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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. Santa of the year!

    "Tips for Jesus" mystery guy wins Santa of the year award!

    🙂

    December 15, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Ho ho ho

      We really don't care one way or the other about Santa's age, we don't care whether he is skinny or plump, we don't care whether Santa is black or white as long as Santa stuffs our stockings with goodies. 😉

      Hang out the stockings and expect a miracle this Christmas!

      December 15, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
      • Tony

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckbV7H2Gn4s&w=640&h=390]

        December 15, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  2. Dr James

    Yes Jesus is coming soon! When people say he isn’t because past generations have claimed the same, they are actually fulfilling prophecy themselves! That’s what the Bible said would happen near the end! When people disappear you all better start stockpiling bibles and buy everything you’ll need for 7 years and go hide before you are forced to worship the new world leader. It’s coming, study the blood moon tetrad coming up and look at Israel. After 1900 years they formed a nation again, no other group could do that without God!

    December 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • igaftr

      Quetzlcoatl will be most angry with you for worshipping the wrong god.

      December 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Roger that

      'When people say he isn’t because past generations have claimed the same, they are actually fulfilling prophecy themselves! That’s what the Bible said would happen'

      Imagine that...

      December 15, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • Ernest T Bass

      Are you a doctor of mythology???

      December 16, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  3. Alias

    Okay, all kidding and sarcasm aside – can we all agree the easter bunny is white?
    I know most of his eggs are mulitcultural, but that rabbit is anglo saxon to the bone.

    December 15, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • igaftr

      I don't know if he is white or not, but he is into Hip Hop.......

      Can't we also agree that Liberace was great on the piano, but sucked on the organ?

      December 15, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • Funny bunny

      The Easter bunny is purple, he's always been purple.

      December 15, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Ernest T Bass

      I always thought the easter bunny was calico.

      December 16, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  4. Dr James

    Jesus fulfilled 61 major and over 200 prophecies in his lifetime. The mathematical and scientific odds of any man fulfilling just 8 prophecies is almost impossible let alone over 200. That’s science proving Jesus is the Messiah. Turn to him my friend. Every knee shall bow to him in the end but if you use your free will to accept him now, you can receive the gift of eternal life. Don’t wait, not everyone gets time to repent on their death bed!

    December 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Colin

      "Jesus fulfilled 61 major and over 200 prophecies in his lifetime."

      Name one.

      December 15, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
      • Alias

        He was born.
        One down, 199 to go!

        December 15, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
      • Dr James

        Born in Bethlehem, called out if Egypt, grew up in Nazareth, rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, sold for 30 pieces of silver, betrayed by a friend, kept silent to his accusers at trial, and many more! Look it up on google or read the New Testament.

        December 15, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
        • Colin

          Well, actually, that is not so. The authors of the 4 canonical gospels were all practicing Jews writing to convince other Jews (and pagans) to join their growing sect. They had a copy of the Septuagint in their hands when they wrote the story of Jesus’ birth! Of course their stories of his birth “fulfilled the prophesies.” How could they claim Jesus was the Messiah if they didn’t? It is like the writer of a screenplay fulfilling a prediction that James Bond will save the World, kill the bad guy and get the girl as he writes the script for the upcoming Bond film.

          A great example of this is the story of Jesus’ birth. The author of Mark does not cover this event and, in order to claim that Jesus was the Messiah foretold by Jewish scripture – a fundamental tenet of Christianity – the authors of both Matthew and Luke knew they had to locate Jesus’ birth in the city of Bayt Lahm ("Bethlehem"). This is because the messianic writings of the Book of Isaiah in the Jewish Tanaka (which would later become the “Old Testament” of the Christian Bible) had been (wrongfully, BTW) interpreted to foretell that the Messiah would be born to the House of David from Bayt Lahm. The problem confronting them was that Jesus grew up in Nazareth and was known as “Jesus of Nazareth” not “Jesus of Bayt Lahm.” Matthew and Luke plug this hole in very different ways.

          In the Gospel of Matthew, Mary and Joseph are originally from Bethlehem. Three wise men come from the East, following a star which is to lead them to the great Messiah supposedly prophesized by the Book of Isaiah. King Herod hears of this and calls the three wise men before him in Jerusalem. He asks them to tell him when they find Jesus, ostensibly so he can worship the baby, but with the real intention of killing him. The star reappears and the three wise men follow it to Bethlehem and present the baby Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Jerusalem, the wise men hightail it back East without telling Herod where Jesus is. There is no indication of Jesus’ birth occurring in a manger.

          Herod hears of this, throws a fit and kills all babies less than two years of age in Bethlehem. However, Joseph and Mary have been earlier warned by God in a dream that this is coming and have fled south to Egypt. They stay there until God tells them in another dream that Herod is dead. However, on returning to Bethlehem, they hear that Herod’s son, Archelaus, has taken the throne in Jerusalem. This poses a continuing threat to the child Jesus, so they continue north to Nazareth in Galilee, where Jesus is raised. Hence Jesus is born in Bat Lahm in accordance with the prophesy from Isaiah, despite being known as “Jesus of Nazareth.”

          In the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph are not originally from Bethlehem, there are no wise men from the East, no star to be followed, no flight to Egypt, no infanticidal rampage by Herod and no gold, frankincense or myrrh. Instead, Mary and Joseph are originally from Nazareth but have to return to the land of David, their ancestor from 1,000 years ago, to be assessed in a Roman tax imposed under Caesar Augustus.

          So Joseph and Mary, who is heavily pregnant, set off on the seventy mile trip from Nazareth due south to Bethlehem. There is no room at any inn, so Jesus is born in a manger. Three shepherds in a nearby field are told by a singing chorus of angels that the king of the Jews has been born and they come and pay homage. Eight days later, Jesus is circu.mcised and, after the period of Mary’s “purification” under Jewish law, Jesus is taken to the temple in Jerusalem and presented. In the temple, they offer Yahweh two turtledoves and two pigeons as a sacrifice and then return to Nazareth, where Jesus is raised. In this gospel, in a sense, "Jesus fulfilled the scriptures" for tax purposes. -:)

          December 15, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
        • Opposing View

          Colin...

          2 John 1:7 – For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist...

          December 15, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • igaftr

      Harry Potter also fulfilled prophecy....you see if I write a character into a book, I can have them do amazing things.

      What, if any can be verified and corroborated?

      December 15, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
      • Dr James

        The prophecies were prewritten hundreds of years before Jesus' birth.

        December 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
        • igaftr

          that says nothing.

          I can write a book that has many prophecies, and then someone else writes a book years later and has a character fulfill all of the prophecies. Nothing magic in writing books.

          Like I said...anything that can be verified and corroborated? Everything I see saays that there may have been a man, Jesus, but from there nothing can be verified...as far as I can see, the whole character is nothing but a metaphor, with nothing substantial.

          Just because someone wriote it down, does not make it real. All "scripture" means is that it was written down.

          December 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
        • Paper Rose

          @igaftr......in case Dr. James decides not to spend all day typing these prophecies for you, here: http://www.accordingtothescriptures.org/prophecy/353prophecies.html have a look at them all for yourself.....

          December 15, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
        • igaftr

          Paper rose
          How many can be verified and corroborated?

          December 15, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
      • Paul Preiswerck

        How very true. That's why I put my full faith in the Holy Harry Potter, and pray unceasingly that when I die I'll go to Hogwarts. Just kidding, I'm an Atheist I don't believe in any fairy tales recent or old.

        December 15, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  5. wehadrons

    The entire idea that the actual historical Saint Nicolas and Jesus were white was propagated by those who preached white supremacy. They have never had any interest in history, geography, or the truth. Their only interest is the maintenance of; their positions of power, the illusion of their superiority, and their ability to continue to emotionally, spiritually, and economically manipulate vast swaths of the electorate with fear and disinformation.

    December 15, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  6. paper.rose

    does it really harm you if people imagine Jesus is like them? on the bottom line we are supposed to be like Him, not the other way around.

    December 15, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • Harry Cline

      Makes sense to me.
      I doubt seriously the pearly gates will be based on race.
      In fact race may not even resemble anything down here.

      December 15, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
      • Opposing View

        Race is of the flesh. There is no such thing as "race" in heaven. In heaven, we'll all be "souls" standing before God...

        December 16, 2013 at 12:35 am |
        • Ernest T Bass

          No such thing as "heaven" or "heII" or "satan" or "god"...... it's all mythology invented by man.... how embarrasing for you.

          December 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  7. Lamb of Dog

    Genesis 0:0 God and his boy are white.

    December 15, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • fintastic

      Yes, genesis are all white...... shame when Gabriel left the band,,,

      December 16, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  8. Geo Bruno

    The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.
    92. -Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814

    December 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Opposing View

      MYTH: The bible has been modified or tampered with…

      FACT: Although false bibles do exist today (courtesy of Lucifer, in an attempt to deceive you), the real true bible also still exists. The original scriptures and original manuscripts has never been altered. God would never allow it. The following confirms this fact:

      Matthew 5:18 – (Jesus speaking) For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one ti-ttle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled…

      In the above scripture, Jesus is saying that both heaven and earth would pass away before he would allow even one jot (the dot at the end of a sentence) or one ti-ttle (the short line that crosses the letter "t") to change in the law (the word of God). God would never allow it. Yes, false bibles do exist today, but the original "unmodified" scriptures also still exits, and will always exist. God only needs a single bible to fulfill his will. He don't need a thousand. So long as even a single copy of the original scriptures exists, the word of God can be fulfilled. Jesus further confirms this by saying…

      Luke 16:17 – (Jesus speaking) And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one ti-ttle of the law to fail…

      Luke 21:33 – (Jesus speaking) Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words (the word of God) shall not pass away…

      The original scriptures are perfectly written and will exist forever, long after both heaven and earth have passed away. People who say the bible has been tampered with are people who have no truth...

      December 16, 2013 at 12:30 am |
      • fintastic

        @OV.... "The original scriptures and original manuscripts has never been altered. God would never allow it."

        Then why did god allow the hundreds of obvious contradictions in the bible?

        You believe the bible because the bible says the bible is truth... how truly ignorant of you.

        December 16, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
  9. Geo Bruno

    103. Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus."

    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 30 July, 1816

    December 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Harry Cline

      ...and he was the epitome of fraud and deceit.

      December 15, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • wehadrons

      Arius had a distinct idea of the trinity. He, of course, was called a heretic, was exiled from the Roman Empire, had all of his books and writings burned, and was eventually poisoned.

      December 15, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • paper.rose

      Jesus told His diciples to 'go and baptise all nations in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost', unless you imagine Jesus doesnt know who and what God is..........thomas jefferson's opinions notwithstanding........

      December 15, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
      • Opposing View

        Jesus never said any such thing (unless of course you're getting your info from a false bible). Try the Original KJV...

        December 16, 2013 at 12:11 am |
        • David M

          The "Original" New Testament books were written in Greek. King James' English would have to wait for another 1600 years.

          December 16, 2013 at 1:00 am |
        • Opposing View

          David… Try reading it again. I did not say "Original Greek Manuscripts". I said "Original KJV" which means "Original King James Version", and was the first version translated into English…

          December 16, 2013 at 1:09 am |
  10. Geo Bruno

    So we all need to amass worldly things made by the godless communists to celebrate the bday of the guy who said not to

    December 15, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • Harry Cline

      Yeah it was far better when America made things.
      Now we are simply a nation of professional consumers.

      December 15, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  11. Geo Bruno

    well the repub Jesus for the rich may have been white

    But the real one, who was for the least of us, was not

    December 15, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  12. Geo Bruno

    .. and with blue eyes

    Just like all the other folks in the middle east

    December 15, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  13. Geo Bruno

    But his mom was a red sea pedestrian

    so there ya go

    December 15, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  14. Abbie

    What would Dr.Drews behavioural panel say????

    December 15, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  15. Abbie

    Jesus is a woman, Santa is black and Elvis is still alive. What the hell is wrong with you ppl?!?! My 8yr old son as much as I absolutely LOVE CNN and HLN it's not something I watch with my child. Kids are way too desensitized these days to have to flick through the channels to get to the family network and stumble upon this. I get that these days everything is up for debate but does it really need to be so close to Christmas where the word Santa will stop any kid in their track while flipping through channels! So let's crush the spirit of children who believe what they believe just to make it about race. We've (specifically the adults) have lost the true meaning behind Christmas. So shame on you all. Now anyone wanna discuss the ethnicity of Rudolph? Is he a moose, elk, reindeer????

    December 15, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  16. Reality

    Some here apparently are having problems saying "Happy Mythmas". Hmmm, how about "Happy Mythmess" or "Happy Messy Myths" or "Happy Your Myths Not Mine" or "Happy "Who are You Kidding"? Added details have been previously presented.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    December 15, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Harry Cline

      How about simply 'Merry Christmas'..

      December 15, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
      • Reality

        Because there was a Jesus but he was no Christ/Messiah.

        December 15, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
  17. Sue

    How about another "well known" fact about Jesus, did he actually have long hair, like a hippy? Paul would apparently disagree.

    Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him,
    1 Corinthians 11:14

    Maybe people just confused him with the Baptist?

    December 15, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Harry Cline

      He'd probably really flip out in today's day age with the men wearing earrings and dressing in drag.
      He's have to figure out which ear means your gay.

      However it is most likely Jesus had long hair. Scissors hadn't been invented yet.
      Try to remember who is writing the Bible. And do I dare say their own bias and likes and dislikes.

      Even today's with all the various new translations laid side by side and you can interpret some in different ways. The point is trust nothing mankind has ever written down claiming by divide intervention.

      December 15, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
      • Akira

        So... Which ear, Harry? Because I've never heard the answer to that.

        December 15, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
        • Harry Cline

          It beats me.
          (my tattoos where bad enough)

          December 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
        • Akira

          Lol. You're no help.

          December 15, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  18. Mr My Way

    Kelly thinks she's a journalist and she's wrong on that one also. Fox thinks they are a news outlet that is fair and balanced. Again, wrong

    December 15, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  19. John

    Jesus is a joke. The sooner idiots wakeup and realize it, the better.

    December 15, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  20. Rick

    What a "witch!" (with a "b")

    December 15, 2013 at 11:20 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.