Gay and lesbian Nativity scene by John Zachary at Claremont United Methodist Church -- before vandals attacked it.
A recent attack on a gay and lesbian Nativity scene at a California church is being investigated as a hate crime by police.
Vandals knocked over the same-sex couples in a manger scene at Claremont United Methodist Church in Claremont, CA, doing $3,000 in damage. The destruction proves the ongoing need for religious images that affirm LGBT people.
The Claremont church dared to re-imagine the Nativity scene as three couples -- gay, lesbian and heterosexual. They stood on the church lawn in life-sized silhouettes built from 600-pound light boxes. Each pair held hands beneath the star of Bethlehem. The words “Christ is born” blazed above them. There was no baby Jesus, but a small tree of life grew atop a statement pointing out that “Christ was the victim of hate and intolerance while he taught love and compassion.” After the attack, only the straight couple was left standing.
The Claremont Nativity has various meanings. It suggests that Christ is born anew to every couple, regardless of their sexual orientation. The scene also implies that queer people today are following the star in search of Christ, hoping that there will be room at the manger for gays and lesbians.
Leaders at the Claremont church emphasized that they wanted to show where Christ might be born today. Since 1993 the church has been a “reconciling” congregation, committed to welcoming LGBT into the full life of the church. “We do believe that Christ is in the world for the outcast and not for the privileged, and so each year we want to represent that through our Nativity scene,” youth minister Rev. Dan Lewis told KTLA-TV news.
For the last six years artist John Zachary has worked with the church to create progressive versions of the Nativity scene, but nobody damaged them until now. Previous versions addressed themes of poverty, war, immigration, racism and prison. When the Holy Family was shown as homeless in an alley full of trash and shopping carts, strangers spontaneously left bags of food and clothing at the Nativity, prompting the church to launch a Christmas homeless outreach.
The gay and lesbian Nativity evoked no such compassion. Police quickly labeled the attack a hate crime because it occurred on church property and targeted a specific group: gays and lesbians. The crime occurred on Christmas Eve and remains unsolved.
I take this attack personally because Christian conservatives made nasty accusations of blasphemy against me for creating my own gay and lesbian Nativity scenes. Like the Claremont church, I was motivated by a desire to communicate the love of God for all. Last month I also coordinated a Queer Nativity project with liberating images from 7 people here at the Jesus in Love Blog. I documented other attacks on LGBT Christian art in my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More
Claremont’s gay and lesbian Nativity is one of the best that I have seen. Vandals should have stopped to reflect on the message written at the base of its tree of life:
(Photos provided by Claremont United Methodist Church, claremontumc.org)
Conservatives attack our lesbian and gay Nativity scenes
Queer Nativity Project at Jesus in Love, Dec. 2011
Video: Gay and lesbian manger scenes show love makes a family
Gay and lesbian Nativity cards
KTLA-TV news: Non-traditional Nativity scene targeted in hate crime