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The faces of Jesus
December 13th, 2013
09:30 AM ET

Call Jesus (or Santa) white? Expect a big fight

Opinion by Edward J. Blum, special to CNN

(CNN) - Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly sparked outrage this week by insisting that Jesus and Santa Claus are both white, saying it's "ridiculous" to argue that depicting Christ and St. Nick as Caucasian is "racist."

"And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white," Kelly said, "but this person is arguing that we should also have a black Santa."

Kelly was responding to an article in Slate that said St. Nick needs a makeover from fat, old white guy to something less "melanin-deficient."

The Fox News host would have none of it.

"Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change," Kelly said. "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact. As is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy, in the story, and change Santa from white to black?"

Arguing about St. Nick, who was originally Greek before Currier & Ives got their hands on him, is one thing. But as for Jesus, people have been arguing about his skin color since the earliest days of American history. You might even call it an American tradition.

What's new about this latest brouhaha is how swiftly Kelly’s remarks were attacked. Thousands of people have rebuked her through blogs, articles, Twitter posts and Facebook updates.

Comedian Jon Stewart accused Kelly of "going full Christmas nog."

“And who are you actually talking to?" Stewart said on "The Daily Show." "Children who are sophisticated enough to be watching a news channel at 10 o’clock at night, yet innocent enough to still believe Santa Claus is real — yet racist enough to be freaked out if he isn’t white?”

It seems that now, if you want to call Christ — or even Santa — white, you should expect a fierce fight.

The immediate and widespread rebuttal showcases how much America has changed over the past few decades. The nation not only has a black president, but also has refused to endorse the Christian savior as white.

Since the earliest days of America, Jesus was thought of as a white man.

When white Protestant missionaries brought Bibles and whitened images of Jesus to Native Americans, at least a few mocked what they saw.

Taking the imagery seriously, the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh asked future President William Henry Harrison, “How can we have confidence in the white people? When Jesus Christ came upon the earth you kill’d and nail’d him on a cross.”

It was not until around 1900 that a group of white Americans explicitly claimed Jesus was white.

Concerned that large numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, especially Jewish immigrants, were “polluting” the nation, anti-immigrant spokesmen like attorney Madison Grant asserted the whiteness of Jesus to justify calls for exclusionary legislation.

READ MORE: From science and computers, a new face of Jesus

Making Jesus white was a means to distance him from Judaism.

“In depicting the crucifixion no artist hesitates to make the two thieves brunet in contrast to the blond Savior,” Grant wrote in his xenophobic best-seller "The Passing of the Great Race."

“This is something more than a convention,” Grant continued, and suggested that Jesus had “Nordic, possibly Greek, physical and moral attributes.”

Even Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that Jesus was white, after being asked why God created Jesus as a white man.

King responded that the color of Christ’s skin didn’t matter. Jesus would have been just as important “if His skin had been black.” He “is no less significant because His skin was white.”

READ MORE: Turkish town cashes in on Saint Nick legacy

Challenges to Christ’s whiteness have a long history, too.

Famed evangelist Billy Graham preached in the 1950s, and then wrote emphatically in his autobiography "Just As I Am," that, “Jesus was not a white man.”

But Graham was far from the first American to contradict the whiteness of Jesus. That honor goes to Methodist and Pequot Indian William Apess.

In 1833, he wrote to white Christians, “You know as well as I that you are not indebted to a principle beneath a white skin for your religious services but to a colored one.”

Almost 100 years later, the Jamaican born, “back-to-Africa” spokesman Marcus Garvey told his followers, “Never admit that Jesus Christ was a white man, otherwise he could not be the Son of God and God to redeem all mankind. Jesus Christ had the blood of all races in his veins.”

In our age, the color of Christ has become both politically dangerous and the butt of jokes.

In 2008, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s words “God damn America” and “Jesus was a poor black boy” almost derailed then-Sen. Barack Obama from winning the Democratic primary.

Now, Kelly bears the brunt of attacks and, in no surprise, was pilloried by comedians like Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Few Americans went on public record against King when he asserted Jesus had white skin in the 1950s. Today, thousands upon thousands from virtually every race and tribe of Americans have taken Kelly’s words seriously and seriously disdained them.

All the chatter about Jesus being white (or not) shows how much America has changed. There used to be “whites’ only” restaurants and schoolrooms. Now, even Jesus cannot be called white without repercussions.

What the debate hides, however, is what Jesus of the Bible actually did and how he related to people.

The gospels are full of discussions about Jesus and bodies. He healed the blind and those who suffered from disease. He touched and was touched by the sick. His body was pierced by thorns, a spear and nails. And he died.

READ MORE: What all those Jesus jokes tell us

The phenotype of Jesus was never an issue in the Bible. Neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke, nor John mentioned Christ’s skin tone or hair color. None called him white or black or red or brown.

Obsessions about race are obsessions of our age, not the biblical one. When asked what mattered most, Jesus did not say his skin tone or body shape. He instructed his followers to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

Maybe this Christmas season, we can reflect not so much on whether or not Jesus was white and instead consider what it meant for him to be called the “light” of the world.

Edward J. Blum is the co-author of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. He can be followed on Twitter @edwardjblum. The views expressed in this column belong to Blum alone.

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Art • Belief • Bible • Billy Graham • Black issues • Christianity • Discrimination • Faith • God • Jesus • News media • Opinion • Persecution • Prejudice • Race • United States

soundoff (7,485 Responses)
  1. codenine75a

    I place this here because I have to confess something.
    I call people Jews because of the way I grew up. I think they are people that host sodomite businesses and will even reap a person's life for any amount of [religious] currency. American current has [in God we Trust] printed on it. So the [Jews] think they can use own everything because God's currency was an investment.
    A [Nazi] is a person with superiority complex that cannot see some else as a equal adversary. They see them as push overs because they [know it all] so the [Nazi's] adversary is the [n*word]

    May 30, 2014 at 3:40 pm |
    • codenine75a

      Hey HEY. All people are Jews if they just want to disturb the devil. Leave the devil alone in America because that devil will call you a commie. Maybe Jesus was a devil to the Romans. Nazis are the elite master race people, but it is slang in America. Such as policy Nazis and school Nazis. Always exact with no mistakes and always do the most flawless professional work. Excuse for the bad mouthing but America is a melting pot of global culture.

      June 21, 2014 at 5:40 am |
    • TruthPrevails1

      Sounds like the rantings of a drunken fool...was that supposed to make sense to anyone other than yourself?

      June 21, 2014 at 6:00 am |
  2. 19covenant19

    Most Superb and Amazing MIRACLES have been discovered in the BIBLE!
    (=in Genesis & Deuteronomy & Psalms & Matthew & .....)
    Absolutely see it and you SHALL believe!

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    ==BIBLICAL EXCELLENT MIRACLES!

    May 25, 2014 at 6:30 am |
    • awanderingscot

      this is such a specious argument, we know He walked the earth as a Jewish man and that's all that matters.

      May 28, 2014 at 1:32 pm |
      • hotairace

        We know no such think. You think you know. You are pretending to know things you do not.

        May 28, 2014 at 1:40 pm |
  3. Garet

    Jesus is an Israelite, with very low chance of being white. Perhaps white as snow in the soul and metaphorically/spiritually and such but skin tone, not likely. Either way, he's definitely not a european-style westerner. it shouldn't be particularly relevant to in the first place.

    psch, Santa Claus however, totally white. Like a sheet.
    haven't you seen the coca cola commercials that made him the fat elf with rosey cheeks? lol
    just like good ol' sinterklaas and father christmas
    Now st nick, yeah that dude is greek, ppl.

    see, if you want to remix a santa, you gotta change the spelling a bit and come up with a new story.
    thems there are the rules, cow poke.

    May 14, 2014 at 5:37 am |
  4. thomtrue

    in reply to the article Jesus white start a fight? well I am not posting this to start a fight.

    However, Jesus was Adamic. the word Caucasian, are what many believe to be a race of people. And not very many people realize that Caucasian was an event. When God had split up the House of Israel from the House of Judah, because of the House Of Israel sinned and provoked God to Anger and Jealousy by constantly committing Idolatry. Assyria took The House of Israel into bondage, and after that bondage the House of Israel crossed over the caucus's Mountains and settled into Europe and Americas, and Canada.

    Most people do not know who they are, God does , He hidden them. God separated the House of Israel and the House of Judah thus making two different houses and its still like that. Not all Tribes are Jewish. Only the tribes Judah and Benjimin, are Old Testament Jewish, with Nethinims mixed in and hiding within the House of Judah. The Nethinims are the people from Hamath in 1chronicles verse 55 I Chronicles 2:55 "And the families of the scribes which dwelt at Jabez; the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and Schuathites. These are the Kenites that came of Hamath, the father of the house of Rechab." are not from the tribes of Judah and Benjimin. As for the House of Israel those other 10 tribes of Israelites and later called "Christians". Many people are not even aware that there are only 2 tribes that are True Jews. While the other 10 are the Christian Nations.

    Most are taught to believe that all the 12 tribes are Jews. No that's a Lie people are told. They are also told that God Gave the Birthright and the Scepter to the Jews, but The House of Judah only got the scepter, King line. and the House of Israel got Abrahams birthright.

    Most Christian people of the cloth are telling people that the Jews have all of it, and are Gods Chosen Ones. But the Nethinims are not Jews, They are something else entirely. Jesus taught that the Nethinims are lying by saying they are Jews but are of the Syngogue of Guess who.

    So, Jesus isn't white, He is Adamic, Israelite (anyone that lives in Judea is referred to as being Jews, but its just a location. because Caucasians only think they are white, but its an event that took place. Most people don't know who they are. They think they are Gentiles and that's Not true. And its not referring to that tiny teeny country in the Middle East. Most of Gods Chosen Ones left Jerusalem a very long time ago.

    May 5, 2014 at 6:12 am |
    • TruthPrevails1

      Repeating it still doesn't validate it as fact and only makes you appear to be incapable of being anything more than a parrot-typical Christian though.

      May 5, 2014 at 6:33 am |
      • thomtrue

        does it? how so.? who am I parroting? hmmm? Most Christians don't even know about what happened in the Garden of Eden let alone know Christ was Adamic. Your opinion matters nothing.

        May 10, 2014 at 4:50 am |
        • TruthPrevails1

          No validity to the Christian book. You say most Christians, none sounds better considering there is no evidence outside of the bible for the garden of eden or any god. Grow up, imaginary friends are for children and people afraid of reality.

          May 10, 2014 at 5:12 am |
  5. thatinthebible

    I can understand the Fox News anchor's point of view, but she probably needed to back away from having such a staunch point of view. It might come off to some as seeming supremacist, as if Caucasians are somehow superior because (quote)Even Jesus was Caucasian.(unquote)

    No one really knows what Christ's actual skin tone was like over 2000 years ago. Educated guess says that He probably wasn't fair skinned or olive complexioned growing up in that part of Israel.

    I've read science articles that suggest that there have been shifts in the complexions of the people of various regions around the globe; some subtle, some dramatic. The skin tones we see today, especially in the Middle East and North Africa were not necessarily what the looked like 2000 years ago.

    I really like the idea of taking any random current local, national, or international news event and just seeing what the bible has to say about that particular subject; if anything.

    I blog at http://isthatinthebible.com

    April 20, 2014 at 9:12 pm |
    • thomtrue

      in reply to the article Jesus white start a fight? well I am not posting this to start a fight.

      However, Jesus was Adamic. the word Caucasian, are what many believe to be a race of people. And not very many people realize that Caucasian was an event. When God had split up the House of Israel from the House of Judah, because of the House Of Israel sinned and provoked God to Anger and Jealousy by constantly committing Idolatry. Assyria took The House of Israel into bondage, and after that bondage the House of Israel crossed over the caucus's Mountains and settled into Europe and Americas, and Canada.

      Most people do not know who they are, God does , He hidden them. God separated the House of Israel and the House of Judah thus making two different houses and its still like that. Not all Tribes are Jewish. Only the tribes Judah and Benjimin, are Old Testament Jewish, with Nethinims mixed in and hiding within the House of Judah. The Nethinims are the people from Hamath in 1chronicles verse 55 I Chronicles 2:55 "And the families of the scribes which dwelt at Jabez; the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and Schuathites. These are the Kenites that came of Hamath, the father of the house of Rechab." are not from the tribes of Judah and Benjimin. As for the House of Israel those other 10 tribes of Israelites and later called "Christians". Many people are not even aware that there are only 2 tribes that are True Jews. While the other 10 are the Christian Nations.

      Most are taught to believe that all the 12 tribes are Jews. No that's a Lie people are told. They are also told that God Gave the Birthright and the Scepter to the Jews, but The House of Judah only got the scepter, King line. and the House of Israel got Abrahams birthright.

      Most Christian people of the cloth are telling people that the Jews have all of it, and are Gods Chosen Ones. But the Nethinims are not Jews, They are something else entirely. Jesus taught that the Nethinims are lying by saying they are Jews but are of the Syngogue of Guess who.

      So, Jesus isn't white, He is Adamic, Israelite (anyone that lives in Judea is referred to as being Jews, but its just a location. because Caucasians only think they are white, but its an event that took place. Most people don't know who they are. They think they are Gentiles and that's Not true. And its not referring to that tiny teeny country in the Middle East. Most of Gods Chosen Ones left Jerusalem a very long time ago.

      May 5, 2014 at 6:12 am |
    • awanderingscot

      this particular blog presents a silly and specious argument when there should be none. it doesn't matter. the only reason it's here is to bait Christians so they can be pilloried by unregenerates.

      May 8, 2014 at 8:20 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.