- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

CLAREMONT, Calif. (AP) - For the last eight years, a Southern California church has hosted an artist’s socially provocative Nativity scenes addressing issues such as homelessness and immigration.

But Claremont United Methodist Church could not agree with artist John Zachary this year about his vision for a manger scene criticizing gun violence, and ended up scrapping a Nativity display altogether. Instead, the church posted a banner calling for peace.

Zachary, who is a member of the church east of Los Angeles, proposed erecting a steel manger with guns and a sign reading “What will it take to stop gun violence?” to focus the public’s attention on the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported Wednesday (https://bit.ly/1J4x3wy ).

The church’s pastor, Rev. Mark Wylie, said a church committee was concerned the display could draw protests. After a 2013 display depicted a bleeding Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen who was shot to death, the church was flooded with calls and emails.

“If we’re going to do something so in your face, would we do security and what would that look like?” Wylie told the newspaper. “What we learned is that if it’s going to go viral, we need to be prepared for that.”

Wylie said a church committee could not reach a consensus with the artist.

“In the end, they wanted me to change it and I refused,” Zachary said.

Instead, the church posted a banner with wishes of peace and the words “Thou shalt not kill.”

Claremont is about 30 miles west of San Bernardino, where 14 people were killed in a Dec. 2 attack. The church had made its decision about the Nativity scene before then, Wylie said.

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Information from: Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, https://www.dailybulletin.com


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