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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 Religion 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. AtheistSteve

    “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

    On the surface this seems like a good idea. It suggests that the treatment of others should reflect how you wish to be treated and that does have some merit. If we limit this to the context of harm it appears obvious that harming others would violate this idea since we would not wish to have harm visited upon ourselves. Inversely in the context of help or assistance it seems to follow that helping others reflects how we would wish to be helped.
    The problem is that as individuals we all have our own opinions about what we consider personally helpful or harmful. Using the principle of "do onto others" based on your own subjective values can in fact lead to the opposite of its intended effect. For example Christians believe a gay lifestyle to be inherently harmful. Gays and open minded individuals obviously do not so any actions directed from these types of Christians towards gays, however well-meaning, is violating the intended equal and fair treatment of others. Think about the dismal failure of so called corrective therapy programs used by some Christian organizations to try to 'fix gays' with suicide and psychosis being the most prevalent effect.

    "Do onto others as they would have done to themselves."
    There...I fixed it.

    December 14, 2013 at 7:04 am |
    • lol??

      Nope, standard Christian doctrine is really, no opinion and no help. When the gay first crowd try to bully their way in is where the trouble lies.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:18 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Quick, the nurse is making her rounds, you best get back to the rubber room!

        December 14, 2013 at 7:57 am |
  2. Jesus

    FYI, Indians from the sub continent can be very dark, and are Caucasians too. One can be Caucasian and be darker than many mixed raced people. That is why back in a more racist American time, laws had to be written to exclude Indians, because when racist originally wrote the laws they used Caucasian terms. Then when all these dark skinned sub continent people showed up they got scared and redefined the laws for Northern Europeans. You truly show your ignorance.

    December 14, 2013 at 7:02 am |
    • Kim

      Just a short comment. I will put this comment in capital letters THE BIBLE SAID THAT JESUS IS BLACK BUT THE BIBLE DID NOT SAY THE WORD BLACK. IT SAID A OTHER NAME FOR BLACK
      THANK YOU
      BYE

      December 14, 2013 at 7:28 am |
      • Evert van Vliet

        You read everything you've been taught to believe?

        December 14, 2013 at 7:31 am |
  3. billofmilton

    Are Jews not considered caucasian? I agree society has tried to make Jesus (and particularly Mary) look very WASPY. Jesus was, in almost all certainty, dark skinned but that doesn't mean he is not white....and if Jesus is not white than your are saying Jews are not white. So if Jewish people are not white, what are they? Black? Asian? My Dad was Jewish, so I will be interested in how many people consider me bi-racial!

    December 14, 2013 at 6:58 am |
    • Theo

      Here's a simple answer to your question: When certain groups talk about white power, do you think they're including jews in that?

      December 14, 2013 at 7:22 am |
      • Evert van Vliet

        Depends on it, if that continues to grant each other 'rights' nobody other-wise! would have the answer is yes….any color of the rainbow would do in that respect.

        The question remains however what could be labeled as 'education' given the reactions all over the planet where it comes to utterly nonsense.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:28 am |
      • billofmilton

        Point well taken. with that said, common language for most people is to use the phrases white and caucasian as on in the same. Few would argue that People rarely use the anthropological terms for Blacks and Asians. So it seems to me Jesus was "white" ie Caucasian. He also resembled the average african than he did a Norwegian. Has the "white world" try to make Jesus look more light. No doubt. Is the message of Jesus Christ far bigger than his skin color? without question

        December 14, 2013 at 7:42 am |
    • ToWhoItMayConcern

      "So if Jewish people are not white, what are they?": Jewish. Unless you are Jewish only through religious practices then it is your race. Also, you do realize Jews, particular during the Biblical era, originated from the Middle East, Israel, and so shared the same complexion and origins as Arabs, which is why Jews are considered Semitic people. It was not until later in History when the Jewish people migrated to Europe than finally to America that we came upon Jews with "lighter complexion" which is largely dude to interracial breeding. This is much the same reason the American african tends to look lighter than continental Africans. This is not to denote that Jews aren't "white" but to indicate that Jews did not originate as white (i.e Jesus) and that all Jews are not currently white (i.e. the current people of Israel). In addition, in America Jews are labeled white primarily for the connivence of time and due to their interacted mixture with Anglo society but in actuality Jewish people can be considered their own race.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:13 am |
  4. usxpatriate

    He's a grey skeleton, if he ever existed at all. He certainly didn't fly away to some Christian Never Never Land.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:50 am |
    • lol??

      You're mixing up Mike's homeland with Jesus.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:56 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Step away from the nurses computer, seek out the orderly and ask for your huggy jacket.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:05 am |
    • Jesus Follower

      You're right. He didn't come from some Christian Never Never Land. He came from Heaven, just as He said He did.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:05 am |
  5. liz

    I am an Atheist who grew up in the Catholic Church and one of the first things you were taught was everyone sees Jesus in their own likeness. Guess Megyn missed that lesson and the same thing goes for Santa Claus shame on you Megyn but your comments are par for the course given you never learned how to spell Megan either.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:49 am |
    • usxpatriate

      lol

      December 14, 2013 at 6:51 am |
    • Evert van Vliet

      One can 'only' 'be' an atheist by the 'grace' of theism.

      I'm just me.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:22 am |
  6. wayne.keehart

    Really? 2000yrs later? who cares. This is the season we celebrate his birth. Obviously we haven't read his message. The hate from one group of people to the next is sickening. Millions die from war and fighting of differnet beliefs. What would Jesus say to the hate this world has between its brothers and sister?

    December 14, 2013 at 6:46 am |
    • lol??

      2K years ago makes it the end times per science. Like this morning, with man bein' almost a half miliion years old.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:53 am |
    • truthprevails1

      All accounts point to him being born in the spring (if he even existed). Christmas is a holiday with Pagan tradition at its very roots; a holiday meant to convert Pagan's to even crazier myths. The bible does not mention a Christmas tree nor does it mention Santa. Educate yourself on the truth.

      "It's a mistake to say that our modern Christmas traditions come directly from pre-Christian paganism, said Ronald Hutton, a historian at Bristol University in the United Kingdom. However, he said, you'd be equally wrong to believe that Christmas is a modern phenomenon. As Christians spread their religion into Europe in the first centuries A.D., they ran into people living by a variety of local and regional religious creeds.

      Christian missionaries lumped all of these people together under the umbrella term "pagan," said Philip Shaw, who researches early Germanic languages and Old English at Leicester University in the U.K. The term is related to the Latin word meaning "field," Shaw told LiveScience. The lingual link makes sense, he said, because early European Christianity was an urban phenomenon, while paganism persisted longer in rustic areas.

      Early Christians wanted to convert pagans, Shaw said, but they were also fascinated by their traditions.

      "Christians of that period are quite interested in paganism," he said. "It's obviously something they think is a bad thing, but it's also something they think is worth remembering. It's what their ancestors did." [In Photos: Early Christian Rome]

      Perhaps that's why pagan traditions remained even as Christianity took hold. The Christmas tree is a 17th-century German invention, University of Bristol's Hutton told LiveScience, but it clearly derives from the pagan practice of bringing greenery indoors to decorate in midwinter. The modern Santa Claus is a direct descendent of England's Father Christmas, who was not originally a gift-giver. However, Father Christmas and his other European variations are modern incarnations of old pagan ideas about spirits who traveled the sky in midwinter, Hutton said."
      (http://www.livescience.com/25779-christmas-traditions-history-paganism.html)

      December 14, 2013 at 7:17 am |
      • lol??

        ".......The bible does not mention a Christmas tree nor does it mention Santa. Educate yourself on the truth..........."

        1Ki 14:23 For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:43 am |
        • truthprevails1

          You complete buffoon!! Almost all tree's are green!

          December 14, 2013 at 7:46 am |
        • lol??

          You think God wants to be worshiped in the same manner man worships Baal?? The repercussions for Abel weren't so hot.

          December 14, 2013 at 8:02 am |
  7. Caleb

    Ok assuming Jesus was even real. I doubt he would have been white or black. If he was a real person, he most likely resembles someone of middle eastern ethnicity. Seeing as he was born in the middle east.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:45 am |
  8. sconger60

    Here is a better question. Did he exist at all?

    December 14, 2013 at 6:41 am |
  9. BurnNotice

    Shame on the Fox network!

    Shame, shame, shame on them!

    They are perpetuating a vile stereotype: "The Dumb Blond".

    December 14, 2013 at 6:37 am |
  10. lol??

    Criticizin' a man's wife and children for their physical characteristics doesn't appear to be a peaceful thing do do. Be vewwy careful about "namin' it and claimin' it per your classifyin' it", 'specially the bride of Christ.
    BTW, Adam did some naming and didn't claim there was no Creator.He must have been smart.

    Gen 12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:31 am |
  11. Red

    Jesus was white? B*itch please. Go back to your "Fox" hole.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:29 am |
    • dwayne

      Yes honey, he was white and he is white. White is the color of purity.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:34 am |
      • Jim

        So, 2000 years ago a white baby jesus was born in countries where there were no 'white' people "(white, that is, as you are obviously defining the word)?

        Interesting...and just how did that happen? Oh yes...artificial insemination, of course.

        December 14, 2013 at 6:46 am |
      • sasha

        white is not a color

        December 14, 2013 at 7:09 am |
  12. frank

    Whatever the merits of her argument, she is out and out lying now to say that these comments were "tongue in cheek." Reading through the dialog, there is no clue at all that this was the case.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:23 am |
  13. dr neutrino

    Micky Mouse's body was totally black and only his face was white when he was created out of thin air. I don't see this being any different for Jesus and Santa, except for the fact that Jesus was an Essene Jew.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:23 am |
    • sarge325

      And Jews are white. Why are people slamming Megyn Kelly? Only a racist would deny that Jesus was white. If someone said that Mandela was white, wouldn't you want a news anchor to correct that?

      December 14, 2013 at 6:38 am |
      • Errol taylor

        This question puzzled me a lot, but it is not of great importance. May Jesus was a mix race person; a rainbow expression of us all. We all know that the Romans were white. Therefore, I believe that if Jesus was a white man he would have gain great favor among the Romans. I do not believed that the Roman would have have it kill. I suspect that racial prejudice runs through the line. Jesus could have possible me darker too and maybe this is why he did not gain great acceptance among the rest of the Jews. He is from the tribe of Judah.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:00 am |
      • JomoDaMusicMan

        This goes to show how ignorant you people are. The Original Hebrews were Jet Black, just as dark in complexion as the Ancient Egyptians. If the Hebrews were not black, how could have Moses, after being plucked from the Nile, been raised as the Pharaoh's Daughters Son. If Moses were White this hoax would have been immediately exposed and he would have been put to death. You People, watch too much TV and see all the European Jews in Israel

        December 14, 2013 at 7:18 am |
    • BurnNotice

      You neglected to put quotation marks around the names of the fictional characters.

      The proper punctuation would be "Santa" and "Jesus".

      December 14, 2013 at 6:39 am |
      • joseph

        it would make more sense to put quotation marks around the word "christ." nobody really disputes the existence of jesus.

        December 14, 2013 at 6:44 am |
    • joseph

      its much more likely that jesus was the illegitimate child of a roman soldier. this is why he was an outcast from jewish society and roman. he was mixed. this theory explains a lot of lose ends, to be honest.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:42 am |
  14. JSA

    This discussion is ridiculous. If Jesus did in fact exist there should be absolutely no doubts about this skin color. I say, if you cannot historically or scientifically prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, his skin color...he did not exist.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:16 am |
    • joseph

      thats not the way history works.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:45 am |
    • joseph

      children these days take their atheism way too seriously. having skipped over agnosticism to get straight to atheism, they try to apply the same ideologically limited logic to history. but history deals in both certainty and uncertainty. the secular dogma may be convenient for the prevailing hedonistic ethics. however, doing away with metaphysics doesn't really change the historical jesus.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:04 am |
  15. Garry Todd

    The woman is ignorant. Jesus was a jew. I am white and the white race in America has always tried preaching this you can only be a christain if your white,

    December 14, 2013 at 6:03 am |
    • sarge325

      ???? Jesus was a Jew. Correct. Jews are white.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:39 am |
      • joseph

        today's jews are white. but they aren't particularly related to the jews from 2000 years ago. i suspect the jewish people 2000 years ago were much darker complected. in his book "the invention of the jewish people," shlomo sand, an israeli jewish historian explains the disconnection between the two people pretty convincingly.

        December 14, 2013 at 6:49 am |
      • Jesus

        Jesus was born over 2000 years ago in the Middle East, spent some of his life in Egypt too. To think the Middle East was as white then as it is now, truly shows your ignorance of history and truth. But then again when do most present day "Christians" use reason, logic or truth for anything?

        December 14, 2013 at 6:57 am |
        • joseph

          you sound confused. i don't think you made your point. if you were responding to me, you've assumed far too much.

          December 14, 2013 at 7:06 am |
  16. miscreantsall

    Oh Kelly, what an ignorant piece of human defecation you are. And, you are on the air for all to see how ugly you are inside.

    Proof that Christ was white? Really? Oh wow, I would love to see this proof.

    Christ "most likely" was olive complected, ranging from very dark to light. Highly and I mean highly unlikely he was "waspy" caucasian.

    Santa? St. Nicholas was probably caucasian of German decent. Some believe of Greek decent which opens the possibility of olive complexion.

    As far as proof? There is scant quantifiable evidence for Santa's or Jesus' racial origins.

    And really Kelly, who cares and what does it matter?

    Stupid woman.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:47 am |
    • Kevin

      Of course Jesus was white haven't you seen all his pictures and movies? D'uh....

      December 14, 2013 at 5:59 am |
    • sarge325

      When did she say he was a WASP? You say he was Caucasian. Ding! That is identical to "white." When you say someone is white, you don't mean that their skin is literally that color. I've never seen a person with white skin in my life.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:43 am |
      • Jesus

        Go to southern India, are these very dark skinned people "white" to you? Yet they are Caucasian.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:26 am |
        • David

          What the heck is a Caucasian then? There are some Islands between India and Indonesia, owned by India, the blackest most African people I've ever seen there have been there like forever. They are called the Sintinelese and Andiamese.

          Are they caucasian too???

          December 14, 2013 at 8:01 am |
    • joseph

      these types of question do have a significant bearing on modern day geopolitics since most zionist israelis believe they are direct descendants from the jews of jesus's time.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:10 am |
  17. laststonecarver

    If u want to no just how sincere our athies r, note not one of them blasts that ill-begotton virus aka Sam bo.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:34 am |
  18. Santangelo

    Whatever color represent's "imaginary"

    December 14, 2013 at 5:29 am |
    • Jesus

      Then both Santa and Jesus would be clear. No?

      December 14, 2013 at 7:08 am |
  19. Amber

    Megyn Kelly is just another ignorant, "know it all" white woman who calls herself a true journalist. "Historical facts"??? Really Kelly? Where? I need the receipts!!! Show me proof. All she is missing is the white sheet over her head.
    And yes, us African Americans often call out racism, because that is what it usually is. For some to say racism is no longer relevant is a damn fool and just as stupid and ignorant as Megyn Kelly. I saw someone post that lynching and slavery were all in the past and we need to live in the present. The most recent lynching (that we know about) was 2012! Look it up!!! I hate to make this a black/white argument, but that is what it is. I also see a few comments saying that blacks are racists and hate white people, and honestly. that may be true for a lot of blacks, but do you understand why? Think about it. Most of our parents and some of us were alive when my people were getting hung by trees, not able to use the same water fountains as whites, not able to get the same education, getting hosed down, spit on, tortured, and beaten. And then you ask why we are mad? That was only 50 years ago. How dare you ask why some of us are mad. Some of our parents and grandparents were victims of these hate crimes. So before you get upset because you think that black people are always crying racism, look at the facts and the RECENT history.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:20 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.