A church nativity scene featuring a bleeding Trayvon Martin is stirring up controversy in southern California.
The outdoor display at the Claremont United Methodist Church spotlights a black-hooded dummy—in place of where baby Jesus would typically be – slumped over and with blood spilling from his chest into a red pool that reads “A Child is Born, a Son is Given.”
The artist and congregant John Zachary told msnbc that he wanted to spark a conversation about gun violence. So, he chose to center his controversial piece on Martin, the slain Florida teen who was shot and killed by volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in February 2012 (Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter). Zachary first presented his idea to a church committee, which gave the thumbs up to the project.
“My feeling about it is that we have so many guns in our country and there are so many killings and it’s unique to our children. And I think that people still need to talk about it in a reasonable manner until there’s something done about it,” Zachary said, insisting he was not trying to replace Jesus with Martin.
Rev. Dr. Sharon Rhodes-Wickett, the lead pastor at the church said that while some have appreciated the nativity scene, the church has received many vitriolic calls and emails about the piece – even one “condemning us to hell.”
Others have taken to the church’s Facebook page to voice their criticism, calling the nativity scene “blasphemous” and “disgusting.”
“It’s a difficult piece to look at, so I understand people’s negative reactions…But on the other hand, I’m a privileged person who doesn’t have to live with gun violence and it just seemed to me that it didn’t feel right to say we shouldn’t do this,” said Rhodes-Wickett. “What does it mean for Christ to come into our world if he doesn’t come to the most difficult parts?”
This isn’t the first time the church, which has about 450 members, displayed controversial nativity scenes. Previous ones featured war refugees in Iraq while another showed an African-American woman in a prison holding a baby.
In 2011, there was a depiction of three couples, two of them gay, holding hands under the words “Christ is Born.” Rhodes-Wickett said that piece was vandalized, but as a result several young families decided they want to join the progressive church.
The nativity scene went up on Dec. 8 and will be there until Jan. 5.