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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. sbrunetti2013

    Jesus was Middle Eastern, so somehow I don't think he was the dirty blond haired Nordic type you see in a lot of depictions. Thats just wishful thinking. I know that a lot of people just can't bear to think of their "saviour" as swarthy and dark skinned but it makes sense doesn't it?

    December 24, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • Dred

      Serious studies have concluded that Jesus probably looked like any Mediterranean man looks.
      He probably looked more like Jim Caviezel (The Passion) than like Ted Neeley (Jesus Christ Superstar).
      He certainly did not look like a person of black or Chinese ancestry.

      In God's eyes the color of our skin means nothing. What matter is what you or I have in our hearts and what we do.
      Quoting JPII " A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members"...the old, the infirm, the unborn, the poor.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  2. Will

    Jesus was most likely of middle eastern descent but, Americans and people in general have grown accustomed to a predominately white pictured Jesus. However arguing the point of wether Jesus was black or white is besides the point of what Jesus stood for since according to the bible Jesus was a symbol of hope and forgiveness.

    As for calling santa, white who cares? Santa is and most likely is depicted as white but santa is a fictional imaginary character that exists in the minds of children why should it really matter what color Santa is? If a 4 year old asian boy wants to believe his santa is asian who are you to just say "he's white". Fox has become infamous for spewing trash that ignorants just love to gobble up with joy. It's sad ridiculous and unbelievable childish for an adult to just outrightly say something so stupid on live TV and still have her job. Kelly is just a fool and as an American citizen sadly she has the right to be one :p.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:25 am |
  3. careca

    It is shocking the level of ignorance even among so called christians whether colored, white or black. Do people not understand that the body was not Jesus? He said,"Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me". If a body was prepared for him to enter, does it not show that he is not the body but spirit? It is natural for him to be clothed in a jewish body because it was through them that God spoke to the world. But to think the body is relevant is to miss the person of Jesus Christ. Now, this is not really as shocking as I suggested because most people do not realize that human beings are spirits clothed with the body.The human body is a building or a clothing. This means that the real man lives inside the body. Like children the human race is busy fighting over the color of the clothing people are wearing or the color of people's houses and they have failed to understand the nature of the man that lives inside. What foolishness! And the funny thing is that we (humans) claim to have knowledge. If anyone wants to boast, let him boast in the body he rose from the dead with. That is the body that was purchased for the human race. It is the body we will all inherit whether white or black. It is the body that can appear and disappear, a body that can go against gravity and ascend to the heavens, a body that can pass through buildings yet can enjoy a good meal. Let us boast in that kind of body which we know is neither black nor white but can glow brighter than the sun. Don't boast about the white or black body which decays and turns to dust. Boast in the new body which we celebrate at the communion table. He shared in our body unto death that we may share in his body which is immortal and reserved for us in heaven. We will all receive that body at his appearing. This is what we believe. This is what we should hold unto. This is what we should boast about. This is our hope – that we will put away this mortal body (white or black) and be clothed with his immortal body.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      Any evidence to support that?

      December 24, 2013 at 8:50 am |
      • careca

        Lot's of evidence!

        December 24, 2013 at 9:25 am |
        • Marcuson

          How about just one to start?

          December 24, 2013 at 10:42 am |
      • careca

        The discussion of the evidence is beyond the scope of the forum. Ask scientists to tell us what dark matter is. Ask them why they do not know or understand the matter (dark), which in their opinion makes up to 80% of the mass of the universe. Ask scientist why they think that life has to exist only at the atomic level? Why must life be formed only on the basis of the DNA? Why did evolution wait for atoms to be formed first before life could happen? Why do they think that life cannot exist at the level of fermions, hadrons and bosons or other elementary particles like dark matter which they have not discovered. Ask scientists how they would rate the amount of knowledge humans have acquired compared to the knowledge in the universe? Ask them if this knowledge is up to 0.000000001%. Ask scientists the formula for the human consciousness. To discuss and answer these question is beyond the scope of the forum. Science in terms of knowledge is a junior brother to faith. Through faith we understood that the universe was not made out of what was visible rather from an invisible source. Science discovered the same thing thousands of years later. Faith tells us that life is also organized at sub-atomic levels in the spectrum of 'light'. But only few years ago, science discovered that there are particles smaller than the atom. Physicists hypothesize about dark matter and are yet to conclude if planets and life forms exist at this level. Why then should we set aside faith just because we do not understand it. Let us study science but let's not discard faith. Science is limited by physical evidence but faith is not limited by anything. Faith is the study of the invisible things with which the physical universe was made. The evidence of this is in all of us because we all have a spirit, which is made of a substance that is not in the realm of the physical universe. It is because of this spirit which is part of an other worldly 'light' material that we are able to know things intuitively. We are able to accomplish fits as humans that science cannot explain. We manifest abilities similar to 'light' and electromagnetic waves in terms of sending and receiving information. Every human ethnicity believes in life after death, in angels and demons and in God. We should not wish these things away. It is arrogance for humanity and science to accept that they have very limited knowledge of the universe on one hand and on the other hand to wish away other kinds of knowledge.

        December 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • igaftr

      Since people create gods, and tend to create them in their own image, it really is moot what color skin a man made god-man had.

      December 24, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • lol??

      Don't let any Harvard chaplains or graduates hear you speaking like that. They'll think you are a Clingon.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:00 am |
      • careca

        It is good that I am a physician who happened to be an alumni of harvard university school of public health. What I say is both scientific and faith based. Faith is not against science by any means. The problem is that ignorant people have the loudest voice in this world. It is ok for harvard to be a voice in this world for scientific matters but when it comes to faith and revelation, which is a function of the spirit, they should sit down quietly and listen to anyone who has knowledge.

        December 24, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  4. Piccolo

    A man named Jesus existed, yes. That doesn't mean the supernatural stories are true, plus there are multiple conflicting stories about the events in his life from the same time period, so you have to look at all the evidence. They were all written decades after his supposed death by folks who were not eyewitnesses to the events. The guy was probably real, but his story was greatly exaggerated. He was the first hippy to walk the earth. He was killed for his progressive thinking. He developed a cult like following and multiple groups wrote stories to compete for full control over this new religion.

    December 23, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • Logical Default

      Ironic, isn't it? Christianity was founded on liberalism, but today a large amount of Christians can't stand liberal ideas and progressive philosophy, when it defined Jesus as a person.

      December 24, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  5. Shin

    I don't understand why his skin color means anything to anybody anyway. But to get technical about it, Jesus is an Israelite. So it makes sense that he would look like Israelites of that time or as far back as our history goes with descriptions of them. Dark haired, tanned skin, like modern day people of Jewish descent. I don't care if he's as blue as a Smurf, I love him for dying for me and when I meet him, it doesn't matter if he is standing in a crayola crowd of every nation, I WILL KNOW HIM.

    December 23, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  6. Dyslexic doG

    At this time of the year, I send out a reminder to all my friends:

    Jesus wasn't born, he was written!

    December 23, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  7. Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

    Jesus was delusional, believing himself to be the son of "God." He realized all too late what the truth was when he was nailed to a cross dying.

    December 23, 2013 at 6:06 am |
  8. Johnny

    Wow this is ignorance at its highest. 1. Santa Claus is European, its a European creation, so he is white. 2. Saint Nick was Greek and Greeks are white, they might not be ivory skinned but they are white and not black. 3. How would blacks like it if we started depicting 2PAC and MLK as white?

    December 22, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
    • Logical Default

      Pics or it didn't happen.

      That doesn't look white to me.

      December 24, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  9. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHXmuWB7EeY&w=640&h=390]

    December 22, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
  10. Lost

    The benevolence of Santa is a figment of people's imaginations, and has nothing to do with Jesus at all.

    December 22, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  11. Lost

    People also debate over what GOD looks like. God's physical appearance would match that of humans who first walked and populated the earth.

    December 22, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      That would only be true if humans were made in the image of a god; evolution shows that isn't the case.

      December 23, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  12. bibletruth

    From the article: " Making Jesus white was a means to distance him from Judaism". 100% wrong. How about some historical fact: Pushing a Sunday (day of the sun...you know, the pagan sun worship day) as a day of worship, certain early Christians (think Rome and Alexandria) wanted to distance themselves from Judaism. And how successful were they? Rather than distance themselves from Judaism, which they accomplished, they also did the eternal death thing of distancing themselves from God/Jesus/Holy Spirit by denying the Holy Sabbath Day, one of God's 10 commandments. And they knowingly continue to do this. Roman Catholicism freely and often admits this. General Protestantism, does not admit this, but uses fanciful arguments to avoid the Sunday apostasy...arguments that an attentive third grader laughs at. The right thing to do, always, is to live by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. A human being cannot do this unless born again, born from above, born of the Holy Spirit. To be born again is to receive the righteousness of Christ which is His Divine Love. It is the most wonderful thing. I am writing this all rather plainly without mincing words, not to be hard but to be plain. God Bless.

    December 22, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  13. bibletruth

    So, are we now to believe that his black fellows are really the ones that killed Jesus?? Be careful what you wish for. Why not just believe the bible. genealogy of Jesus given. The Israelites were not of the black race, which says nothing for or against whites or blacks. What is obvious is that those who want to deny reality have some kind of racist issue in themselves...serious or not, it is obviously there.

    December 22, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • dreamhunk

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

      December 22, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  14. Universe

    Quran says (Islamic Scripture)

    “God: there is no other god besides Him, the Living, the Eternal. Never a moment of unawareness or slumber overtakes Him. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. Who could intercede with Him, except in accordance with His will? He knows their past, and their future. No one attains any knowledge, except as He wills. His dominion encompasses the heavens and the earth, and ruling them never burdens Him. He is the Most High, the Great.” [2:255]

    “There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in God has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. God is Hearer, Omniscient.” [2:256]

    “God is Lord of those who believe; He leads them out of darkness into the light. As for those who disbelieve, their lords are their idols; they lead them out of the light into darkness – these will be the dwellers of Hell; they abide in it forever.” [2:257]

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    “It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is.” [19:35]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to visit whyIslam org website.

    December 22, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • Salero21

      Thanks but no thanks! Jesus is the Christ the One and Only Son of the One and Only Living God. Because of his Sacrificial death on the Cross we can receive Forgiveness of our sins and have a real hope to enter His Kingdom. There is only One God and only One Mediator between God and mankind Jesus Christ the man.

      December 22, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
      • Confronting Ray Comfort: Debunking "Evolution VS God"

        Not good for children – creationists !

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtrZYecJ8QA&w=640&h=390]

        December 22, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
      • Logical Default

        Thank you Salero for once again proving that Christianity is stupidity in full bloom, in all seasons. The evidence just keeps building up.

        December 24, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • Tony

      The Quran is full on contradictions when it talks about Jesus Christ.... Jesus is nothing like Adam.. he wasn't created from clay... he was born on the Holy spirit even according to the Quran.. then it compares him to Adam and clay...

      2 Jesus unlike Adam was sinless.. and was raised to heaven alive.. again unlike Adam... Mohammed copied from the Bible and changed the stories of the Bible..

      December 24, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  15. dreamhunk

    my last link here
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FgDles4xq8&w=640&h=390]

    December 22, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  16. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5JnnWvgRjg&w=640&h=390]

    December 22, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  17. dreamhunk

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

    December 22, 2013 at 11:00 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.