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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. Outraged

    JESUS IS WHITE AND HAS GREAT ABS

    December 14, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  2. Snafu

    Jesus was highly intelligent, obviously Asian!

    December 14, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Outraged

      The only way he is asiain is if Mary had an affair with some China Man

      December 14, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
      • It just boggles the imagination

        First, have a wee little looky-poo at what Asia is, then change you name from Outraged" to "Stupid."

        Clue to the stunningly clueless: The Middle East is also known as Southwest ASIA.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
        • Billybob

          Have you even readed the bible, Jesus is clearlee Americen

          December 14, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  3. BuckRogere

    Buddhism originated in India, but didn't find a home until it got to China. So Buddhism is yellow tho The Buddha was brown. Christianity arose in the Middle East, but found it's home in Western Europe. So Christianity is white tho Jesus was brown. See how it works?

    December 14, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Science Works

      And it is really SNOWING in Egypt !

      December 14, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  4. BuckRogere

    Jesus – if there was a Jesus – was probably brown, but Christianity is definitely white. It's the supernatural belief of Western Civ and that means white people. Really doesn't have that much to do with Jesus.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  5. Megyn Kelly, FOX Brainiac

    Jesus was white.

    But if I saw him in the street and did not know who he was, I would be enraged that the liberals were ruining America by letting these darn brown whites immigrate. And I would worry that he had a bomb vest.

    But Jesus was white.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  6. ken from fl

    You know, CNN's obsession with FOX is almost ona par with MSNBC's. Perhaps because FOX is trouncing CNNinthe ratings?

    December 14, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • Snafu

      Fox is an easy target.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • Basically

      FOX indeed has dominated the knucklehead and dingbat market quite thoroughly, and there are far more nincompoops and nutcases for them to broadcast their propaganda entertainment product (it isn't news) than there are intelligent people. So serious news reporting really doesn't do well, and arguably has died.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  7. Snafu

    Just curious, but how does a virgin birth work? Did God fertilize one of Marys eggs? Did He create and implant a partially developed embryo? Did Jesus have all of Marys genes? Half Marys/half provided by God? All from God? Before we make any determination of 'race' we need to answer these questions.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • The religious answer to everything

      Magic.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  8. Satan Statue

    What color skin does Satan have, red?

    December 14, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • BuckRogere

      I have it on good authority that Satan looks like Ted Cruz.

      December 14, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
      • Andy

        Satan looks like a haggard, ugly woman (the witch from H.R. Pufnstuf)??

        December 14, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • Chuck

      The name broken down in Hebrew would make you think red, or Crimson

      December 14, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  9. BuckRogere

    Meg said she was making a funny. Ha-ha. Yer funny Meg.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • Chaiah

      Yeah, right. That's what ring wing stupid people say when they've eaten a pile of idiotic dogma. 😉

      December 14, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  10. Bob Kelly

    Jesus was Brown.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
    • alfonds

      JEWISH PEOPLE ARE GENERALLY DARK SKIN–

      December 14, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
  11. Bob Kelly

    Megyn Kelly... As Stupid as her Beauty

    December 14, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  12. Grego

    Of course Jesus is white. Nailing a black man to a cross would be racist.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • M

      ;roll:

      December 14, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  13. tessie may

    Baldiggle (would not let me reply directly to you). Almost everyone has a version of the bible with the words of Jesus in red. It is often called a Jeffersonian version. Jefferson felt that the other writers were devoted and inspired by God, they were fallible and likely to reflect their own viewpoints-like Sts.Paul and Timothy not caring much for women. Only Jesus was infallible and his words only should be taken as "gospel" truth. See what I did there?

    December 14, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  14. Dave R.

    How could Christ be any skin other color but middle-eastern?

    December 14, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
  15. RKelly

    White, black or tan the character is still a delusion.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
  16. RKelly

    white, tan, or black it all adds up to the same thing, a delusion.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  17. Holy Sh!t

    Mormon Church Finally Says Dark Skin is Not a Sign of God's Curse

    by Valerie Tarico posted on December 14, 2013 07:48PM GMT

    As of Friday, Dec. 6, the Mormon Church has officially renounced the doctrine that brown skin is a punishment from God.

    The Mormon Church finally renounces its previous racist stance that brown skin is a punishment from God—and other growing pains.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  18. eprobono

    The fundamental principle underlying all bigotry is, "like me = good; not like me = bad".

    So, like the bigot she is, Megyn Kelly needs JC to be white, like she is, in order for her subconscious to accept him as "good".

    December 14, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • M

      She is pandering to her Fox base.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
      • chas

        You dont say...

        December 14, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  19. mickinmd

    Who cares? I think it's a great idea to admit at least the remote possibility that Jesus of Nazareth may have had ancestors who reached the Holy Land area from Central Africa, the Far East, etc.

    The possibility may bring comfort to anyone who either believes Jesus was a God or believes, like most of America's founding fathers, that he was a very great man who influenced the last 2000 years of History more than any other.

    The same for Santa Claus.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • M

      So much ado about nothing; I agree.

      December 14, 2013 at 5:50 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.