Trayvon Martin is replacing Jesus in a Nativity scene this year. On the front lawn of a California church in the city of Claremont, there stands the familiar stable scene. This is basically similar to what a lot of churches have erected at this time of year. There are the wise men heading toward the stable and inside one is able to see Joseph and Mary.
However, instead of baby Jesus also being inside, the Claremont United Methodist Church has allowed artist John Zachary to have an image of Trayvon Martin in Jesus’ place, bent over in his hoodie, while blood falls into a pool at his feet.
Zachary has been bringing his own specific artistic interpretations of the Nativity, along with intermittent controversy, as he has taken a scene that customarily shows innocence and joy and is using it to spread his message of social integrity. During the past few years, he has focused on poverty, homelessness and accepting gay families.
It was over this past summer that he decided to include the Florida teenager whose shooting death caught the entire nation’s attention. Zachary stated he wanted to show the parallel between widespread gun violence of this period of time and the wicked times that Jesus was born into.
Zachary added that he believed Trayvon Martin was an innocent child just like the innocent children which were murdered by King Herod. He felt that his nativity scene needed to be relevant with the times which people live in today.
But what he sees as a reverent but confrontational way in order to start up conversation, has many other individuals fuming. Since his nativity scene started receiving national attention, the church has been blasted with angry emails, phone calls and Facebook messages.
The scene, which will stay in place up until Jan. 5, has been criticized as being an abomination and blasphemy.
One message stated that no real Christian would replace Jesus Christ with such a disgusting image. Another message stated, “You people ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”
Around dusk on Friday, Moni Law arrived at the nativity scene her son, Matthew Phipps. Law, who works as a housing counselor in Berkeley, California grew up in Claremont. Whenever she would go back to the city to visit family members for Christmas, she went to see what Zachary did. She stated that his works always pull on a person’s heart and mind.
She added that God wants everyone to speak the truth of all reality of the world, so why should people ignore such a travesty of justice.
Phipps, age 22, who is a film student, stated that he interpreted Zachary’s work as personal lessons instead of political and the artist’s message was a direct understanding of violence as a whole rather than race relations. It is a brave thing, very blatant, stated the film student who admires the controversial artist. There is no subtlety at work with the nativity scene. It was made to get people’s attention.
As mother and son stood back, taking in the entire scene of Trayvon Martin replacing Jesus and peace being overtaken with violence, it is believed that the artist intended these very thoughts from the beginning. A message, the artist hopes, brings change.
By Kimberly Ruble