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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. dan M

    I have one question. Why is everyone so caught up with this race thing about whether santa or jesus were white. More specifically in the case of Santa. I have a four year old daughter and when we discuss santa the race has never come up or has never even been discussed because it shouldnt matter. The point of Santa and the christmas spirit is just that. To give hope and a good feeling to children. Not to bring them into this crappy world where no one gets along and everyone nit picks everything. If you want to tell your children santa is black, white, purple, green, blue, whatever it shouldnt matter because it is your story, and your family memories and no one elses. Who has the right to tell me that Santa is white, black, asian, italian, whatever. IT DOESNT MATTER. For the love of children stop this nonsense.

    December 16, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • igaftr

      It is in response to Megyn Kelly and yet another of her white supremacy statement.

      December 16, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  2. MLegendre

    It all just feels like that term I've heard, reverse-racism. If 'White' didn't exist, what would these morons argue about.

    December 16, 2013 at 8:03 am |
    • igaftr

      There is no such thing as reverse racism. There is racism...there are things that are not racism.

      December 16, 2013 at 8:06 am |
      • lol??

        Only one race walked off the ark. Racism is a pharisaical myth.

        December 16, 2013 at 8:23 am |
        • Wow

          approximately what year did the noah's ark story occurr?

          December 16, 2013 at 8:33 am |
        • Wow

          also. how did that one race turn into asians, arabians, samoans, indians, native american indians, africans and anglo saxans and the many other peoples of the world?

          December 16, 2013 at 8:36 am |
        • Evert van Vliet

          'It' didn't change, we're all still the same race roaming the same planet ever since we evolved into a ape-species with the potential to reason.

          December 16, 2013 at 8:47 am |
        • The Origin of the Races

          @Wow

          http://www.answersingenesis.org/media/video/ondemand/check-this-out/origin-of-races

          December 16, 2013 at 9:44 am |
        • In Santa we trust

          Origin of Races. The bible stories do not answer the questions of race – the survivors on the Ark could not have migrated to all corners of the globe, would not have evolved in the many variations we see, nor produced enough offspring to populate the world to the extent we have.

          December 16, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
        • igaftr

          Origin of the races.

          Seriously...answersin genesis website?

          I guess even wrong answers are answers.

          December 16, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  3. 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.

    i.e. there was a Jesus but he was no Christ/Messiah.

    December 15, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
    • Harry Cline

      But you have to admit 'Merry Christmas' does have a nice ring to it.

      December 15, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
      • david mann

        So does "Happy Holidays".

        December 16, 2013 at 4:28 am |
        • Evert van Vliet

          Have a nice life.

          The rest is absolute nonsense in order to prevent that from happening…well.. give and take a few happy campers.

          Some call it democracy others the truth, yet there's nothing to observe out there other than one planet in an awesome universe and human kind being part of nature on it.

          Fact is that we're willing to let go of christmas as the meaning for the season but not the show which demands we all have to pay for the rights we already had, in god we trust so santa gets a free ride….. ho ho ho?

          It's reality which is occupied, the color doesn't matter any more so let's have a fight about it.

          Check, please!

          December 16, 2013 at 4:59 am |
  4. Robert Weeks

    FWIW the US Census Bureau agdrees with Megyn Kelly and Fox news. People of middle eastern origin are classified as white.

    December 15, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • "Yawn"

      Fwiw the US Cenaus pertains to the US, and contrary to your belief, the US isn't the be all to end all.
      How about you do a little research into how the Hebrews have changed in the last 2000 years?

      December 15, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • exgeei

      So when middle easterners are profiled are they described as white. I think not, so lets stop the absurdity.

      December 15, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
      • Wayne Allen

        Jesus was a Jew. What color were Jews 2000 years ago?

        December 16, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • person

      The only reason for that is to try to maintain a white majority in an ever diversifying place.... duh and although the govt says they are white most middle eastern people do not agree because they do not want to be considered white

      December 15, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
    • Sandy

      Megyn Kelly and Fox are just supplying fodder for its constant grist mill.

      And you fell for it.

      December 15, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
  5. Autumn

    Race doesn't matter, we should forgive everyone's ancestors and should see skin color as an attribute to beauty like different colors of hair or outfits. We all look different but we are all created by the same creator.

    December 15, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
  6. Abby

    Look at how many peoples lives have changed after accepting Jesus. The proof is there. There are many lukewarm false Christians and they make us all look bad but there are many true Christians and I'm one who wouldn't be here today without Him. I love you Jesus. Forgive the unbelievers for they don't know no better. Open their hearts so they won't perish.

    Why have all the Christians taken all the torture and persecution if they weren't 100% sure of Jesus? Would atheists die in the same manner for their beliefs in science?

    December 15, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • Andrew Drummond

      Many other religions can claim the same "facts". Many believed Hitler doesn't make it right. BTW many atheists have been persecuted by Christian leaders and kept there beliefs.

      December 15, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
    • Harry Cline

      How many have died in the name of/for Mohammed ?
      How many Buddhist monks have set themselves on fire ?
      How many ancient Greeks threw themselves to death for the immortals ?

      How many died believing in Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler ?
      How many ancient Jews worshiped a golden calf ?
      How many modern day Hindus worship the sacred cow ?

      I not sure I am a good representative for or of Christianity in fact I know I'm not, and even though my repentance/acceptance and acknowledgement comes by way of Jesus Christ or through Jesus I still battle within myself his true meaning. In so far as was Jesus truly the son of God or merely a very good teacher.

      I haven't read the Bible in years nor do I attend church and haven't for years. But I finally learn how to talk to God the father and the importance of humbleness before God. And have a better understanding of what rebellion and arrogance represent before God. So in all honesty I cannot say to you that Jesus is the one who has made a difference in my life.

      But God sure has, that is to say God the father..

      December 15, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
      • Opposing View

        Harry… It's funny to hear you say that – that Jesus hasn't made a difference in your life but yet you feel God has. The reality is, you don't even know God, and all you know is Jesus. The bible says, "for God is a spirit, and no man has seen God at any time". So how can you give more honor and respect to some invisible spirit you've never even seen, meanwhile denying him whom you have seen? Jesus himself said the following:

        John 5:23 – That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.

        So why aren't you honoring the Son? For if you honor not the Son then you honor not the Father. Even worse, everything you know about God, you got it from Jesus, 100% of it. For he alone was sent to earth to declare the Father, and without Jesus you wouldn't even know the Father existed. Furthermore, it was Jesus who died on the cross for you, and not the Father, and without Jesus you won't and cannot be saved. Even Jesus himself stated, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by me". Therefore, you can't even get to the Father except you go through Jesus. I'm glad that you believe in God. But it seems to me there are a few priorities you need to get in order. Maybe a little time at church would do you good…

        December 15, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
        • Paul Preiswerck

          Maybe you should spend some time reading a book other then that BIg Book of Jewish Fairy Tales.

          December 15, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
        • Harry Cline

          You haven't seen Jesus ! You have only read a book by mankind who claims divine inspiration help them write it.
          Trust not mankind who claims that.

          Most 'great Christians' alive today who truly do the work of God without any recognition for themselves or boasting in the churches will never even come close to what I have witness and experience in my life. And you ain't even close.

          December 15, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
        • Opposing View

          Harry… We wouldn't know a single thing about God, except Jesus Christ told us about God. We also wouldn't know a single thing about Jesus (or that he ever existed) except the apostles wrote about Jesus and left it in the scriptures. So everything we know about God or Jesus, we got it through a man, one way or the other. So how can you say we shouldn't believe in man – especially when you're a man telling me that…

          Secondly, you want me disbelieve that the holy men of God who wrote the scriptures were divinely inspired, but yet you want me to fully believe everything you say and that you have been divinely inspired. I hate to tell you this, but it sounds to me like you'e been inspired by the devil. If your so-called inspiration didn't come according to the scriptures, then your inspiration is of the devil and will only lead your soul to hell. There are countless people in the world today who has fallen for that same deception. People who have assumed they are saved and assume they are working for God, but the reality is, they are working for Lucifer and are "workers of iniquity". By the way you talk, that is exactly what you sound like…

          December 15, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
        • Harry Cline

          True. Religion teaches us about a God. That's how we all first heard about a God.
          But then as we reach the age of accountability we must if we our honest with ourselves call into that belief.

          Do we truly believe, or have we been condition to believe growing up hearing a bout a God through organized religion. Religion has been mankind's greatest curse.

          However, even without a religion to tell mankind about a God we would still question our existence here on earth. So, we can make the claim as well that even without the coercion we could very well come to the conclusion that there is a greater power then mankind.

          December 15, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
        • Opposing View

          Harry… The much more you talk, the much more you sound like someone who is not even saved and a worker of iniquity…

          For starters, there is no such thing as an "age of accountability". That is a concept dreamed up by man. You also say "Religion has been mankind's greatest curse". Sounds to me like you'e been listening to too many atheists. Beware the trap of Lucifer. He loves to get you to disbelieve in the very thing that can save your soul. If religion is a curse, then please tell me what else on this earth can save your soul and take you to heaven. Name it. Science? Your own personal belief? Money or a house on the hill? All those things can do is to lead your soul to hell. To be saved, you must follow the scriptures and do what they say (see Acts 2:38). If you haven't followed the scriptures, then you're not even saved, and all else you believe in is nonsense…

          December 16, 2013 at 12:03 am |
        • Harry Cline

          Perhaps I'm only saved by Gods grace because I got away from religion.
          Someone once said that people will be surprised by who they see next to God and equally surprised by who they don't see.

          December 16, 2013 at 12:14 am |
        • Opposing View

          Harry… Then unfortunately, when you got away from religion, you got a way from God. And Lucifer has deceived you. The scripture you quoted "being saved by grace" only applies to the people of God, and only applies to people who are already saved. It was not talking to unsaved people and sinners in the world. Unsaved people need more than grace. Unsaved people need the Holy Ghost. To receive the Holy Ghost, you must follow Acts 2:38. If you haven't followed Acts 2:38 and received the Holy Ghost, then you are not saved no matter who you are…

          Also, you should stay away from "cliques" and "old wives tales" and "folk sayings". Those things will mislead you and send your soul to hell. To be saved, you must follow the scriptures and do what the scriptures say. If you haven't been saved according to scripture, then you are not saved no matter who you are…

          2 Timothy 4:3 – For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables…

          1 Timothy 4:7 – But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.

          December 16, 2013 at 12:59 am |
        • Harry Cline

          Good luck..

          December 16, 2013 at 1:12 am |
        • Ernest T Bass

          OV ... I truly feel sorry for you believing your deluded nonsense. How truly ignorant you are.

          December 16, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      Yeah cuz flying planes into towers and giving up one's life for a deity proves the deity to be true.
      What you love is entirely in your brain, and it can be proven on MRI and PET scan.

      December 16, 2013 at 1:35 am |
  7. Harry Cline
    December 15, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
  8. Harry Cline
    December 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  9. Alice D.

    The last time I saw Jesus he looked sort of tie die and neon green, but that might have been a street lamp...it was a rough night.

    December 15, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  10. dencal26

    The author writes as if Jews are not white. The vast majority of Jews I know are very white. In the Middle East they may have darker complexions but so do Greeks and Italians. But they are still white.

    December 15, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • kvinson

      THANK YOU i have been saying that for years ..folks act like cause they are not from Europe .they are not white ..

      December 15, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Lady Madonna

      The majority of Jewish people these days do not a thing like their Hebrew counterparts from 2000 years ago.
      They have been Anglisized.

      December 15, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  11. His panic

    Calm down people! There is absolutely no need to get into a riot over her shenanigans. It was all done as a "joke".

    If she really, really trust God and Jesus Christ God's Only Son she wouldn't be saying an absurd like that. She was having her monthly moment of anxiety and hysteria maybe even Panic or it could have been a seasonal anxiety. It can happen to anyone and everyone who does not Trust in God and in Jesus Christ God's Only Son.

    December 15, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      God had many sons. It was a common term for "good people" back then. No Jew would EVER claim equality with Yahweh. Jesus never did. In Hebrew literature, "divine beings" were not necessarily gods. Go get an education, please.

      December 16, 2013 at 1:49 am |
  12. Geo Bruno

    JS is a Vulcan

    December 15, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  13. Geo Bruno

    But the Fox folks were also as sure about W's war.

    Right

    December 15, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
  14. Geo Bruno

    and the Flox folks think that the r ich are getting into the kingdom of heaven

    So there ya go

    December 15, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  15. Geo Bruno

    But his mom was a red sea pedestrian

    Right?

    December 15, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  16. Dr James

    Jesus is the way the truth and the life. Deny him now but in the end every knee shall bow to him. Faith doesn't need proof or science. Don't let your faith in science keep you from Heaven.

    December 15, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • igaftr

      Extremely unlikely.

      Tell me, how do you reconcile the fact that you have to do an immoral act, like allowing someone else to take your just punishment, in order to be saved from all your immoral acts?

      Nogomain does not appreciate your worship of other gods.

      December 15, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • Damocles

      It is not my love of science or my love of a good story that keeps me from believing in your praticular deity. I can only suspend my belief in reality for the roughly two hours it takes to get through your average action flick. I can not suspend it for a lifetime.

      December 15, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • Geo Bruno

      Which Jesus

      The one that doesn't care that many million Americans do not have affordable hc

      Or the one RL worships

      December 15, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • Roger that

      'Faith doesn't need proof or science'

      Faith is for people that are too lazy to search for the truth.

      December 15, 2013 at 4:53 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.