigration policy.
Karen Clark Ristine, a senior minister at Claremont United Methodist Church, posted the picture of the holy family inside individual cages with razor wire. She said the three are reunited inside the church in a conventional Nativity scene. Claremont is about 25 miles east of Los Angeles.
Ristine said the display sought to make a theological statement describing Jesus, Mary and Joseph as the "most well-known refugee family in the world" and questioning what would happen if they sought refuge in the United States today.
"We see this as, in some ways, the Holy Family standing in for the nameless families," said Ristine. "We've heard of their plight; we've seen how these asylum seekers have been greeted and treated. We wanted the Holy Family to stand in for those nameless people because they also were refugees."
The display at the Methodist church spurred new debate over the Trump administration's immigration policy in general, and its practice of separating migrant families at the border for a time in 2017 and 2018.
"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," Ristine wrote in a Facebook post. "Jesus grew up to teach us kindness and mercy and a radical welcome of all people."
The powerful image drew a range of comments -- some supportive for the church making the traditional Christmas story relevant to the immigration issue, and some critical that fault Ristine for merging politics.
"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."
Felicity Harley-McGowan, a divinity lecturer at Yale University, told America magazine scholars believe the original Nativity by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century was itself a protest to bring attention to the plight of the poor.