The high-minded liberals of the Claremont United Methodist Church decided to make a political statement with their annual Nativity scene this year, separating Mary, Joseph, and Jesus into detention cages as a protest against the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Rev. Karen Clark Ristine, the senior minister of the church, said the Nativity moved her to weep.
“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,” Rev. Ristine 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. What if this family sought refuge in our country today?”
She continued to lay it on thick: “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 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.”
This is not the first time that liberal Christians have attempted to draw parallels between the Christmas story and the plight of illegal immigrants. Last year, in her Christmas Day tweet, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote, “Merry Christmas everyone – here’s to a holiday filled with happiness, family, and love for all people. (Including refugee babies in mangers + their parents.)”
There are a few things that these comparisons miss.
One, it is inherently distasteful to co-opt religious stories, proverbs, and parables for the sake of pushing a political agenda. A close reading of Jesus’s message will reveal that he would have been unhappy with this use of his words. Belief in God is a deeply personal journey, and the message Jesus imparted is one of your eternal soul – not the whims of day-to-day politics.
Two, if you are going to use Joseph and Mary to make a political point, you have to at least get your facts straight. The earthly parents of Jesus were fleeing a murderous decree made by a mad, paranoid King Herod. If the U.S. – even under the control of the Trump administration – were to be presented with such a case, refugee status would be conferred almost immediately to the fleeing migrants. Mary and Joseph were not looking for better jobs or greater economic opportunity when they fled to Egypt. They were literally running for their lives, or at least the life of their new child.
Ultimately, even though we could get into the weeds about what type of refugees Mary and Joseph were and how they compare to modern immigrants, it’s irrelevant. The relevant thing is that we should not be using the tenets of Christianity to “win” a political argument. They are so much more vital and important than that. Churches would do well to leave politics to politics.