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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. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpyQtI6LNIA&w=640&h=390]

    January 6, 2014 at 7:33 am |
  2. dreamhunk

    i am going to put this here again
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aTGcv6eFyM&w=640&h=390]

    January 6, 2014 at 7:30 am |
  3. zoyclem

    There aren't more important things to argue about?

    January 6, 2014 at 7:22 am |
    • dreamhunk

      what is wrong can't handle the truth leave this topic if you don't want to know the truth!

      January 6, 2014 at 7:48 am |
  4. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5HLmzAIeiQ&w=640&h=390]

    January 6, 2014 at 6:54 am |
  5. Tariq

    I think black people need to give it a rest just as white people need to. Jesus was a Jew and an Arab. he was not white or black, just a brown skin Jew of Arab decent. hope this helps all the cry babies on both sides,,,

    January 5, 2014 at 3:37 pm |
    • Jen

      Correct and the descendants of the sub sahara africans will argue till doomsday, but you cannot put brains in monuments with these people sigh,the world has known of over 2,000 years where Jesus was from, he was from the middle east.

      January 5, 2014 at 3:43 pm |
    • david

      Judging from th photo in frame 10, I am sure of one thing..... his mom gave pretty crappy haircuts for being a hairdresser.

      January 5, 2014 at 8:54 pm |
    • Stellar17

      Well his mother, Mary was Hebrew, but since she was purported to be a virgin and his dad was apparently "God", it would depend on what race you consider "God" wouldn't it? Most of the Jewish people I have met and there have been thousands, have been light skinned, not brown, I guess it also comes down to whether you believe Judaism is a faith and a race.

      January 5, 2014 at 11:51 pm |
      • Zefirst

        Most of the Jews in america are from the branches that spread all over Europe. Jesus is from the Arabian part.

        January 6, 2014 at 12:48 am |
        • dreamhunk

          again show me proof of these Arabs living in the middle east in that era. Also give me an Arab historian from that time frame for me please.

          January 6, 2014 at 7:45 am |
        • dreamhunk

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

          January 6, 2014 at 7:47 am |
    • dreamhunk

      wow just wow the ancient Hebrews are not Arabs. There was not such things as Jews either! They are Hebrews!

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpTLTuLbhzQ&w=640&h=390]
      show me where Arabs are in genesis 10 for me please!

      January 6, 2014 at 5:34 am |
    • dreamhunk

      you people are full of B.S.

      January 6, 2014 at 5:43 am |
    • dreamhunk

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DKmTr5ntU8&w=640&h=390]

      January 6, 2014 at 5:58 am |
    • dreamhunk

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

      January 6, 2014 at 6:18 am |
    • dreamhunk

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aT-c86Zp_Jo&w=640&h=390]

      January 6, 2014 at 6:19 am |
    • dreamhunk

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d39-MdCL0IE&w=640&h=390]

      January 6, 2014 at 7:38 am |
  6. mag41co

    Acts 17:24

    God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood[c] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

    January 5, 2014 at 2:35 pm |
  7. mag41co

    Act 17:24
    God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood[c] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

    January 5, 2014 at 2:34 pm |
  8. Gobs of fun

    Praise Jesus!

    January 5, 2014 at 1:33 pm |
  9. dreamhunk

    Classical Greek historians, including Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, and
    Herodotus were pretty clear that black people ruled the middle east and
    africa. The ancient Hebrews who were black people married women from the
    sons of ham.
    The ancient Hebrews had dreadlocks Google "ancient Hebrews" or"
    ancient Hebrew dreadlocks." then click images and see what what you get.
    Go read genesis ten and then show me where white people in are genesis 10
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FciCAXYWx3s&w=640&h=390]

    January 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
  10. dreamhunk

    another nice link right here
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aTGcv6eFyM&w=640&h=390]

    January 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm |
  11. dreamhunk

    more proof the ancient Hebrews being black!
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfuav0DNVVc&w=640&h=390]

    January 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm |
  12. dreamhunk

    I am going to this again
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHcKzzgYnMs&w=640&h=390]

    January 5, 2014 at 12:32 pm |
  13. dreamhunk

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

    January 5, 2014 at 12:21 pm |
  14. dreamhunk

    "Tacitus,the Roman historian of 90 A.D., says that the Romans of his day
    popularly believed that the Jews, which then abounded in Europe, came
    from Ethiopia, the land of the Blacks
    Zephaniah 3 :10
    From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings.
    From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants,[even] the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.
    Lamentations 4:8
    Their
    visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their
    skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a
    stick.Lamentations 5:10
    Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.
    Exd 2:19
    And they said, An Egyptian(speakin of Moses) delivered us out of the
    hand of the shepherds, and also drew [water] enough for us, and watered
    the flock.
    Explain how an ISRAELITE is mistaken as a son of HAM if they didn't look alike?
    Then 2000+ years later Acts 21:37-38 Shaul(Paul) a Hebrew mistaken as an Egyptian... So explain how SHEM's seed and HAM's didn't look alike?
    Google ancient Hebrews or ancient Hebrew dreadlocks click images and you see what the ancient Hebrews looked like!
    this guy in this video is a lair
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRtc0XaA5k0&w=640&h=390]

    January 5, 2014 at 12:20 pm |
  15. berticode

    it doesnt matter what color but whites have always used eastern/mideastern religions and inventions to their own advantage. For eg: arithmetic and number system came from India but whites never give them credit. Saying Jesus was white is like saying George W Bush is Chinese.

    Out of all the pics of Jesus, I believe the closest to the one with scientific evidence: i.e. slide 10...BBC's image.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm |
  16. dreamhunk

    egyptains were black repost this again
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYXE3tnXVKo&w=640&h=390]

    January 5, 2014 at 12:16 pm |
  17. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAE5aC9G-9c&w=640&h=390]

    January 5, 2014 at 12:13 pm |
  18. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jce6VUTWbR4&w=640&h=390]

    January 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm |
  19. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yK3EdnC9Vs&w=640&h=390]

    January 5, 2014 at 12:08 pm |
  20. dreamhunk

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dz-94Tiy660&w=640&h=390]

    January 5, 2014 at 12:07 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.