A bishop has criticized a Nativity scene which features two St. Joseph figures while omitting Mary, calling it “sacrilege” and an “attack on the Christian Faith.”
Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence made his comments on Facebook, where he posted the following alongside a photo of the scene:
“A Gay Nativity?
“Just came across this photo of a ‘gay nativity’ scene — two Josephs dressed in pink watching over the Christ Child. How sad that someone believes it’s okay (or funny or cool) to impose their own agenda on the holy Birth of Jesus. Pray for those who did so, for their change of heart, and that Jesus will forgive this sacrilege, this attack on the Christian Faith.”
The image Tobin commented on became popular online after comedian and podcast host Cameron Esposito shared it on Twitter, garnering more than 3,600 retweets and 26,000 likes.
Bishop Tobin’s record on LGBT issues is quite negative (being careful not to confuse the Providence bishop with Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, who has been increasingly supportive of LGBT inclusion). Most recently, Bishop Tobin sharply criticized Fr. James Martin’s book on LGBT issues in the church, Building a Bridge.
He has also cited Pope Francis to defend the firing of a gay church worker, a decision about which he said there was “no choice.” Tobin criticized President Barack Obama’s regulations aimed at protecting transgender youth, suggested clerks like Kim Davis who oppose marriage equality should commit civil disobedience by denying marriage licenses to same-gender couples, said the Synod on the Family was a “rather Protestant” idea, and left open the possibility that LGBT Catholics should be denied Communion.
Now, Bishop Tobin is incorrect again in his assessment of the Nativity scene, which is not a sacrilege but is actually quite sacred. Let me explain.
First, Nativity scenes are not historical re-creations but artistic representations. They are devotional tools which help us prepare for and celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation playing out in Jesus’ birth. As such, their creators aim not for factual accuracy; rather, they seek to make the scenes effective conduits of prayer and relationship with God. The best way to create such conduits leads to my second point.
Nativity scenes are common for Christians worldwide, but a simple Google search reveals just how many variations of these scenes exist. Holy Family depictions often reflect the image and likeness of their creators, and so Mary, Joseph, and Jesus have appeared as people of many races, ethnicities, and cultures. In recent years, LGBT people have begun depicting the Holy Family in ways reflecting the rich sexual and gender diversity that exists in our world.
These queer Nativity scenes should be welcomed, just as scenes in which Mary and Joseph are not shown as first century Palestinian Jews have been welcomed. Being able to look at the Holy Family and see one’s own family depicted enriches prayer, further enabling the very purpose of the Nativity scene.
When it comes to Bishop Tobin and the scene with two St. Joseph’s, the bishop’s unwillingness to affirm the goodness of LGBT people and their love is what is problematic. It is unfortunate that his biases against LGBT families bar him from understanding why this scene can actually be quite holy and meaningful to LGBT people.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 8, 2017