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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. Wootings

    "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact."

    [citation needed]

    Not only is it highly unlikely that a man born in that part of the world at that time in history would be "white," but there's actually no proof that "Jesus" ever existed at all.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • lol??

      Guess like John the Baptist you'll have to rely on the prophets.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
      • get the facts

        prophets, today's las vegas book makers

        December 14, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • DamienFish

      But he was of virgin birth, born of God. So clearly he would be white. What other color would God's son be?

      December 14, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
      • Dave

        Human parthenogenisis has never been proven

        December 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
        • lol??

          Plenty of evidence for Partyogenesis.

          December 14, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • donald duck

      We all know the bible is a true book. The bible says that Jesus skin was bronze and hair of wool. I'm I wrong?

      December 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
      • Fan2C

        The Bible also says that you treat and cure leprosy by killing a dove, dipping a live dove in its blood and having it fly around. Also, you must anoint the sufferer on the toe with some of the blood! (The "LORD" ***said*** this, according to Moses!)

        December 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
  2. jzaks

    Don't much care what color Santa is as long as he keeps leaving gifts under the tree.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  3. lol??

    White is the reflection of ALL the colors.

    Black is the reflection of none.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Wootings

      On the contrary, black is the presence of all colors...white is the presence of none.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • Maddy

      If you mixed all of the colors in a paint set, you'd get...white? Nope.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
      • DamienFish

        Paint absorbs colors except the color it appears. If you mix all of them it will absorb all – hence black.

        If you see a color, it is because your eye senses that wavelength of light. If you see with "all wavelengths", you see white.

        December 14, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
        • lol??

          Thanks for straightening out the white noise, theoretically of course.

          December 14, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
  4. 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?

    The restoration of the Christian Church, the most urgent issue of our time.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • James George

      Yeah, we'll get to those starving children later...

      December 14, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • Dan

      What a bunch of nonsense.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Dave

      Seriously. Get help immediately.

      December 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  5. Joe Benenate

    I wonder if FOX NEWS could answer another critical question of our time: What color is the Easter Bunny?

    December 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • Dan

      Don't tell me that the Easter Bunny is not white either! What's next? Santa Claus?

      December 14, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  6. John N Florida

    COMMON SENSE does NOT reside at FOX News nor in Megan Kelly's blonde head.

    Jesus, a 𝗪𝗛𝗜𝗧𝗘 guy, born of 2 Judeans, in the midst of Judea, throwing the 𝗺𝗼𝗻𝗲𝘆 𝗰𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗲𝗿𝘀 out of their temples and talking about '𝗺𝘆 𝗙𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿'𝘀 𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴𝗱𝗼𝗺' – enough so that the 𝙍𝙤𝙢𝙖𝙣𝙨 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙬𝙤𝙧𝙧𝙞𝙚𝙙 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙝𝙞𝙢!

    𝗜𝘁'𝘀 𝗻𝗼 𝗪𝗢𝗡𝗗𝗘𝗥 𝗵𝗲 𝘄𝗮𝘀 𝗰𝗿𝘂𝗰𝗶𝗳𝗶𝗲𝗱!

    December 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
  7. Quest ion

    Is she a natural blonde?

    December 14, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • John N Florida

      Supposedly she has 'dark roots'.
      The FOX Legal Department had her dye her hair blonde.
      She says such outlandish things, the '𝙗𝙡𝙤𝙣𝙙𝙚 𝙝𝙖𝙞𝙧' gives FOX '𝗣𝗹𝗮𝘂𝘀𝗶𝗯𝗹𝗲 𝗗𝗲𝗻𝗶𝗮𝗯𝗹𝗶𝗹𝗶𝘁𝘆'.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
      • Quest ion

        Interesting!! I like the Plausible deniability part. Thanks for answering! 😉

        December 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  8. Verdigris

    Who cares?

    December 14, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  9. lol??

    NSA spying isn't a real colour.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  10. get the facts

    Hey, if it weren't for the death penalty,,

    there would be no jesus today.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  11. Marc

    This is news.... Seriously?

    December 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • get the facts

      it's actually – Modern day comedy.

      Most people see jesus and religion in the same fascination of human cult behavior as the volcano worshipers.

      I'm sure in a few hundred years, anthropology classes will be wowed in disbelief of past religions and their odd behaviors.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
      • lol??

        Yeah, americult was a s*ex cult with lady liberty and the washington monument.

        December 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
  12. grey moore

    If it doesn't matter what his skin color is then why would they lie

    December 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  13. Kill them all in the name of Jesus

    Jesus looked like Yasser Arafat.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  14. ab

    This just in, Santa isn't real.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • Look at meeeeee!!!

      this just in,, jesus wasn't real

      December 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  15. truth

    no real proof of jesus,, but for sure, if he was real he certainly wasn't white.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  16. Pete Blanch

    First prove that he is historical! 'Putting the cart before the cart.'

    December 14, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  17. Lenny Pincus

    For all the kids watching, Megyn Kelly is a bleach-blond, twice married Catholic who poses for cheesecake photos in a black nightie. She just is.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • doobzz

      So? What do her hair color, personal life or pajama choices have to do with the topic?

      December 14, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  18. His panic

    😀 😀 😀 Well, well she really was having an attack of seasonal anxiety, mass hysteria or Panic. I even I may be... never mind. But we have a better tradition that at least have some Biblical/Scriptural support. The 3 kings day in Jan. the 6th and the 3 wise men are not overweight/obese, and since there are 3 of them in the tradition. You can have of each color, black yellow and white. 😀 😀 😀 Those who really, really Trust in God and in Jesus Christ God's Only Son WILL NOT Panic or be flustered by all of these shenanigans.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • dreamhunk

      the never said there was 3 kings show me proof in the bible there was 3 kings please.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
      • His panic

        Evidently you have some issues. The worst of them may be your very poor reading and comprehension skills, below that of a 3rd. grader.

        December 14, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  19. MJ

    Worry about things you can do something about. This wouldn't be one of those things.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  20. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_30NWhC09Rs&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • doobzz

      The Who: Who the fuck are you?

      December 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • midwest rail

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

      December 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
      • Maddy

        I DON'T LIKE SPAM!!!

        December 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRp6seV9pYs&w=640&h=390]

        December 16, 2013 at 9:57 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.