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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. Rainer Braendlein

    Wouldn't it be nice if we really could encounter Jesus or Santa? Concerning Jesus it was possible for several periods of time: When he lived on earth as carpenter and pastor, and when his mystical body, the Church, has still existed. Yet, it seems like Jesus has gone beyond, the Christian Church has also gone. That is the apocalypse – mankind has lost her right to exist.

    The incarnated God Jesus spent a period of time of about 30 years on earth. At the one side he was the ordinary carpenter Jesus, Joseph's son, from Nazareth living in Capernaum at Lake Tiberias, on the other side supernatural power came from him, he was sacral. When Jesus spoke with somebody that was more than human talk. When Jesus spoke with somebody, at the same time Christ or God spoke with the certain person. People which encountered Jesus in fact encountered God or the whole Godhead. That was the special thing and mystery of Jesus. Meeting Jesus meant to get into God's presence.

    However, today Jesus is beyond, and no longer in our world.

    How can we get into God's presence today?

    Is there a temple? The Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed 70 after Christ, therefore this possibility is cancelled. Is there another temple? Yes, thank God, there is the Christian Church. The Christian Church is the place of God's presence today. Through sacral acts of the whole Church we get into God's presence, and that conforms an encounter with the earthly Jesus former times.

    The Church, of course, consists of people of all nations, colours, status, ranks, etc.

    Conclusion: It plays no role if Jesus was red, black, white or yellow. The historical Jesus who certainly had a certain color is represented today through a multi-tude of people of different colour.

    Don't discuss about the colour of the historical Jesus but join his Church where you can still meet him today. The Church, Christ's mystical body.

    What is the Christian Church?

    The real Church preaches discipleship of Jesus on the basis of the releasing power of his sacrifice. This power is dedicated to us through sacramental baptism. Discipleship is kept through Lord's Supper and private confession of sins. I admit that it is hard or nearly impossible to find such a church today. Let us pray.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • lol??

      1Cr 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

      Copyin' OT traditions will get ya divorced, too.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:56 am |
      • Rainer Braendlein

        What is your point?

        December 14, 2013 at 8:59 am |
        • lol??

          Mat 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

          December 14, 2013 at 9:08 am |
        • Rainer Braendlein

          I guess today actually nobody gathers in Jesus name. Gathering in Jesus name would mean that we would tell us that we should follow him on the basis of his releasing sacrifice. Yet, we don't encourage each other to follow him but assure us of the atonement character of his sacrifice, and keep on sinning carelessly because we imply that he had payed the bill in advance. That is pseudo-Christian.

          December 14, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  2. treeyx

    Silly people arguing over silly notions. First of all, race is a societal construct. In biological terms, it doesn't exist. There are more differences between two people of the same race than between two people of two different races. If we weren't all the same species, we wouldn't be able to interbreed..."mixed race" children are normal human beings, not hybrids. The real difference, especially with organ donations, comes down to blood types, and those types go across all the so-called races.

    Second, the historical Jesus was born Jewish. The Bible claims he was born in Bethlehem and gives his lineage through Mary back to Abraham. However, there is nowhere in the Bible that states any of his ancestors were black, white, or mixed. The message of Jesus has nothing at all to do with the color of a person's skin, and, for true followers of Christ (not all Christians really practice what Jesus preached, of course), skin color, gender, age, or social standing should not matter.

    Third, Santa Claus is a mixture of several different legends and traditions. St. Nicholas was Greek and probably white, but Santa Claus is called a spirit, and it's generally assumed that spirits have no skin color. That would mean that the representation of Santa Claus, as the spirit of giving, can be any skin color, right!?!

    Fourth...so what the heck is everyone arguing about????? Go do something useful and generous and in keeping with the spirit of Santa Claus and with the teachings of Jesus. Go help those in need, put more than a measly dollar in the Salvation Army kettles, and live Christmas instead of fighting about it!

    December 14, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  3. 30south

    Im glad to see so many idiots in this world can make everything into a race war. You all should be ashammed of your selves. By the way Jesus is not was real. I also want to say if you celebrate Christmas this year and do not believe in God or Jesus you are a an hypocrte because Christmas is a Christian holiday of the birth of jesus. Remeber that when opening your gifts and watching you family and friends open their gifts....

    December 14, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • sam stone

      christmas was a pagan holiday that the christians stole

      December 14, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • lol??

      If you refuse to cling to the Bible the least ya can do is cling to yer guns.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  4. chris

    Jesus was not white. Since the beginning of civilize men the whites want to make every God every saint white. Whites come from Europe. The only place people of African decent evolved to be whites because of the ice age and the cold; blue eyes to better reflect the sun from the sun, light skin to reflect the sunlight (again) and the main ingredient- evilness. Whites are the most evil race in the world. They destroy others and destroy themselves.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • Exo

      I'm sorry but what? I agree with most of what you stated until you said that white people where the most evil in the world. Black tribes sold other tribes into slavery, Africa continues to be a rotting cesspit on earth and fails to contribute anything worth-while to the globe other then a few select states. I'm not saying whites are perfect, but pretending that they are the "most evil" is ridiculous.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • 30south

      Chris you are a very racist idiot. You can tell your a very uneducated racist who was brought up by a racist family. I hear black folks always say they wish they could be in the mother land of Africa. Well if Africa is and was so great why dont you go back. You wont because being in America is the best thing ever happend to african americans. Look at your mother land africa, their people cant even run their country never mind feed them selves. White people are not evil they are your savirours from a country that has been in shambles for many 100s of years. Chris, i bet my taxes pay your bills and feed your family. You are a evil person and should be deported to an island that only racists of all kinds of skin color live and have your uneducated war.

      December 14, 2013 at 9:25 am |
  5. John

    Speaking as a white person. Jesus was most likely the same race as most middle eastern people to blend in. We just happen to depict him as white because it is the western people, mostly white who controlled how it was told and what they felt most comfortable with. If you believe he was a real man that lived, this makes the most sense. If you don't believe he lived, it shouldn't matter. If you believe he was the son of God, then he can be whatever he wants. Even angels, if you believe in them, have their interpretation of the forms they take.

    Santa started in the European area so most likely white does make more sense, however Santa has also been known to be how ever someone expected him to be. We have had movies created in the last few years where Santa was actually looking for a replacement and has chosen white male, multiple people (Steve Gutenberg and Frazier), Whoopi Goldberg, black AND female, and others. Santa has had sons and daughters. No matter what he can be whoever they want him to be.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  6. Humans at their best

    red, green, black or pepper mint squash, who gives a a good god damn Merry christmas you bunch of filthy animals.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:33 am |
    • Tim

      Best comment ever!!

      December 14, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  7. guest

    Jesus is white only by tradition. There is some reason to think that Jesus may have been brown or even black; it doesn't really matter and certainly doesn't change the plan of salvation and the love of God.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • sam stone

      i agree in that the color of jesus does not matter. however, i believe salvation and god are mythology

      December 14, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  8. Skorpio

    Jesus was born in an area where all the continents (Asia, Europe & Africa) converge and consequently, the passage for all these people. The most logical assumption is to consider it as a vortex where people from different ethnicities and cultures mix and intermingled.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • David

      Yea and when you see people of that vortex, you usually say "oh look at that a black guy who is mixed with something"

      December 14, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  9. Kebos

    Santa does not exist and neither did Jesus so the debate is pointless. It does however expose the idiots and useless television networks that we continue to endure.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Exo

      Jesus did in fact exist. He was however not the son of god. Saint Nicholas also did exist, and was known to give presents to children (he was also Turkish and brown-skinned).

      December 14, 2013 at 8:59 am |
  10. sandalista

    I know for sure that the spaghetti monster is yellow.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • R.Williams

      Heretic! Everyone knows he is Semolina White! ... and Marinara Red ... and Meatball Brown ... Now I'm hungry

      December 14, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • scars

      That is a lie. He was actually brown - whole grain. This white flour spaghetti monster is a western invention.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:44 am |
  11. sybaris

    Jesus is dead

    December 14, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  12. lilyq

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

    Everybody wants to be "represented"...eyeroll...

    December 14, 2013 at 8:23 am |
  13. SAMUEL TWENEBOAH KODUAH

    JESUS AND SANTA BEING COLOUR A OR B DOES NOT JUSTIFY ANYTHING ALL WE WANT YOU TO DO AS COLOUR BLINDNESS PEOPLE OF THIS WORLD IS TO CHANGE FROM YOUR SINS . IF WE ARE TO TALK OF COLUR THEN WE WOULD ASK WHAT WAS THE COLOUR OF ADAM AND EVE. WHAT I BELIEVE IS THE BLACK COLOUR CAME AS A RESULT OF GENERATION EVOLUTION OR ADAM WAS BLACK AND EVE WAS WHITE OR EVE BLACK AND ADAM WHITE THIS IS TWO BASIC CONCLUSION OF BLACK AND WHITE WE WERE ALL FROM ONE ANCESTOR.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • One one

      Then Adam and Eve were the first interracial marriage. So, where did Asians come from ?

      December 14, 2013 at 8:26 am |
      • R.Williams

        The other creations. After all, the Bible makes it pretty clear there were other gods, Jehovah even leaves his followers to go fight them in some of the passages. And early translations of the first Commandment included wordings such as 'Worship no other gods above me', rather than saying there are no other gods.

        December 14, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • Kebos

      CAPS LOCK is a key on your keyboard. Learn how to use it and then maybe I'll read what you have to say.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • mikes

      tl;dr

      December 14, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • sam stone

      or, sin is a man made concept that really means nothing

      December 14, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  14. Wise man #2

    The old story about the devil being red is completley false. Dick Cheney is white.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • lilyq

      I agree. He is a chameleon.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:25 am |
    • lol??

      It is wise to be wary of fast talkin' psychopaths.

      2Cr 11:14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  15. hearties

    This is a concern to some because they love Jesus and get jealous when others love him too. It is OK for everyone to love Jesus as much as they want, feel free.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:17 am |
  16. Kay Brown

    He's was as white as the 911 hijackers were

    December 14, 2013 at 8:17 am |
  17. mark

    why is there even a debate? jesus is as real as unicorns, the jackelope, and santa claus. An imaginary being can be anything you imagine them to be.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:11 am |
    • Science Works

      But Texas does have some big jack (asses) rabbits though.

      With the debate over evolution !

      December 14, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • lol??

      Unicorns must be a real hangup for A&A's who supposedly are vewwy schmart in science. Wiki,

      "..............Unicorns are not found in Greek mythology, but rather in accounts of natural history, for Greek writers of natural history were convinced of the reality of the unicorn, which they located in India,..............." Blame science.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  18. Tim

    True colors for CNN for promoting this story.

    1. They are trying to put division within the Christian community.
    2. They are trying to put division within the race community.
    3. Most importantly conveys sloppy journalism, nothing better to report.

    CNN should be called out for such poor news reporting. I didn't know they are trying to be the next junk news magazine by the grocery store check out line. Next will be – Was Jesus a time traveler from the future? Has CNN ever heard of the story a boy who call wolf?

    December 14, 2013 at 8:11 am |
    • midwest rail

      You do realize it was Fox that initiated this discussion, right ?

      December 14, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • indy2281

      CNN did not start this "conversation....the talking heads on FAKES NEWS did...make sure you know your facts before you spew.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • Dru

      @Tim – 'the Christian community' as you put it, needs no help form CNN (who reported on this story) or Faux News (who originated on this story) to be divisive. They're perfectly capable of doing that on their own.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • dlindie

      You do realize that all they did was point out the stupidity of Faux News, right? Pointing out how dangerous these nutjobs are is important, not trivial.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:28 am |
    • sybaris

      True colors of a Christian:

      1. Willful ignorance
      2. Don't question anything
      3. Bash those that don't believe as you do

      December 14, 2013 at 8:33 am |
    • David

      Another fox news plant sent... I thought we did all the gardening on this already...

      True colors for FOX for promoting this story.

      1. They are trying to maintain racial hierarchy within the Christian community.
      2. They are trying to weaken the confidence among people of color in our American community.
      3. Most importantly conveys sloppy journalism, nothing better to report.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:39 am |
      • Tim

        for your point number 2. Why do you feel so superior that you understand people of color. That their confidence comes from the color of their skin. The new racist teach them their confidence comes from the color of their skin. Color is not the most important factor in their lives. Its like saying europeans are great but southern italians need help because you know southern Italians are... Its the individual contribution to society, from a white janitor to a black CEO. Its personality, caring, humanity which defines ones self confidence. Not being told by white people they are not to feel as good as they are because they happened to be born a different color. Anyone under 40 years old understands this fact.

        December 14, 2013 at 9:11 am |
        • David

          I said Fox news is TRYING to weaken the confidence among people of color. Why else would she say what she said... You're replying to me, but your comments really need to be addresed to Megyn (part of the all white all blonde female anchorwoman brigade at Fox) .

          Yes your comments are pertinent, but you are addressing me as if I truly share Megyn's views. Jesus was not white. Bottom line.

          December 14, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • sam stone

      tim: if you spend anyj amount of time on these blogs,you see christians of all stripes, arguing who has the correct interpretation of the bible

      gopher vs larry of arabia

      jw vs gopher

      larry of arabia vs jw

      etc etc etc

      all convinced that they are right and others are wrong

      it is sort of amusing

      December 14, 2013 at 9:00 am |
      • Tim

        And politics are not this vs that. no my political way is the best blah blah blah. I help the poor, I give the poor a job. I care more. I know.

        December 14, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • Tim

      What does FOX have to do with it other than making the comment. Its CNN, reporting on FOX, continuing the promotion of garbage. I love the CNN and Fox followers both mindless political hacks. Religion at its core is not political. Jesus at its core is just LOVE. PURE LOVE, NOT BLACK, WHITE or Alien. Oh, yah I forgot you CNNERS and FOXERS are just following your own RELIGION of Politics. Sorry to offend your Political Beliefs of division of others.

      December 14, 2013 at 9:00 am |
      • sam stone

        religion at its core is not political?

        wow.

        do you seriously believe what you post?

        December 14, 2013 at 9:08 am |
        • Tim

          Sam sure do. You must not know anyone who really understands his religion. You just have political glasses on everything you see.

          December 14, 2013 at 9:13 am |
        • sam stone

          ah, the old no true christian argument

          how quaint

          December 14, 2013 at 9:16 am |
      • midwest rail

        I call poe on Tim. No on is that genuinely uninformed.

        December 14, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • sam stone

      "Has CNN ever heard of the story a boy who call wolf?"

      Maybe you should ask that of those who continually predict the coming "end times"

      December 14, 2013 at 9:13 am |
      • Tim

        I agree end time, funny stuff Protestants promote for fundraising and books sales. Never understood it, because of their interruption of their religion. I love it each one of us has an end time, its called death. I recall reading no one knows the day or hour... so let it go and live your life as a Christian.

        December 14, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  19. This is not news

    It's a White world. Live with it. Someone has to be at the top of the food chain and that has been Caucasians for over 1000 years.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • DocPlace

      The answer to the question is really quite simple. Both individuals are brown, which is the color of all humanity.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  20. Lee Thornton

    These comments just prove how out of touch and misinformed some people are. These same misguided people try to police the thoughts and feelings of others...WOW! Jesus was a man of color and Santa is a fictional character that can be any color you choose. Fox News: Idiots of parade!

    December 14, 2013 at 8:09 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.