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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. Loathstheright

    Mmmmm, geological location.....mmmmm, nope, not a chance in h**l that Jesus was white.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  2. freedomringingnow

    Come on its Faux News.... They are not news people but affluent wealthy propaganda folks.

    The Faux news crew with the hot blonde have an IQ of a gnat.....

    December 14, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
  3. vinster76

    go to the Fox news site. Today, William Lane Craig gave 5 reasons to believe in God. I will take his 5 reasons anyday, over the fool who looks at the universe and says, "nah, it just happened"........

    December 14, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Is there one you would care to debate on?

      December 14, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
      • oo oo

        All, any, any time, anywhere. Do u mind losing?

        December 14, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Your choice.

          December 14, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
      • vinster76

        there is no need to debate. You already have your mind made up. The weight of evidence for a God is heavily in favor of Him. I have seen enough debates to know the atheists arguments are fairly pathetic. This isn't just my opinion, check it out for yourself. Having once been an agnostic, I know most of the arguments unbelievers use, I use most of them myself.....I also know for a fact that you cannot argue someone into a belief in God, they have to get their on their own, with the evidence presented for Him......

        December 14, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          You said they are reasons to believe in God. Are they compelling reasons?

          December 14, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
        • oo oo

          Nah. They r light and trivial. Don't mean a thing.

          If u didn't no the answer, u wouldn't be willing to debate would you?

          So, what do u believe, dodo?

          December 14, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • KellyP

      If you find Kalam Cosmological Arguments compelling, but that still requires special pleading for God not to have a "cause", which is dishonest and illogical. That's why Craig fails miserably.

      December 14, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
      • vinster76

        KellyP: if God IS ULTIMATE REALITY, He needs a "cause"????????????? That's it? That's the best you can do?????? Sorry, I will keep my point of view..........It makes far more sense.......Merry Christmas!

        December 14, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
        • KellyP

          And, if the Big Bang is the ultimate beginning, then it doesn't need a creator, so we're back to square one. Craig's arguments are completely illogical and lame. If your God exists he needs a creator too, according to the argument, and you can't avoid the fallacy of your special pleading.

          December 14, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
  4. Kate

    Wouldn't it make sense that he was an ethnic Jew, as when he is described as "Jew" in the Bible? (And before you argue, do some research. Jewish is both a religion and an ethnicity.). As far as my understanding, logically he is of mid-Eastern descent and therefore a genetic brother to the Arabs.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • bob

      i think you and me are the only smart people here, because you are right and i agree with you.
      but keep quite people don't like the fact.

      December 14, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  5. carol

    Race does not exist. DNA within a group is more diverse than between groups based on skin tone. Scientist with a strong DNA background almost all agree that race really doesn't exist. All groups of people can breed were species that are different can't. Infact a diverse back ground usually produces a stronger off spring. Inbreeding will eventual create problems to the moral thing to do when have children is too look for a mate that will make your children stronger and smarter. Obviously some people have forgot that rule.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Breeding between species is sometimes possible, sometimes not. The term species is not well-defined. Sometimes it is the largest taxonomic unit within which breeding can produce fertile offspring. Often that is thought to be too restrictive.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  6. comedyclub

    he was black legs with brown body and white head. all inclusive? oh.., forgot the yellow arms!

    December 14, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
  7. hearties

    Speaking of Jesus and Christmas, just got back from the Christian book store, and they have expanded. Lots of good stuff there to help teach others the good news, the Gospells of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Well worth the trip.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • BuckRogere

      Pass. I'd rather watch re-runs of Breaking Bad.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
  8. The Truth

    Why is it so hard for people to just face the fact that Jesus was a man of color with melanin in his skin, as his lineage was comprised from the 12 Tribes of Israel also known as Hebrews whose image was closer to that of African Peoples from Ethiopia and Egypt (Before the Persian, Greek, and Roman Invaders).
    People, I sincerely hope you wake up one day and realize that Jesus was nothing like the images you have been deceived into worshipping. Heck, even the caucasian population of Jews who currently occupy Israel are not true Hebrew Israelites but instead European imposters whose ancestors were from Germany and Russia, but converted to Judaism.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • MoodieFoodie

      And if someone is really a Christian it really shouldn't matter to them, and they shouldn't be worshipping an "image" of a white Jesus, anyway! Surely it's just common sense though...

      December 14, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  9. Common Sense

    Lets look at facts of common sense. (which some of you reading this may not understand) 1. Jesus grew up in Israel, about 2000 years ago. How many blacks were in that area during that time versus people who were of arabic descent? 2. Santa originated in Europe many years ago. How many blacks were in that area during that time period versus people of white descent? With these facts, you make the process of elimination of your own conclusion. Thanks for reading.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • Rip

      I'm sure we all can't agree on that. Why do you suppose to speak for everyone. I believe in God. You don't. And that's fair enough. You'll say I can't prove God exists; but I say you can't prove he DOESN'T exist, so we're even that one.

      Please do not speak for others. Speak only for yourself. You don't have the answers, and neither do I. Beliefs do not make fact.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
      • Thinker...

        Actually in terms of debate and logic, that doesn't make you even. Since it is impossible to prove a negative (ie that god/gods do not exist), the burden of proof is on the one making the claim. It is just as impossible to prove that there are no pixies or zombies or vampires as it is to prove there are no gods. I could easily claim that I am a wizard that can perform magic and you cannot disprove that. You would however likely conclude that I am in fact not a wizard because I have done nothing to prove that I am (and no one else has proven they are either). This is how the typical atheist views the claims of the religious: prove to me that your god exists and then I will believe.

        December 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Common Sense

      I will break it down a little further for you, since you dont understand. The people of that era in that place of the world, were mostly of Arabic descent (not black). Regardless of who it was, whomever the name, in whatever religion you believe in, the people there were of almost 100% arabic descent. Case and point. Only ignorant people will try to disprove that fact. I am only speaking for people who have an education and know basics about history and geography. Some people who have neither may not understand these statements. Sorry for them.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • KellyP

      There's Mediterranean coloring, which Jesus probably was, and there's Nordic, or WASP coloring, like in most American pictures of him, which he wouldn't have been, right?

      December 14, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
  10. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    I'm sure we can all agree that there is no Santa, no god like the Christian God, no Christ like the Christian Christ.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • BuckRogere

      If I agree to that then I have to die and I DON'T WANNA DIE! So there is a Gawd and I get to sit on a cloud and strum a harp for all eternity.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • Ryan

      BLASPHEMER! There is so a Santa

      December 14, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
  11. keith

    let's ask a stupid question "was jesus white" when he/it never existed to begin with!! there is no heaven above it's called clouds atmosphere space just ask NASA. Same bible-thumpers believe a fake being is so powerful yet allows so much devastation and they pray to the same fake person. Hey Santa is a real person too; even though scientific evidence proves both are FAKE...

    December 14, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
  12. The Frog

    Everyone knows he was Latino!

    December 14, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • BuckRogere

      Hay Soos!

      December 14, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
  13. BuckRogere

    Remember the Austrian corporal with a postage stamp mustache who wrecked half the world? He thought Jesus was a Celt. From Gaul, which Caesar came, saw and conquered. Some were impressed into the Roman Legions and sent to the Middle East. And they brought their wives. So Jesus was a Celt. See?

    December 14, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Please leave us out of this.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
      • BuckRogere

        I didn't say I believed it. HE did. Or said he did. He wasn't above the occasional fib.

        December 14, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  14. Jib76

    What does Jesus the Christ look like? Watch this YouTube video report:
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49wut32Cguw&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • Lavender

      Look, this is a nice video about a talented little girl, but she paints just the same way the Renaissance masters did. She has no more knowledge than they did.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
  15. mac101

    And then there is the legend of the Black Madonna, popular in Greece, Sicily, Egypt. Which would make Jesus biracial at the very least. So at best, if he really did exist, he would have been fairly dark-skinned, bearded, with dark hair and dark eyes, not unlike the pictures of Hasidic Jews at the Wailing Wall. Or the average Arab today.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • Dave

      http://kungfugripzine.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-secret-santa-how-black-bishop-from.html?m=1

      December 14, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
  16. Nanners

    So many idiots, so little time. The human race is surly doomed.

    December 14, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • Ya know . . .

      When you want to act superior, it helps to spell correctly.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • Lavender

      I know many surly people. Mostly on Fox.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  17. Maelstrom

    If this Fox anchor is wrapped up in the skin color of Christ and Santa.. I think she has missed the point of both.

    December 14, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  18. Quiz

    If Jesus came back as he looked originally and knocked at Megyn Kelly's door, when she looked out the window to see who it was, she would:

    A. Swing the door open wide and welcome him.

    B. Call the police and fetch her assault rifle

    December 14, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • Maelstrom

      B. Would probably mistake him for an Islamist extremist.. Oh cruel irony.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
    • lily

      I say B. Jesus is whoever we are. That is the beauty of the "Holy Spirit" but history would prove he was a curly haired black man, not the the beautiful. blue-eyed, dark-blonde white man we see in pictures. No bias. I am a green eyed, blonde woman who knows her history.
      \

      December 14, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
  19. BuckRogere

    Alexander the Great's mama told him he was the son of a Gawd – Zeus I guess. Truth is she didn't know who was papa. That gal got around.

    December 14, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
  20. Dave

    Jesus was a Jew and so a Semite and Arabs are Semites. Megan Kelly and those who believe in racial superiority of the white race are so insecure that they cannot accept that Jesus Christ was not of European extraction.

    December 14, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • Doug Lynn

      Don't be an ignorant racist. The legend of Santa Clause is European and Jesus was a middle eastern Jew. Neither were probably very dark. Kelly has only pointed out that reality in response to people who are so self-conscious about being dark skinned that they have to have a dark skinned Santa and a dark skinned Jesus. Personally, I could not care less.

      December 14, 2013 at 8:29 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.