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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. lol??

    The video game raffle winner is Dreamchunk. He bought all the tickets.

    ...........................................VIDEO WARS.................PUT IT UNDER YOUR TREE....................................

    December 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • Science Works

      Jon Stewart Demolishes Megyn Kelly and Fox Freaking Out Over Sa

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

      December 14, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  2. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgqIZmu8eGA&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  3. tony

    Looks like the faux girls are mostly purple.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  4. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KL7-Y4_3QMs&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  5. MoMO

    JESUS WAS MIDDLE EASTERN, NOT LIKELY THAT HE WAS WHITE WITH BLUE EYES

    December 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Ed Kidwell

      He was half EXTRATERRESTRIAL. Eyes could have been PURPLE for all any of us know.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
  6. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_KOQKObkm0&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  7. tony

    Hey. We haven't figured out what color(s) angels are yet. Nor how many fit on the head of a pin.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • cjeddie8

      or is there air to displace with the wings? So heaven has an atmosphere and the wings work or is it just a prop?

      December 14, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  8. Portland tony

    Although a quasi religious figure, St Nicholas bears no relation to the commercialized Santa Claus of today. As for his skin color, look up his ancestry. The same goes for Jesus. He was Jewish of middle eastern ancestry. What should he look like and what would his skin color be. Things were pretty hard out there in the desert clime. I would assume he would look more Arabian than Germanic. But then again who cares?

    December 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • cjeddie8

      its just silly that we have always portrayed him to look like Kenny Loggins...Could EASILY be black or much like today's Ethiopian since the tribes of that era were originally North African.

      December 14, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  9. Matthew Harris

    What difference does it make as long as his blood is red. That is the only thing that I care about because only His blood has the power to save!

    December 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • tony

      Pity he didn't spill some in the last few Hurricanes, Tsunamis and Tornadoes. A lot of nice innocent people goy "unsaved" if you hadn't notoiced.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
      • Chester

        Well, does it not depend on the definition of "is"?

        December 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Roger that

      That's right. Throw Jesus into the volcano to save us all from his daddy.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • Dracula

      What kind of monster god desires blood sacrifices to appease his hurt feelings?

      December 14, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  10. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38-DW-V21wQ&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • midwest rail

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anwy2MPT5RE&w=640&h=390]

      December 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytraU76x4GA&w=640&h=390]

        December 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  11. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3TTCSLtssQ&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  12. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rsb9GjAnvOk&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  13. dreamhunk

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

    December 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  14. tony

    Father Xmas is bringing me a new god.

    December 14, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  15. Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge

    Reblogged this on Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge and commented:
    Santa and Jesus are White – And don't you forget it! – According to Fox News. I Don Lemmon on CNN laughing when he saw this. Santa's Christian roots are from St. Nicholas, who lived in Turkey. Jesus was from Palestine. I can assure you neither of them were white. LOL.

    December 14, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  16. Darald Gordon

    Jesus: Middle East, like Europeans, Indians are all Caucasian aka white. (Various skin colors, but otherwise very similar) Santa, a character invented in Europe and modified in the us and of course white too. If you really need for your self as teem or whatever, go ahead and think of them as black or whatever, but don't try to act like there is any evidence to actually support this

    December 14, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  17. Jill

    Rainer Braendlein, gargle with progressively more petunias and spinach. Don't obfuscate the primary prenuptials with rasberries. Often, the pertinent cat presents fabled necessities in the parking chamfer. Realize your net precedent. Triangulate! Save the best for the alligators. Ever the bastille notches the orchestra but Wendy is not green and horses will capitulate. Filter out the log from the turnstile and cry prevalently.

    So there brown stare. Feed your inner walnut and resolve. Subject your lemon to the ingenious door in the presence of snow and animals. Aisle 7 is for the monetary cheese whiz. Faced with the kitchen, you may wish to prolong the sailboat in the cliff. Otherwise, rabbits may descend on your left nostril. Think about how you can stripe the sea.

    Regale the storm to those who (6) would thump the parrot with the armband. Corner the market on vestiges of the apparent closure but seek not the evidential circumstance. Therein you can find indignant mountains of pigs and apples. Descend eloquently as you debate the ceiling of your warning fulcrum. Vacate the corncob profusely and and don’t dote on the pancreas.

    Next up, control your wood. Have at the cat with your watch on the fore. Aft! Smarties (12)! Rome wasn’t kevetched in an autumn nightie. (42) See yourself for the turntable on the escalator. Really peruse the garage spider definitely again again with brown. Now we have an apparent congestion, so be it here. Just a moment is not a pod of beef for the ink well nor can it be (4) said that Karen was there in the millpond.

    Garbage out just like the candle in the kitty so. Go, go, go until the vacuum meets the upward vacation. Sell the yellow. Then trim the bus before the ten cheese please Louise. Segregate from the koan and stew the ship vigorously.

    And remember, never pass up an opportunity to watch an elephant paint Mozart.

    December 14, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  18. Lil P00py

    Megyn Kelly crazy.

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

    December 14, 2013 at 11:52 am |
  19. 21k

    what a hilarious conversation. jesus was an arabic man. so dark and swarthy. and santa is imaginary, right kelly?

    kelly:"like omg!, like santa is like white!, like omg, how could you think he's not?, he's on like all the christmas cards, and he's like white" what a freaking bimb. thanks for lowering our national iq

    December 14, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • dreamhunk

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDX0oFLioHw&w=640&h=390]

      December 14, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • dreamhunk

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

      December 14, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • dreamhunk

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Gahth_lFiM&w=640&h=390]

      December 14, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • dreamhunk

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

      December 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  20. 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. Don't let us waste time discussing about Jesus' color but restore a lively Church which preaches the releasing Gospel of Jesus Christ – it is high time.

    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?

    Let us pray for the restoration of the Christian Church through God, the Father.

    December 14, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • bacbik

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

      December 14, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Jill

      Rainer Braendlein, don't obfuscate the primary prenuptials with rasberries. Often, the pertinent cat presents fabled necessities in the parking chamfer. Realize your net precedent. Triangulate! Save the best for the alligators. Ever the bastille notches the orchestra but Wendy is not green and horses will capitulate. Filter out the log from the turnstile and cry prevalently.

      So there brown stare. Feed your inner walnut and resolve. Subject your lemon to the ingenious door in the presence of snow and animals. Aisle 7 is for the monetary cheese whiz. Faced with the kitchen, you may wish to prolong the sailboat in the cliff. Otherwise, rabbits may descend on your left nostril. Think about how you can stripe the sea.

      Regale the storm to those who (6) would thump the parrot with the armband. Corner the market on vestiges of the apparent closure but seek not the evidential circumstance. Therein you can find indignant mountains of pigs and apples. Descend eloquently as you debate the ceiling of your warning fulcrum. Vacate the corncob profusely and and don’t dote on the pancreas.

      Next up, control your wood. Have at the cat with your watch on the fore. Aft! Smarties (12)! Rome wasn’t kevetched in an autumn nightie. (42) See yourself for the turntable on the escalator. Really peruse the garage spider definitely again again with brown. Now we have an apparent congestion, so be it here. Just a moment is not a pod of beef for the ink well nor can it be (4) said that Karen was there in the millpond.

      Garbage out just like the candle in the kitty so. Go, go, go until the vacuum meets the upward vacation. Sell the yellow. Then trim the bus before the ten cheese please Louise. Segregate from the koan and stew the ship vigorously.

      And remember, never pass up an opportunity to watch an elephant paint Mozart.

      December 14, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • tmadz

      I think that believing in Christ and his teachings is the important part, but when you demand to define him as white or caucasian then you are opening yourself up to criticism without offering any support for your opinion. When Megyn Kelly describes herself as a reporter/news anchor instead of a host of an opinion show like the rest of the evening hosts then you are held to a different standard. If you get push back for those comments. She could be right, but the research that I've been able to come across in researching her comments doesn't reflect favorably on her assertions.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
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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.