In seminary, we constantly talked about social location (i.e., one’s sex, gender, class, education, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.). We always talked about how when reading and interpreting scripture, one’s social location must be considered because we all bring bias, preconceived notions, experiences, baggage to the table. That’s why it’s so important to research and exegete biblical texts because if we don’t, we will allow our social location to prevent us from properly preaching and teaching the Bible, or we will miss key things in scripture because our social location hinders us from seeing them. That’s why there are so many Bible-thumping evangelicals who cannot see how Jesus advocated for those on the margins of society including women, the sick (Lepers and others considered unclean), the foreigner (Samaritans), the poor and children to name a few.
Well, this Advent season, Claremont United Methodist Church is making waves on social media and in the press because of their Nativity scene which depicts Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus separated and in metal cages. Now, theirs is not the first nativity to depict family separation and detention. In fact, below is a thread of other churches and families making the same statement. Of course, the Nativity scene is a critique of U.S. immigration policies and the separation and indefinite detention of those coming to the United States seeking asylum. It’s a powerful statement because many persons who profess to be Christian fail to make the comparison between the holy family and immigrants even though the scripture tells the story of how Joseph, Mary and Jesus had to leave their homeland for fear of being executed by Herod and sought asylum in Egypt – Africa. I believe the mistruths that abound about Jesus’ heritage and the artists’ interpretations of Jesus also play a role in this miseducation. Since many Christians believe Jesus to be a white, Anglo-saxon, cishet male, it’s hard for them to connect Jesus with oppressed groups of people, which hinders them from seeing the humanity of those deemed to be the “other.”
There is a link embedded in this email to a Twitter account.
This Nativity scene is a powerful reminder that the holy family would have found themselves in a detention center and separated from Jesus living in subpar conditions and possibly facing death because of the rampant illness in those centers if they sought asylum in the United States. It’s also a powerful reminder that Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew 25 that how we’ve treated those marginalized groups is how we have ultimately treated him.
Claremont United Methodist Church is receiving just as much backlash as they are praise. Some people think that the church should not make political statements. They think it’s a violation between church and state. I beg to differ. The Bible is very political – from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus was political. He challenged the powers that be, and he was executed by the state because of it. If you disagree, it just may be your social location – which sometimes equates to privilege – that’s preventing you from seeing it.