A Claremont church’s nativity display that showed gay couples holding hands was vandalized in an incident discovered Christmas Day that authorities are investigating as a hate crime.
Claremont United Methodist Church has a Christmas tradition of unusual nativity scene installations that are intended to carry a social or political message.
Despite some of the controversial topics, the installations had never been defaced, according to church officials and John Zachary, the artist who created them.
But this year, suspects vandalized a nativity scene that included wooden light boxes portraying three couples holding hands — a man and a woman, two women, and two men — under a star of Bethlehem and a sign that said “Christ is Born.”
Church officials came in before the Christmas morning service to find that someone had pushed over the two gay couples and left the heterosexual couple standing.
The vandalism occurred sometime between 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve and 9 a.m. on Christmas Day, police said. No suspects have been identified.
The church has never shied away from controversial topics, including a scene of war in the Middle East, a mother and baby in prison and an installation representing the U.S./Mexico border fence with “No Room at the Inn?” spray-painted above a depiction of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.
One year, the nativity depicted a homeless family. The scene prompted an impromptu outpouring of giving, with congregation members leaving donations of food, clothing and money.
“Christ’s birth in a stable had a lot to do with poverty and being marginalized,” said Pastor Sharon Rhodes-Wickett. “What this church has tried to do through these scenes is say, ‘What would that look like today?’ ”
In 1993, the church decided to be a “reconciling congregation,” meaning that it welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. This year’s nativity display was intended to convey that message.
Ed Kania, 60, of Upland, an openly gay member of the church and chairman of its committee devoted to LGBT issues, called the vandalism in the college town with a progressive reputation disappointing.
“It’s a reminder that although there are pockets of acceptance, not everybody is accepting,” he said. “We’re all kind of disappointed, but we’re using it as a rallying point.”
Church members and supporters were planning to held a vigil at the site Thursday evening.