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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. Gary Douglas

    Megyn Kelly must be taking lessons from Sarah Palin.

    December 14, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  2. Rennie grant

    This is such a ridiculous argument. Seriously.

    December 14, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  3. dreamhunk

    Where Are We In Scripture?

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZsF6BaCVDs&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  4. Stahp

    Who cares about the race of a mythical carpenter?

    December 14, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  5. Bart

    Who showed the trolls how to post videos? Good grief! Nobody wants to watch your moronic videos. Use your own words!

    December 14, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  6. MrBigStuff

    Jesus was Semitic and probably looked very Mediterranean. There you go. Story over. Why CNN feels the need to give Fox News as much attention as possible, even if the statements are stupid, is beyond me.

    December 14, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • Tom

      If George Zimmerman is white, then so was Jesus.

      December 14, 2013 at 10:07 am |
      • yeah, but

        Zimmerman is Latino.

        December 14, 2013 at 11:34 am |
        • Yeah, but you just proved the point!

          The media constantly referred to him as white. So, if he's white, then so was Jesus.

          December 15, 2013 at 12:29 am |
  7. Evelyn Connaway

    I have often wondered – and said to many who made racial, bigoted and prejudiced remarks; "What they were going to do when they got to Heaven (most plan on going) and find out God and Jesus Christ might be black?" Which is an unknown, as it doesn't mention the color of their skin in the Bible. The Creator of all mankind, made everyone different in looks, physical make up, thought processes, emotions and heart and soul. It is strange that most people only look at the color of a persons skin, the language they speak, the nation from which they come, and religion they practice. Remove the outer covering of skin and facial features, and all men are the same, as far as identification goes.

    December 14, 2013 at 10:05 am |
  8. Enough of this nonsense

    Now time for some inspirational music...

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nM3uHijaDeQ&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  9. dreamhunk

    sons of ham
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYXE3tnXVKo&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  10. dreamhunk

    Adam&Eve Africa and the Real Greeks
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTvcRLNNrM0&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  11. mariosphere

    Actually, the question would be “Was Jesus white?” Taking into account the redoubtable historicity of the Bible, I'd say that Jesus, that rabbi of rabbis, was Palestinian. Was he light skinned, white, olive skinned? We don't know. I bet Jesus deleted his Instagram account a very long time ago.

    December 14, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  12. dreamhunk

    Breaking News : Jesus is a black man, just accept it.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbSvGICj-vw&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  13. Tom

    Wasn't Kelly just responding to "black nativities", "black Jesus", and such absurdities? If George Zimmerman is "white", then why can't Jesus be "white"? And who gives a rats' cute little hiney what Jesus' skin tone was, anyway???

    December 14, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  14. dreamhunk

    Go to the end of this video about how black the ancient Hebrews were.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwnrjU67Dag&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Moses

      I lived my whole life in Africa, so I must obviously be black.

      December 14, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  15. dc3gal

    It doesn't matter worth a hoot what color anyone is, it's what's inside that matters. Wish the dang media and everyone would grow up about it already!

    December 14, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • rick

      I agree, it's not what color you are, it's what is inside of you. It's about what he said and what he did.

      December 14, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  16. 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.

    If Jesus would return today, would he find the faith on earth? Hardly, or does anybody know better?

    December 14, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • bacbik

      Too long... too boring.. too much BS... to much unnecessary capitalization..

      December 14, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • sam stone

      You CAN encounter Jesus. Rainy. Do you have tall buildings where you live?

      December 14, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  17. Dries

    Who cares what the color of His skin is, no matter whether his skin is white , black, brown, orange , yellow, purple or whatever it is , it DOESN'T MATTER!!! , some people say He is of a mid-eastern race but it reeally doesn't matter. People really
    musn't argue about this . The race of Jesus is unimportant. The Fact it, what iss of crucial and non-negotiable importance is
    that JESUS is the Son of GOD , He is also GOD and He is the Saviour!!! of humanity.

    December 14, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Where can we find Jesus or at least his Spirit today?

      December 14, 2013 at 9:55 am |
      • midwest rail

        Certainly not in any of your diatribes.

        December 14, 2013 at 9:57 am |
      • Dries

        Just pray with a sincere heart to GOD. In the end it is up to you, to either reject or accept the gospel of Jesus. It is something just you for yourself can decide.

        December 14, 2013 at 10:41 am |
        • Rainer Braendlein

          Everybody needs the pastoral care of the Church. It is not enough to pray to the invisible Jesus.

          It is just God's order that He approaches us through his Church or her members. It is a real difference, if I confess sins to a Christian brother or to the invisible Jesus. It is better to confess in sight of pastor or Christian layman.

          A pastor or even a Christian layman can forgive sins in the name of the triune God according to Jesus' insti-tution.

          Why did Jesus always touch people when he cured them? That is the sacral character of his being. Equally we will receive more power, deliverance, etc. when we accept the pastoral care of a Christian layman or pastor. Christianity is sacral – we just have to accept that.

          December 14, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  18. Rafael Vazquez

    Oh my god!!!how can she said something like that!!! Fired Megan Kelly!!!Will be like me said "she is dump becouse blonde" .Fox news racist comments,and she is not only one all the "Anchors " think like that. It is SAD!!

    December 14, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Global Interpreter

      huh?

      December 14, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  19. dreamhunk

    black Jesus break down more proof!
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DKmTr5ntU8&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  20. More nuts this time from

    Colo. School Board Member: Transgender Students Need 'Castration' Before Using Bathrooms

    The Huffington Post | By Matt Ferner Posted: 11/25/2013 2:58 pm EST | Updated: 11/26/2013 11:11 am EST
    Share on Google+
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    December 14, 2013 at 9:49 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.