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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. John

    What is disturbing about this is not saying that Jesus was a "white man". Most people understand the origins of Jesus and that does not need to be clarified. What is disturbing is the stance of using religion to further an agenda in much the same way that Fox News and the Right has attacked The Pope for saying that money is evil. And not just using it be Completely Distorting it to make God a White Man who thinks Money is Good. They are turning Jesus into themselves!!!

    December 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  2. William

    *facepalm*

    December 14, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  3. gstlab3

    I do not think it matters at all because these new kinds of anti American/Christian/White laws .,It has been changed from "freedom of" to "freedom from" being offended and or religion and you know the communists first order of things is allways to make god and religion illegal and if Santa is a big religious commercialized lie to sell stuff to these ever poorer childrens parents why not make the whole lot of it illegal and save us a whole lot of money in the shopping aisle and in the court rooms?

    December 14, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
  4. ShannonCT

    Was Jesus really white? Was the Grinch really green? Was Papa Smurf really blue? Is there any point in arguing about the skin color of fictional characters?

    December 14, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
  5. Walter Schenck

    On the entire face of the earth there is only one author who correctly wrote about the life of Jesus, his ancestry, his intermingling with other people of his era, and the color of his skin. That only author's name is Walter Joseph Schenck, Jr., who has received high reviews for his religious series of books by Kirkus Book Reviews. The name of his book is Shiloh, Unveiled. Shiloh, Unveiled is available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. More than that, if a reader wants to know about the stories of Genesis, again he should turn to Walter Schenck and read his book First voices, which also received outstanding praises. If the reader wants full disclosure of Jesus Christ, Noah, Abraham, Joshua and the fall of Jericho, Moses, then read Walter Joseph Schenck's heavily endorsed books. He is the only one who got all the stories straight.

    December 14, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • Answer

      You bought the bull and want to spread that disease. Stop.

      December 14, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      And just how do you know he got it right? There is no physical evidence to back up any of that.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • tara

      So you're saying your son wrote the only accurate book about Jesus? To make for a more convincing sell, you should have changed your online name. And maybe learn something about how to write a convincing ad.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  6. Vickey

    The HEIGHT of idiocy! Stories like this are a waste of space.

    December 14, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
  7. Pablo

    I don't know. Are Jews white? Was Saint Nicholas white or was he from Africa? Oh, we can just change history just to be politically correct.

    December 14, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
  8. Answer

    To be white in the next fifty years will be insignificant because your kids will be a crossbreed.

    December 14, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • M

      With what? Llamas?

      December 14, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
      • Thinker...

        No, bears and pigs obviously.

        December 16, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Answer

      Pigs and goats.

      December 14, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
      • M

        Gotcha. Have fun there, Farmer Answer.

        December 14, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
        • Answer

          Go and farm dude. You'll do something worthwhile with your life.

          December 14, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
  9. Lana

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeedE8vH1FQ&w=640&h=390]
    `
    `

    December 14, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  10. sarge325

    Direct quote from the US Census Bureau:

    The U.S. Census Bureau must adhere to the 1997 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) standards on race and ethnicity which guide the Census Bureau in classifying written responses to the race question:

    White – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.

    December 14, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
    • sarge325

      Jesus was a Middle-Eastern Jew. In the US, we categorize such a person as white. What is with the Fox News haters that they have can't understand something this simple?

      December 14, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
      • sqeptiq

        Go to Israel...you will find Jews gf every color under the sun.

        December 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      You don't really think this about a bureaucratic or even scientific definition of "white" do you, although that might be MK's "get out of jail card"? This (MK's statement) is about jesus looking like white Americans and not others.

      December 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • M

      What does the US Census from the year 0 say?
      Freaking twit.

      December 14, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
      • tara

        I loved this response.

        December 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • JYNX

      Then how come Latinos aren't white?

      December 14, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  11. andrzejkiszka

    Just How long

    December 14, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  12. James Gods

    Who give a s@&$? about his race. This guy was blown up by those who wanted to rule the world, by those who are making money out of innocent people like you. Look at Joe Osteen, he got so rich preaching Jesus. Of course, he wants Jesus to be your god. You gotta be stupid to believe what they've been telling you. Would they sacrifice for you? Idiot

    December 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  13. Vic

    Look at the BIG PICTURE, folks.

    Our place in the universe, including all our human history all along, as is seen from space starting at 600,000 miles away, and down to a flyby proximity, a tiny speck.

    http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/?id=1260

    ...SPEECHLESS...

    Earlier:
    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/13/call-jesus-white-expect-a-fight/comment-page-119/#comment-2817545

    December 14, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • Science Works

      And China just landed a rover on the moon !

      December 14, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
      • Vic

        To become ONLY the third country in the world to ever ONLY soft land on the moon without humans.

        We are in the 21st century, and yet, landing on the moon is still a BIG DEAL.

        December 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
        • Science Works

          That it is Vic the 21st century did the bible say anything about this Vic ?

          Collapse of the Universe Is Closer Than Ever Before

          Dec. 12, 2013 — Maybe it happens tomorrow. Maybe in a billion years. Physicists have long predicted that the universe may one day collapse, and that everything in it will be compressed to a small hard ball. New calculations from physicists at the University of Southern Denmark now confirm this prediction - and they also conclude that the risk of a collapse is even greater than previously thought.

          http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131212113034.htm

          December 14, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
        • Vic

          The Bible extensively talks about the end of times, especially in the last book of the New Testament, Revelation.

          December 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
        • Science Works

          Oh Vic

          And the devil has red skin ?

          December 14, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
        • ShannonCT

          The author of Revelation expected the end times to be a supernatural event to take place in his lifetime, not a natural event billions of years in the future.

          December 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
        • Answer

          "End of times" .. ya it's all talk.

          Go and wait on your death bed and tell your grand kids also of how long you tools have been waiting.

          December 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
        • Vic

          Well, even though it was believed to would had happened during the time of Disciples of Jesus Christ, the Bible clearly says that no one knows when, and is in the aftermath of the Second Coming. Also, the natural can easily be initiated by the Supernatural, just like Creation, it was the natural manifestation of the Supernatural Command, that is the Divine Spoken Word.

          December 14, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
        • ShannonCT

          The future multi-billion year collapse of the universe has no more to do with the Revelation mythology than does the multi-billion year evolution of the universe have to do with the Genesis mythology.

          December 14, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
        • Answer

          Vic,

          Giving yourself some self platitude. How utterly pathetic.

          December 14, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
      • Answer

        It is a big deal because the greatest white nation is falling into the dust. You can try to prayer yourself a man to the moon next to bring yourself back and claim that your god then exists.

        December 14, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
        • sqeptiq

          totally incoherent!

          December 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
    • Perrrrrry

      Once you realize the extent of that, Vic, and our incredibly tiny place in the cosmos, then you can get a greater appreciation for just how specious and flawed and impotent the Christian creation stories are and how feeble and inadequate the Christian world view is. I hear ya.

      December 14, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
      • Vic

        I beg to differ! It is the other way around!

        No matter how much we learn and advance on all levels, we are but a tiny speck in this vast universe, hence a Higher Power, a Supreme Being, IS behind it all.

        December 14, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
        • ShannonCT

          So what you're saying is that the more religion is proved wrong by evidence, the more right it is? Sounds like a good way to avoid interacting with reality.

          December 14, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
        • sqeptiq

          Embrace reality; eschew fantasy! No sign of god no matter how far we look.

          December 14, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
        • Vic

          As a matter of fact, more and more, little by little, scientific discoveries point to a God than not. Do you know that just recently, some evolutionary biologists discovered that some species grow younger with age, which is contradictory to the Evolutionary Theory, and that our Solar System has no Black Holes, which is contradictory to the Big Bang Theory?

          December 14, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
        • Answer

          Where is that source Vic? Care to post the links and find yourself on the ropes again?

          December 14, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
        • ShannonCT

          Thank you Vic for providing a good example of how understanding of science and belief in a higher power are highly incompatible.

          December 14, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
        • Vic

          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/09/aging-species-age-evolutionary-theory_n_4411876.html

          "..and that our Milky Way Galaxy has no Black Holes, which is contradictory to the Big Bang Theory?.."
          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/08/dark-matter-black-holes_n_4408646.html

          December 14, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
        • Thinker...

          Vic, what are you talking about? Neither of those articles refute either big bang theory nor evolution. The one on moon sized black holes in particular is a red herring. It doesn't even require a modification of big bang theory. They just didn't find evidence of moon sized black holes. It specifically states that such objects 'could' be common, not that theory predicted they were.

          December 16, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  14. Mxeng

    Ahh, the racists are at it again – attacking traditional white American culture. I have to ask the author of the Slate article, why does it bother non-white children so much to see Santa depicted as a white man? Are they that hateful and hung up on race that they can't accept him being a white man?

    December 14, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • Dan

      Yes, Fox should tone down their blatant racism.

      December 14, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
      • Mxeng

        Why can't you accept a white Santa and Jesus? Are you so filled with HATE and RACISM that you won't allow white people to have their own beliefs and culture? Must it all be reengineered now? What if I said I believe depictions of Muhammad should be changed?

        December 14, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
        • MML

          Muhammad isn't SUPPOSED to be depicted. Islam forbids the creation of any image of him.

          December 14, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
        • Dan

          I see. The thought of Hesus possibles not being a WASP fills you with so much fear, you feel anyone that entertains the possibility of disagreeing with you MUST be racist.
          I'm good not knowing what Jesus may have looked like; it is His message that matters.

          And I'm white, you nutter.

          Santa? Meh. Who cares?

          December 14, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  15. rc

    Kelly and King were both wrong. Jesus was an ethnic Jew from Galilee, and like all ethnic Jews born and raised in Galilee 2000 years ago, his skin would have been olive-skinned. Neither black nor white. (Ethnic as opposed to by marriage; his lineage was well established.)

    December 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • sarge325

      The olive-skinned people of the Middle East are termed "white" by racial demographers, including the US census.

      December 14, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
      • M

        Kinda the same way Muslims are white and Mexicans are white.....

        December 14, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  16. Dude

    The pages in the bible are white, does that count!

    December 14, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
  17. jesse

    if santa was black the last thing he'd be doing is giving anything away. most likely he'd be stealing from the houses.

    December 14, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • Peter

      OMG! Hold on...yeah, you're right.

      December 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      you're a disgrace to white people.

      December 14, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Dan

      Sure thing, bigot. Because meth head trailer trash are above all that.

      December 14, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  18. Jerome Von Phifer

    Europeans did not know where the Middle East was when Jesus Christ was supposedly born. They were still in the neolithic Stone Age, Worshipping Pagan Gods, ( mostly carved trees), not unlike the people represented in the opening scenes of the movie Gladiator with Russel Crowe. After the Romans became somewhat civilized after contact with the mostly black Egyptian civilization, they brought civilization into Europe, and it took another 1,000 years before any results of that showed. Jesus was a Hebrew, who had dark skin and wooly hair like the 5% of the real Semitic Jews left in the middle east, all the rest came from Europe and through the Khazar, (Khazars are from the Russian Steppes), conversion, (interbreeding), over the 100's of years of the Disapora now don't look like the original Hebrews, they are really all European and have no connection to the land they falsely claim. Santa Claus is part of a Indocrination program that has been on-going from 500 years ago to maintain the status quo of white supremacy, people grow up totally conflicted when they realize their hard earned dollars is the real Santa claus that they willingly spend and too their kids continue to support the Lie. The Christian religion primary function is to exploit, manipulate and subjugate non-white people, you cannot find one example where the religion was foisted on any country and or lands of non-whites where they did not suffer. In Vietnam was a primary example of how much this great nation did not want to be Catholic, and the French and American military in particularly know how much after two back-to-back stunning defeats of two western army's, who wanted to convert and save the souls of these people. Two of the fastest rising religions are Islam and people who consider themselves non-religious, nearly all of Asia and Scandinavia, soon it will be apparent that people that claim a religion will be considered un-evolved, ignorant sub-humans. Just take a look at how a paradigm shift in History has been well underway for 20 years, religious country's like Europe and the Middle East are in decline and non-religious country's are rising fast, because they not constrained by a religion that keeps everyone ignorant and subordinate.

    December 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Wrong. Northern European iron age was 5th to 1st centuries BCE. Long before Gladiator.

      December 14, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  19. Chuckles

    We atheists don't have the lock on reason that I thought we did. It turns out some religious people have a good understanding of reason. Practice tolerance and love, not division and hate. My new motto.

    December 14, 2013 at 3:57 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.