Jesus has reportedly been replaced by Trayvon Martin in a Claremont, California church Nativity. The Claremont United Methodist Church chose to use its Nativity this year, as in years past, to highlight a social issue. This year, it was Martin’s death that served as the inspiration.
The Nativity depicts a bloodied image of Martin “slumped over in his hoodie” among the usual representations of Mary, Joseph and the three wise men. The artist, 57-year-old church congregant, John Zachary, explained that he sees a parallel between the killing of babies under King Herod in the time of Jesus and today’s epidemic of gun violence. He went on to explain his belief that Jesus is relevant today and needs to be seen in a modern context. A placard explaining the artist’s intent is placed nearby the scene. The work has been entitled “A Child is Born, A Son is Given.”
A pastor of the church, Rev. Dan Lewis, says the display is intended to be thought-provoking and indicated that a lot of thought and consideration went into whether or not to go ahead with the controversial piece. He admitted to having had his own reservations about it, but ultimately says “I have come to think that it’s the right way to do it…I feel a little sad that some people are so outraged about it.”
And outraged they are. Since word of the Nativity began to spread earlier this week, the church has received a barrage of threats, critical messages and phone calls. The church has been attacked on its Facebook page as well, with many of those posting expressing their disappointment that Jesus was replaced as a part of the scene and that they feel His image has been disparaged. Some also call the scene “disgusting,” indicate that the church should be ashamed and draw comparisons between the church’s display and the controversial antics of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Rev. Lewis has acknowledged that even some of his own parishioners have questioned the display. Rev. Sharon Rhodes-Wicket also a pastor at the church admitted that she finds the “scene difficult to look at,” but went on to say “but even though I’m uncomfortable, that’s the point. We have to take a look at the violence.”
Not all who have viewed the church Nativity are outraged by Jesus having been replaced by Trayvon Martin this year. A mother discussing the installation with her son said “it pulled at your heart and your mind” and indicated that she approved of the thought-provoking message and felt that it was a part of speaking God’s truth. Others have called this year’s Nativity scene brave.
The use of Trayvon Martin in place of Jesus is not the church’s first foray into unusual or controversial Nativity displays. In past years same-sex couples have been included as a part of the scene and Mary and Joseph have been variously depicted as a homeless couple, as Iraqi refugees accompanied by U.S. soldiers, and as immigrants trying to cross the border.
By Michele Wessel