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The faces of Jesus
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 Belief Blog 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. Jack

    Why don't whites enjoy the same freedoms of speech, association, and inquiry that other races enjoy?

    December 16, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
    • Sandy

      How have white rights been hindered? Give examples of actual prosecution, or stop trolling.

      December 16, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  2. Jack

    Why is it Nazism to want equality for whites?

    December 16, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • Sandy

      How are whites not equal?

      December 16, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
      • Jack

        Why are white people always made out to be criminals for saying things that minorities don't like, despite there being a First Amendment?

        December 16, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
        • Sandy

          Who is being punished?

          December 16, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  3. Jack

    Why can blacks, Hispanics, and Asians show pride in their races and have their own race-based organizations, but not whites? Why doesn't this seem like equality?

    December 16, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • Cheryl Magnuson

      Sig Heil. Get over yourself.

      December 16, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • His panic

      Pride is NOT a virtue, your ignorance is evident.

      Psalm 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.

      December 16, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
      • Ernest T Bass

        So it's a sin – wrong to be proud of your children?....... what a dumb azz

        December 17, 2013 at 10:13 am |
        • His panic

          It is if you think your children are better than mine.

          December 17, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
      • fintastic

        Ignorance indeed... quoting mythology?, 'sin" is a man made concept.... try and grow up.

        December 17, 2013 at 10:16 am |
        • His panic

          Your ignorance on the subject does not surprises me. ;-)

          December 17, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  4. Jack

    Whiteness rears its ulgy head, and minorities rise up to put it back in its place.
    All in the name of equality of the races, of course.

    December 16, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • Round and round

      Take one for the cause. Off yourself.

      December 16, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
      • Jack

        Why is it a crime to be white?

        December 16, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
        • Cheryl Magnuson

          It's the crimes you commit against others in the name if White Supremacy that gets you in trouble, not the fact that you're white. Get over yourself.

          December 16, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
        • Phil Esteen

          It isn't a crime to be white. It is a crime to waste opportunities like a good education, a good family and a good country on asinine, childish, butt-stupid bigotry.

          As an old, bald, educated, wealthy, happy white man married to a beautiful, charming, educated black woman I have heard the following wee bit of wisdom that applies to everyone:
          Grow up!

          December 16, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  5. Jack

    There should be a dictator who puts liberal comedians in their place.
    Piano wire would be effective in this regard.

    December 16, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Cheryl Magnuson

      Get over yourself. You are in no way superior to anyone.

      December 16, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
      • Jack

        Why is stating that one is white considered a declaration of supremacy?

        December 16, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
        • Danbury CT

          Stop asking ignorant questions that show your distinct lack of self-awareness.

          December 16, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  6. PeterD

    Jesus and Santa are White because they Both are Intellectual and Smart People.

    December 16, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Round and round

      You sound really, really ignorant, and your random capitalization confirms it.

      December 16, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • mzh

      How can one be intellect, if s/he is not able to separate The Truth from false?

      December 16, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • His panic

      Santa Claus is Satan Claus, therefore Satan is also White! :-D :-D :-D

      December 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
      • His panic

        I even I, I'm his Panic ;-)

        December 16, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
      • fintastic

        Satan is the guy on the paint can with the red suit, horns and pitch fork.

        December 17, 2013 at 10:19 am |
  7. Jack

    It goes to show the double-standards that minorities impose on white people.

    December 16, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • Danbury CT

      Who has imposed anything on white people? What rights of yours are being quashed?

      December 16, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  8. Jack

    Liberals calling people racists like clockwork.

    December 16, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • Round and round

      Do you have anything of substance to post, or are you just spewing more if the Fox agenda?

      December 16, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  9. His panic

    We have a better tradition with the 3 kings or wise men :-D :-D :-D. With them you can have one black one yellow and one white so problema is solved :-D :-D :-D. If you move the letter n in Santa it becomes Satan that besides being so fat. Satan Claus is american! I even I may be his Panic.
    :-D :-D :-D

    December 16, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • His panic

      At least the magi or wise men are mentioned in the Bible, but Claus is not. Instead is Satan.

      December 16, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  10. Jack

    This is why America needs a benevolent dictatorship backed up with machine guns and atom bombs to destroy the insanity of political correctness.

    December 16, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • Jill

      Let's hope you're top o the list.

      December 16, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  11. Santa changes colors

    In a black household Santa is black; in a white household he is white; in all other households he takes the color of the house he visits. No-brainer for an intelligent person, who doesn't sweat on trivia such as skin color.

    December 16, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  12. Jack

    She sparked outrage by speaking the truth? Humanity is doomed.
    Anyone with eyes can see that they are white.
    Is it a crime to be white these days?
    It sure does seem like it.
    Every person who is punished for what they say is a white person.
    Political correctness makes white people into political criminals.

    December 16, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • mzh

      49:13 – O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes (different colors, eithnicity, language and so on), that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

      December 16, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
      • Rodents for Romney

        Take a Genetics course, idiot.

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

          What courses are you talking about RR?

          You were not exist before you came out of your mom’s womb and then after you got out to this earth, you did not have ability even feed yourself nor were you able to say a word if you were hungry or so on… and now you have been blessed with the intellects and you become an arrogant person… do not be worried… you know where you heading toward, don’t you?

          December 18, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  13. mzh

    The story of Jesus:

    3:42 – And [mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds.

    3:43 – O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow [in prayer]."

    3:44 – That is from the news of the unseen which We reveal to you, [O Muhammad]. And you were not with them when they cast their pens as to which of them should be responsible for Mary. Nor were you with them when they disputed.

    3:45 – [And mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ].

    3:46 – He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous."

    3:47 – She said, "My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?" [The angel] said, "Such is Allah ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, 'Be,' and it is.

    3:48 – And He will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel

    3:48 – And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], 'Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah . And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead – by permission of Allah . And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers.

    19:29 – So she pointed to him. They said, "How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?"

    19:30 – [Jesus] said, "Indeed, I am the servant of Allah . He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet.

    19:31 – And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive

    19:32 – And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant.

    19:33 – And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive."

    3:49 – And [make him Jesus] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], 'Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah . And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead – by permission of Allah . And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers.

    3:50 – And [I (Jesus) have come] confirming what was before me of the Torah and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. And I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear Allah and obey me (Jesus).

    3:51 – Indeed, Allah is my (Jesus) Lord and your (companions) Lord, so worship Him. That is the straight path."

    19:34 – That is Jesus, the son of Mary – the word of truth about which they are in dispute.

    19:35 – It is not [befitting] for Allah to take a son; exalted is He! When He decrees an affair, He only says to it, "Be," and it is.

    December 16, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  14. Trent

    People get upset over the oddest things. Aren't there real things to worry about?

    December 16, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  15. A. Darkes

    I don't understand how this is even debatable. Jesus was an Israelite. Olive skinned.

    December 16, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • mzh

      I think its because of these preachers goes to different part of the world to convince those illiterate human by drawing Jesus looks alike them… specially catholic preachers draw Jesus as Chinese, Spanish, Indian and so on…

      Why they can’t just let the world know that Jesus was who he was where he was born…

      December 16, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • Jack

      Green olive or black olive?

      December 16, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      Well actually 1/2 of Jesus' chromosomes were contributed by an unknown deity, (supposedly). Mary contributed 1/2 of them. You have no clue what traits, (recessive or dominant) he gor from whom. You can make no as'sumptions.

      December 16, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
  16. David Steel

    The fact that Megyn Kelly believes that Jesus and Santa is white doesn't bother me in the least. This of course is only too easy to disproof historically. What bothers me most about the clip is when she says, "Just because something bothers you is no reason it has to change", which of course is exactly why white people changed Jesus, and then Saint Nick into figures they were more comfortable with.

    December 16, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Round and round

      Megyn Kelly is just doing her part in the annual "War on Christmas" that Fox wages every year. And, she's an idiot.

      December 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • OHBuckeyeNot

      Ms Kelly is but one of the sharp-tongued talking heads featured on Fox News – a mass media outlet designed to specifically appeal to Americans who are very uncomfortable with the fact that Caucasians no longer comprise the majority in this country. Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Ailes know how to make lots of money appealing to human fears....believe it.

      December 16, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  17. clarkgee

    However, if you read the Bible especially Matthew chapter 1, Jesus earthly family tree has alot of Jewish and African DNA... Read it and explore the backgrounds of Abraham his wives, King David his wives and King Solomon and others... Jesus definitely had melon in his skin, and his hair was like lamb's wool... He definitely was not white, blue eyes, flowing hair, or had European features. The good news here for everybody is that Jesus was of mixed race. Therefore, more importantly for those that accept Him all become brothers and sisters in Christ!

    December 16, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  18. Name*kathy

    I WOULD LIKE EVEFYONE WHO IS ARGUING OVER THIS IGNORANT COMMENT TO RELAX. MRS. KELLY IS SIMPLY STATING HER OPINION. RE.MEMBER SANTA CLAUS IS NOT REAL PERSON PEOPLE. HE IS A FI TIONAL CHARACTER MADE UP BY THE VERY RACE THAT OS TELLING YOU THAT HE IS WHITE. AGAIN NOT REAL SO WHAT IS ALL THE BICKERING FOR? JESUS ON THE OTHER HAND WAS AND IS REAL. JOHN 1:1 THE SON OF GOD. THIS IS PROVEN BIBLICALLY. AETHISTS LOL PLEASE DONT LOSE YOUR LUNCHES. FOR SOON U WILL RECIEVE YHE PROOF YOU SEEK. BUT IT WILL BE IN A WAY YOU WILL LEAST EXPECT. SO MRS. KELLY I AM A 36 YEAR OLD BLACK WOMEN AND I DO NOT CALL FOR YOUR HEAD. YOU DO NOT KNOW ANY BETTER. KEEP SANTA ALIVE IN YOUR HEAD AND MAY HE BE ANY COLOR YOU SO CHOOSE. JESUS CHRIST WILL VERY SHORTLY BE RETURNING TO THIS EARTH AND THANK GOD NOONE WILL BE HAVING THIS ARGUEMENT. IT WILL BE A NEW DAY.

    December 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • igaftr

      First, stop yelling.
      second she said verifiable fact....she is an idiot.

      December 16, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        Kathy is not to bright either (Jesus is coming back soon) so they have common ground

        December 16, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • J Hammy

      The problem with what you say there is this: "MRS. KELLY IS SIMPLY STATING HER OPINION." When she says "That's a verifiable fact" it is no longer her stating opinion. Opinion would be "I don't think we should portray Santa as black" or "I think Jesus was white." She said "Santa just IS white" and that Jesus was a white man, that's historical, a verifiable fact. See the difference? And stating your opinion on an opinion piece is one thing, stating your opinion as fact on a national news show is just ignorant.

      December 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  19. Daniel

    An 'Assyrian' Jew looks/is white? Umm.... we all do know that was like Michelangelo's cousin or whatever in those paintings, right? Jesus was almost undoubtedly 'African' in countenance and skin tone. Santa on the other hand is loosely based supposedly on Saint Nicholas a bishop in the 4th century from the area comprised by the country of modern Turkey. So good chance he was 'Aryan' in skin tone and countenance.

    December 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  20. DaTrufHurts

    WHY, exactly, is this news? What is the agenda that is being pushed with stories like this?

    December 16, 2013 at 2:36 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.