A Massachusetts church is facing backlash due to a controversial Christmas display locals have called irreverent and sacrilegious.
The nativity scene at St. Susanna Parish in Dedham, Massachusetts depicts an infant Jesus in a metal cage, separated from his parents Joseph and the Virgin Mary. A sign reads “Deportation” with an arrow pointing to the three biblical wise men trapped behind a fence, cut off from Jesus and his earthly parents. A blue banner atop the stable asks, “Peace on Earth?”
Dedham locals have taken issue with the display, rebuking the parish for injecting partisan politics into a yearly religious tradition. According to the parish, its goal was to be thought-provoking and begin a conversation about the treatment of illegal aliens at the US-Mexico border. “We try to take a picture of the world as it is and put it together with a Christmas message,” said Pastor Fr. Stephen Josoma. “We thought we would kind of put a mirror image of what it would look like if this happened 2,000 years ago. It’s kind of a mirror image of where we are at today.”
This isn’t the first time the church has politicized its Christmas nativity scene. Last year, the parish put signs behind the manger listing the names of towns where 16 mass shootings occurred, along with the number of people killed in each.
Parishioners responsible for the displays say they are not created for shock value or to cause offense.
“We’re not trying to scandalize anyone,” said Pat Ferrone, a member of Pax Christi— the committee behind the idea for the display. “We’re trying to reflect back a reality that has to be looked at.”
Likewise, Fr. Josoma insists this year’s nativity display is not a critique of the Trump administration and its policies, which have been demonized by liberals as “hostile” and “jingoistic”. The pastor calls the church’s messaging “gospel activism” rather than political activism.
“We talk about Matthew 25 feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger,” he said. “Jesus was about taking care of one another. This is not the way to take care of one another.”
Regardless, many believe the parish’s take on the birth of Christ is inappropriate and that a church is not the place for such messaging. “This is where you come to pray not to be preached at what you should think about politics,” said one local parishioner.