California church creates 'Black Lives Matter' Nativity display

Claremont United Methodist Church of Claremont, California, erected a Black Lives Matter-themed Nativity display for Christmas 2020. | Facebook/Karen Clark Ristine

A theologically progressive congregation in California erected a nativity display that centered on the message of Black Lives Matter and included the names of African Americans who were killed.

Claremont United Methodist Church recently created the display, which features the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in front of a wall of BLM demonstrators holding protest signs.

Messages on the signs include statements like “Let justice roll down like waters,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Jesus Wept,” and “Say Their Names.”

Above the painting of demonstrators, the display listed names such as Emmett Till, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, whose deaths sparked protests of racial injustice.

Claremont Senior Pastor Karen Clark Ristine posted an image of the nativity display on Facebook earlier this month.

“Mary knows the sorrow of any parent who has ever lost a child, and she stands in solidarity with all who seek justice,” she wrote in the Facebook post.

Claremont United Methodist Church of Claremont, California, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

In attempting to gauge local reactions to the BLM nativity, CBSLA interviewed one woman who saw the display, with her considering it “an eye-opener” and “sad.”

“A lot of it I didn’t know was up there. A lot of the names from when we were younger, one from 1955, he’s 14 and it’s just, my kid is 19 and it just breaks my heart,” she told CBSLA.

“They went through their own problems, and trials — Jesus and Mary and Joseph — with what they had to do and with how they were treated and they were traveling and had to find a place to stay and they’re controversial themselves.”

Over the past several years, Claremont UMC has used its nativity display to advance social commentary on issues like war, racism, and same-sex romantic relationships.

In 2013, the church garnered a great deal of negative feedback when its display replaced the baby Jesus with a statue of a bleeding Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie.

On Christmas Eve 2011, a Claremont UMC nativity display that encouraged acceptance of same-sex relationships was vandalized, with authorities investigating the incident as a hate crime.  

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