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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. Austin

    i have a problem with that pope kissing a graven image! a big problem. that was a destructive spectacle ,and a violation of the ten commandments on the graven image. how could they be so vain and irresponsible?

    December 25, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
    • Jen

      The graven image would of represented someone or something holy. not something pagan, dont twist things around to suit yourself,and obviously heretical religion

      December 26, 2013 at 1:14 am |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIAAdneL078&w=640&h=390]

        December 27, 2013 at 8:00 am |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbas9KdnWdY&w=640&h=390]

        December 27, 2013 at 8:01 am |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hy7oeI4F9gY&w=640&h=390]

        December 27, 2013 at 8:05 am |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ed1DxUI21js&w=640&h=390]

        December 27, 2013 at 8:07 am |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNwhbo451YM&w=640&h=390]

        December 27, 2013 at 8:08 am |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhy_-6SfGkc&w=640&h=390]

        December 27, 2013 at 8:10 am |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSzs32-iUA8&w=640&h=390]

        December 27, 2013 at 8:14 am |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFP6VUGwmAg&w=640&h=390]

        December 27, 2013 at 8:16 am |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3tVyDBnwrw&w=640&h=390]

        December 27, 2013 at 8:18 am |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=volRGeLGi3w&w=640&h=390]

        December 27, 2013 at 9:37 am |
  2. vinster76

    Does it really matter the color of his skin? Really? I mean, with all kinds of REAL issues in the world, this is what we debate? If his skin color was blue, and He Died on the cross for me, I am ok with the color blue, ok? What is wrong with humanity that we argue over everything????? I hope you all had a nice Christmas, I really do, and that for one day, you didn't argue with anyone.....

    December 25, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
    • Jen

      Correct but the sub sahara africans are trying to claim everyone as theirs, when they are not, a lie is a lie, and i wish they would stop telling lies and claiming everyone as theirs has anyone ever told them to tell lies is a sin?

      December 26, 2013 at 1:10 am |
      • dreamhunk

        Whites have no part in the ancient history of human development which goes back 200,000 years in Africa

        Humans do not originate in Europe, did not learn to think in Europe, did not learn to write in Europe, did not learn to plant seeds in Europe, did not first raise livestock in Europe, did not first build cities, fire, bows and arrows, spears nor anything else in Europe

        ADVICE # 1: Do not hate the fact that the so called Whites are fairly recent genetic mutants whose skin turned pale only 6000 to 12,000 years ago.

        December 26, 2013 at 6:51 am |
        • Jen

          First of all you sons of HAM cursed for eternity for being the descendants of the first murderer, and painted black, read the bible, are the still the most primitive race on this planet, and have the biggest inferiority complex, but there is no excuse for your lies, do not tell lies . read the 10 commandments and the one about bearing false witness, which you are breaking as we speak, and i am not american, have never been there in my life btw

          December 26, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
        • Shell

          Jen, wow, so your religion wants to punish set B of people for what set A of people did before set B was even alive or adult? That is just stupid, and any modern court would throw it out (and throw your evil god in jail). Your religion is stupid, disgusting, and immoral.

          And hey, lose some weight, fatso. At least waddle out of the trailer and down the street a bit even if you can't make it through the gym door yet.

          December 27, 2013 at 10:09 am |
      • dreamhunk

        The genetic origin of the spectrum of human skin colors has been one of the big puzzles of biology.

        Researchers made a major breakthrough in 2005 by discovering a gene, SLC24A5, which apparently causes pale skin in many Europeans

        The implication is that our European ancestors were BROWN-SKINNED for tens of thousands of years—a suggestion made 30 years ago by Stanford University geneticist L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza.

        ADVICE # 2: Do not hate the fact that 1/3 of Europeans have DARK BROWN SKINNED North-East African ancestors they share the E1b1b with.

        The great geneticist Cavalli-Sforza of Standford University publicly stated that Europeans are 2/3 Asians and 1/3 African.

        December 26, 2013 at 6:52 am |
      • dreamhunk

        Here is the plain truth written in rare books by brilliant Western scholars and kept in private collections and hard to find libraries.

        Paul Gaffarel (1843-1920), a scientist and a prolific historian of French descent wrote a wonderful passage on races and world dominance.

        Several races seem to have, in turn, exercised world dominance, and been at the forefront of civilization.

        The order of succession is now very difficult to determine.

        HOWEVER, THE BLACK RACE APPEARS TO BE THE FIRST.

        The Malays hunted down Blacks in the islands of Polynesia; the Hindus chased them far into the interior of the Deccan and Ceylon.

        Blacks are represented in Egyptian monuments and easily recognizable by the color of their skin, snub nose and slanted eyes. They were later replaced by invaders.

        THE FINAL TRIUMPH OF OUR RACE (THE WHITE RACE) DATES ONLY FROM THE 16C WHEN NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBES WERE DESTROYED OR ABSORBED BY EUROPEANS.

        December 26, 2013 at 6:53 am |
      • dreamhunk

        Bishop William Montgomery Brown wrote "For the first two or three thousand years of civilization, there was not a civilized white man on the earth.

        Civilization was founded and developed by the swarthy races of Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt, and the white race remained so barbaric that in those days an Egyptian or a Babylonian priest would have said that the riffraff of white tribes a few hundred miles to the north of their civilization were hopelessly incapable of acquiring the knowledge requisite to progress.

        It was southern colored peoples everywhere, in China, in Central America, in India, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt and Crete who gave the northern white peoples civilization." (The Bankruptcy of Christian Supernaturalism, Vol., p. 192.)

        The opinions of Sir Henry Rawlinson are reinforced by the researches of his equally distinguished brother, Professor George Rawlinson, in his essay On the Ethnic Affinities of the Races of Western Asia, which directs our attention to: "the uniform voice of primitive antiquity, which spoke of the Ethiopians as a single race, dwelling along the shores of the Southern Ocean from India to the Pillars of Hercules." (Herodotus, Vol. I., Book. I., Appendix, Essay XI., Section-

        December 26, 2013 at 6:54 am |
        • Jen

          And i could not care less what he has to say, considering i do descend from the builders of the pyramids on one side, and the roman conquerers on the other, unfortunately both took the sub sahara people as slaves, so please don't go on about ancient civilisations when i descend from two of the oldest on this planet

          December 26, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
        • Gary

          Yeah, Jen, you've descended from dinosaurs and warthogs. The latter might explain your obesity too. You are a disgusting, racist bigot.

          December 27, 2013 at 11:23 am |
      • dreamhunk

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p75-7ksDPFA&w=640&h=390]

        December 27, 2013 at 7:58 am |
    • sunyaz

      I agree. Personally, I don't care what color people, including santa, are. Happy New Year!

      December 26, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  3. tonycoza

    santa claus was white....from Germany.

    December 24, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • dreamhunk

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

      December 25, 2013 at 7:41 am |
    • Jen

      Go to Bari in Italy he is buried there he was not from Germany he was from Turkey, at the time it was Christian, in the area he was born, he was from the Mediterranean, not from Northern Europe, i wish people would stop telling lies about saints and our Blessed Lord , especially at Christmas time

      December 25, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
      • Beth

        Jen, your religion is all lies all the time. It even demands that you lie to yourself to believe its kooky stories.

        And your main holiday was stolen from pagans, so kiss off on that one.

        December 27, 2013 at 10:12 am |
  4. AtPeace

    Greeks are primarily Olive complexion. As a middle eastern Jew, Jesus would have had either brown or Olive skin. Remember, Hitler didn't just target any Jew. The Jews he targeted he often described a "dark and beady-eyed." People find it odd that Hitler had Jews in in Army. But they were Aryan type, blue eyed/blonds. We often forget there are different ethnic sects of Jews.

    December 24, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • Jen

      Hitler has also been described as one of the Anti Christ, same as all mass murderers of the last century, and he targetted the descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, obviously, what a demon would do

      December 25, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
      • igaftr

        jen
        "obviously, what a demon would do"

        Really, you know what a demon would do?....First, you may want to check with a psychology professional if you believe in demons, second, Hitler was christian, targeted not only Jews, but atheists, h0m0$exuals, mentally ill, and physically handicapped people.

        Sounds christian to me, since I see the christians continue to target atheists ans h0m0$exuals.

        You may want to rethink trying to think like "demons", especially since demons do not exost...they are a metaphor.

        December 26, 2013 at 8:38 am |
        • Jen

          Wrong again Hitler was an atheist he also murdered priests, and expelled the church from Germany, read your history

          December 26, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
        • Elaine

          No, Jen, while there is some debate about the degree of this, it is clear that Hitler was overtly and dominantly Christian, and was influenced by Christianity far more than by atheism in creating his evil, racist doctrine. See here or just google it a bit:
          http://www.nobeliefs.com/Hitler1.htm
          Sounds like you have a lot in common with Hitler yourself, you racist.

          December 27, 2013 at 11:28 am |
      • Robert

        Jen, please read YOUR bible. Cain committed the first murder. Ham disrespected his father by looking upon his naked body. That's why Ham's descendants, starting (as I recall) with Canaan were cursed.

        As for hitler... He created his own religion to further his cause. He used pieces of Christianity and Norse religion, as well as others (the swastika is from India and, if reversed, is a symbol of peace), to paint himself out to be a messiah of sorts. He was not an atheist, though. He had A religion, even if it was his own.

        Also, images of Christ Jesus vary greatly and he often takes on characteristic traits of the peoples who are worshipping him... all around the world. Therefore, it would stand to reason that Europeans would depict him as somewhat "white." As evidenced by this article, people of other ethnic backgrounds wish to incorporate their image of Jesus into the world view.

        Finally, why do you believe yourself to be so superior to everyone, especially based on their race? That is the definition of "racist."

        December 27, 2013 at 11:05 am |
        • Bob

          To be fair, Christian god did the most murdering by far, if you believe the crazy Christian fables (I don't).

          December 27, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  5. ygreedy

    Since Jesus was a Jew,and was born over 2000 years ago,and the Jews of that era had not inter-married with Europeans then one would assume that Jesus looked like other Jews of the time.So he certainly was not white.....

    December 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Jen

      The jews at that time were not black either they were from the meditteranean, different race altogether from the sub sahara africans, same as they egyptians are from the meditteranean race, not from the sub sahara africans

      December 25, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  6. lysolmotorola

    I see in Washington the "black santa" got shot in the shoulder. One can only speculate as to the race of that hater.

    December 24, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Jen

      You know something i have nothing against the people from the Sub Sahara, but they seem to have everything against the rest of the world,claiming things and peoples that they have had nothing to do with,and being the biggest racist on this planet, and it is causing them problems as the rest of the world is getting sick of it

      December 26, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  7. dreamhunk

    dam it my link did not work trying again

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38-DW-V21wQ&w=640&h=390]

    December 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  8. dreamhunk

    Iam going to put this here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38-DW-V21wQ

    December 24, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  9. dreamhunk

    I can't for get to add this right here
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rsb9GjAnvOk&w=640&h=390]

    December 24, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • Jen

      I do not have black sub sahara genes sorry, and thats where some of my ancestors came from Egypt and Europe, i am caucasian same as my ancestors were the sub sahara africans were the cursed Son of Ham, descendants of Cain.

      December 25, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
      • igaftr

        jen
        If you are human. all of your genes except a small portion of your genes are from africa, since all humans came out of africa. Unless you are pure african, you will also have 2-4% neanderthal DNA as well.

        December 26, 2013 at 9:35 am |
        • Jen

          A scientist has discredited the neanderthal theory, he sayes it was a massive ape from Europe, no way it was a man, the Bible is correct once again

          December 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
        • Beth

          Jen, can you provide a citation for that, from a refereed scientific journal? Didn't think so. But even if that claim of yours were true, there is still no evidence to support your disgusting Christian fables.

          Now don't be trying to get all sciency on us, old fat Jen. You are too shallow to do that without trapping yourself, and you lack the intelligence to be able to go deep in science.

          December 27, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  10. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvpwxnQ9pPk&w=640&h=390]

    December 24, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  11. dreamhunk

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

    December 24, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  12. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oum18txyVjU&w=640&h=390]

    December 24, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  13. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUy4FMB2mE8&w=640&h=390]

    December 24, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  14. Jamie Estevez

    What does it matter what Jesus's skin color is if he was the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God and God made flesh?

    December 24, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  15. mike

    Santa is as much based on Thor as St. Nicholas.

    December 24, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • tofubamboo

      St. Nicholas actually existed, a Greek born during the third century AD. So obviously, he was white

      December 24, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • PopeStalinII

      I wish Thor was Santa

      December 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  16. dreamhunk

    But what if I told you that the Bible depicts Jesus as black? Not only that, his mother was from Africa. And there is evidence that the original Jews were black, not olive to brown skinned.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0Uj1BfJsaQ&w=640&h=390]

    December 24, 2013 at 11:22 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.