Trayvon Martin Added to Nativity Scene
A nativity scene at a Methodist church has stirred controversy for its inclusion, along with Mary and Joseph, of black Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, whose white-Hispanic killer was acquitted in a highly publicized trial earlier this year. Wearing a hoodie and bleeding profusely, Martin is flanked by the holy parents in a tableau inspired by a news photograph of the teen’s body lying on the pavement.
“What if Jesus was lying there bleeding to death? I was kind of thinking of that,” artist John Zachary explained to David Allen of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, speaking of the crèche he designed for the Claremont United Methodist Church in Claremont, California.
Entitled, “A Child is Born, a Son is Given,” the scene connects the death of Martin to the nativity. Referring to the story of Herod’s order to kill all male infants, an onsite plaque explains that even as Jesus was being born “other parents [were] in agony because their children had just been killed.”
This is the seventh consecutive year that Zachary and the church have collaborated in this way.
“I think the value of this is that it stretches us to think, what does the birth of Christ call us to do?” said Rev. Sharon Rhodes-Wickett, the church’s lead pastor, who nevertheless finds the violence of the scene unsettling.
“I found this year’s hard to look at. It’s hard to look at a young man who’s shot and bleeding to death. But even though I’m uncomfortable with it, that’s the point. We have to take a look at the violence.”
Fellow pastor Dan Lewis agrees, saying that “Jesus was born at a highly violent and political time and today, we still live in highly violent society. The nativity scene isn’t meant to incite anger, it is meant as an artistic expression….It is meant to be thought-provoking.” Nevertheless, since media coverage of the crèche began on Christmas Eve, the church has received several threats.
Zachary, who says he “grew up in the Methodist church,” and his wife and children have been attending Claremont United Methodist for 15 years. Invited by church leaders to design a nativity in 2007, Zachary shunned tradition in order “to do something that’s provocative, that’s more in keeping with the teachings of Jesus.” In 2007, that meant depicting Joseph and Mary as a modern homeless couple on a rundown urban street against a backdrop of graffiti.
“It was appropriate historically. They were homeless refugees,” Zachary explains. “You try to put it in a context of how it would be today.” Since that first year, he has depicted the family as Iraqi war refugees (2008), Mexican immigrants stopped at the border wall (2009), a black woman and child in a prison cell (2010), and a homeless couple again (2012). In 2011, Zachary replaced the nativity with silhouettes of three hand-holding couples, two of them same sex.
“As I’ve done these, Christmas has become more meaningful to me,” said Zachary. “It’s become deeper—but not so literal.”
To Learn More:
With Trayvon Martin, this Nativity Gets Edgy Update (by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin)
Church Nativity Scene Replaces Jesus with Bloody Trayvon Martin (by Russell Goldman, ABC News)
Christmas Nativity Displays (by Claremont United Methodist Church)
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