Gay nativity scene vandalized; police label it a hate crime


By Mark Ellis

People viewing nativity display


A contemporary interpretation of the nativity scene featuring homosexual couples holding hands was struck by vandals early Christmas morning in Southern California, an attack police are labeling a hate crime.

“Our congregation is a reconciling congregation,” says Rev. Dan Lewis, one of the appointed clergy staff at Claremont United Methodist Church. In 1993, after a “difficult” debate, the church decided to welcome homosexuals into the fold. “Gay and lesbians are not a large portion of our congregation, but we have a very public welcome.”

light box with two gay men holding hands

For the last several years, the church’s “creative peacemaking task force” has developed contemporary interpretations of the nativity, led by artist John Zachary. The first year the task force met they decided on a homeless theme, which featured the holy family in an alley laden with trash and shopping carts. “The original family was homeless,” Rev. Lewis notes.

In response to the display, people began to drop bags of groceries at the front of the nativity, which led to the birth of a Christmas homeless outreach.

Another nativity scene depicted the holy family in the hub of Middle East warfare, surrounded by soldiers in combat fatigues. Last year, Mary appeared as an African-American woman in a prison cell, without Joseph. “There are a great number of African-American women in prison compared to other ethnic groups,” Rev. Lewis notes.

The church receives a wide range of comment in response to their creative license. “It’s an interpretive art,” Rev. Lewis observes. “It’s to raise the consciousness of people going about their busy Christmas stuff,” he says. “What if Christ were to come today? Where might it be?”

The display that evoked controversy this year included a lighted “Tree of Life” with a “diversity statement” below it. Surrounding the tree were light boxes with three couples displayed. One box featured a male-female couple, another portrayed two women, and another two men – under the star of Bethlehem and a sign that declared “Christ is born.”

The creative director, artist John Zachary, viewed this year’s display as his most personal, because it depicted members from among

Tree of Life

his family and friends – even as it was the one most removed from historic depictions of the nativity.

“This is the first year there has been damage,” Rev. Lewis says. “The sad and ironic part is the damage was done really early on Christmas morning.” Sometime in the dawning hours of Christmas, someone pushed over the light boxes portraying the homosexual couples, while the light box depicting the heterosexual couple remained standing.

Church officials were slow to label the damage a hate crime, but police quickly made that judgment. They made the decision because the attack was on church property and the action was directed toward a specific group, according to Rev. Lewis.

“These are provocative,” Rev. Lewis admits. “We want to stir people’s thinking and conversation, but we don’t want to stir people to vandalize.”

The diversity statement at the base of the lighted Plexiglas “Tree of Life” says the following:

“We must look to all people to discover the prophetic voice that is among us. The ancients looked to Christ as he delivered his radical message of love. Ironically, Christ was the victim of hate and intolerance while he taught love and compassion. We are living in a time where people need to embrace love instead of fighting and devouring one another. May we open our hearts as we celebrate the birth of Christ. Let us learn to embrace each other with openness and kindness. Let us practice Christ’s teachings by loving those who are different and those who need our compassion and join hands in celebration as brothers and sisters, sharing our voices and our differences.”


  1. Jesus was full of grace AND truth. He accepted the woman caught in adultery right where she was but He also told her to leave her life of sin. We look to the eternal truth of the Bible as the prophetic voice among us, not to each other’s opinions. The truth of Scripture makes it clear that homosexuality is sexual immorality. Truth is unchanging. Truth IS Jesus. Hear and do His Word. It is not a sign of compassion to encourage people to exchange the truth of God for a lie.

  2. Thank you Denny, you said it well. When Jesus came into this world, he turned the world’s ways upside down, which makes the higher Truths very hard to understand at times. This was not a “hate” act, for in God’s eyes, it would be considered a loving act to stand on God’s principles to help them to change their ways. I had to change my sinful ways when I came to Him AND it wasn’t easy, but I’m so grateful for His love that I will never go back to my old ways. Homosexuals are no worse sinners than I was as an adulteress, but He changed me into one of His own so that I would not sin anymore. Homosexuals should remove their pride and also realize their way is not how God intended is not natural. That is the message that should be received by this action, LOVE not hatred. “Go and sin no more.”

  3. Although I found the article troubling, Denny’s response mirrored my feelings pretty closely, with one exception. I think we need to make it clear that Jesus does not empower his followers to enter other people’s property without their permission to destroy expressions of their point of view. When Jesus cast the moneychangers out of the temple, he was chasing them out of His own house, since it belonged to the Father and He and the Father are One.
    Just as all legitimate Christian groups condemn the murder of abortionists, so should we condemn the destruction of church property that expresses a view we find repugnant.

  4. Wow! I’m impressed with all three comments before me! As a group, they’ve said it all. Thank you for your fine and intelligent comments. And as much as we hate to see the homosexual behaviors around us, I agree with Brian that we must “look away” from the blasphemy, rather than enter onto property that is not ours, hateful as the scene before us may be. May God forgive those who persist in the homosexual lifestyle, help them and heal them; and May he punish those who would encourage the lifestyle when it is destructive to those who pursue it! Bless our country, and bring it back to Him and our God-Given Constitution! And may RON PAUL be placed under His guidance and may he WIN TODAY IN IOWA!

  5. As a former practicing same-sex-attracted person, I stand with these comments as true, rational and easily expressed as easy as it is to love our Lord, and at times very trying in today’s times.

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