For almost a month, an Indianapolis church put a caged Holy Family on its lawn to protest US immigration policies. Now, the display looks a little different.
A group of episcopal priests removed statues of Mary, Joseph and Jesus from inside the chain link fence on Wednesday night. What they put in: a 5-foot-tall mirror with a familiar phrase on top: #EveryFamilyIsHoly.
The Rev. Steve Carlsen, dean and rector of Christ Church Cathedral, said the idea they want to convey is simple.
When visitors walk by and see their reflections inside the cage, they can imagine what detained or separated families at the US-Mexico border might be feeling.
“It comes down to something so simple: can we make a compassionate, imaginative leap of putting ourselves in another’s shoes,” Carlsen told CNN.
The hashtag, he said, is a reminder that everyone is holy, no matter their status.
“We hope people will take pictures with their families and be reminded that families that are detained are holy as well,” Carlsen said.
Two displays and two commandments
The two displays represent two major traditions in the church: “love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves,” Carlsen said.
In the first display, nativity statues were enclosed in the barbed wire-lined cage, which was meant to resemble an immigration detention center.
It got a great response, Rev. Lee Curtis said. But they wanted to take it a step further.
“It’s easy to get pious about it but not internalize it,” Curtis told CNN. “What we want to do is make that leap from seeing God in the detained and separated to seeing it in ourselves and our neighbors.”
The White House’s “zero-tolerance” prosecution policy led to thousands of families getting detained and separated at the border. Trump eventually signed an executive order to keep parents and kids together, but that didn’t change anything for families that were already apart.
“I’ve felt the whole gamut of emotions – shock, denial, anger, sadness,” Carlsen said. “It struck a chord.”
What immigrants and the Holy Family have in common
Like immigrant families seeking asylum in the US, Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled to Egypt for a better life. They were welcomed, just like immigrants today should be, Carlsen said.
“Almost every major figure in scripture was a refugee or sought asylum at some point in their life. They helped us be strong advocates,” he told CNN.
Christ Church Cathedral’s diversity also makes thing more personal, Curtis said. But with a nation built largely by immigrants, he said, it should be personal everywhere.
“We’re just trying to make that connection explicit,” he said.
The church’s history in activism
This wouldn’t be the first time the church has taken a stand on a social issue.
A group of clergy took part in the city’s March for Our Lives to protest gun violence, and members of the church have accompanied people going through Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation proceedings, Curtis said.
“It’s very easy to get focused in the policy. But that’s not our calling,” Curtis said.
Instead, Carlsen said, their goal is to remind people of the fundamental ideas that bring them together.
“We’ve drifted away from those core principles,” Carlsen said. “The goal is to bring us back.”