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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. Joe Smo

    If Jesus was alive, he'd favor the dark skin Arabs that many of you hate so much. And yes, they also have some sub Saharan genes. Not just him, most of Bible prophets were dark skinned and ethnic looking, look more like Bin Ladin than Julius Caesar. That's a fact. Dark skin people live in hot climates. I'd say the middle east is pretty hot.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  2. Joe

    There are no records of his skin color.
    Listen to his messages. This has nothing to do with race. Stupid anchor just wants to feel important.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  3. Adolf

    Jesus was born in the Middle East and was therefore "white," though not Scandinavian clear-skinned. He may have been blonde, maybe even blue-eyed. In any case he was NOT black; proper blackness begins to occur south of the Sahara. St. Nick was Greek, and therefore he was a Mediterranean white, just like Jesus. This PC thing is going too far.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • anon

      You mean kind of a dark, swarthy kind of white. One of the dark whites?

      Wait, who's colored again?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Anthony

      His skin was like burned brass and His hair like wool. That is not the description of a white man. Burned brass is BLACKish

      December 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
      • anon

        But, wool is white.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  4. Jeremy
    December 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  5. Smurf

    And all you folks leave the blue people alone too!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  6. Adamus Prime

    If people do not want to believe the bible and want to deny what Jesus did while here on earth, we can't stop them. However, the existence of the man reported as Jesus of Nazareth from the bible is historically proven and authenticated. Also, the bible does actually say what Christ's race and skin tone was. It says He was Jewish and that He looked so Jewish that he blended in perfectly with the other Jews around Him. End of debate and arguments.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Jim R

      try reading God's command to enslave and to murder in the Bible. I mean, there's a great moral teaching, huh?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Balthazaar

      There is no such look as Jewish, per se. However a Jew from that region at that time most certainly would not be what most Americans, especially pale blond blue eyed eye candy women, would consider white.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
      • Adamus Prime

        Exactly! 🙂

        December 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Christ! Why didn't you post that about 700 comments ago and saved everyone else their time and trouble?!?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
      • Adamus Prime

        HAHAHAHAHAHA! Hilarious!

        December 13, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Ernest T Bass

      "Jesus of Nazareth from the bible is historically proven and authenticated."

      Reference to supposed authentication???

      December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
      • Adamus Prime

        Josephus for one. A Jewish historian opposed to Christ.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
        • Adamus Prime

          Or His ideology I should say. So it is an unbais source.

          December 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
      • Adamus Prime

        Josephus lived during the same time period and experienced it all first hand.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
        • Ernest T Bass

          A 5 second search on google will show just how "biased" it really was. A man maybe? but miracles? son of god? resurection? pure mythology.

          December 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
        • Adamus Prime

          Biased to the Jews maybe, but the Jews as a whole rejected this Jesus from Nazareth. Josephus was considered a traitor working for the Romans at that time.
          Remember, this "news" was not about whether or not He was able to perform miracles or the actual son of God. Rather this is about whether he was white or not. Based on all facts and the accounts recorded in the bible this can be proven one way or the other. The evidence provided conclusively shows which it is not to mention Jesus' phyiscal genealogy recorded in the account of Luke explicitly shows that He is from the House of David, born a Jew.
          I agree with you though Ernst, this is not news or debate worthy. Not all is lost though, you did learn something albiet you didn't care to learn it, and it was from google you learned it and not CNN, lol.

          December 13, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • Adamus Prime

      Isaiah 53:2 shows that Christ would stand out in a way from anyone else in form or beauty.
      John 5:13, Luke 4:30, etc shows that how well Chirst blended in with all the other Jews in the crowds.
      Even at the absolute height of Christ's fame/infamy the other Jews could not even distinguish him from the other Jews so much so they had to have Judas show them who Christ was (Matthew 26:47-48).
      Christ would not have looked like a tall European, blue eye, blond, pale white, long hair hippy. Rather a short Jew, dark eyed, dark haired, tanned from the sun, hard working carpenter. And there is nothing wrong with that.
      Simply put, Christ looked as average for that time and region as average could be.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
      • Adamus Prime

        would not* stand out

        December 13, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        Logic fallacy – appeal to an alleged, unproven authority.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
        • Adamus Prime

          I know what a logical fallacies is, but I am not sure which point you are claiming to not support what I have stated. Please feel free to point it out or to attempt a counter point of your own. The genealogy account in the new testament all show Christ was a Jew, almost no scholar argues this point. He came and went amongst the Jews, synagogues, and Holy Feasts completely unnoticed as anything other than an average Jew himself. If you think there is something missing from this conclusion that has been accounted for, please enlighten me.

          December 13, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          The fallacy is the use of quotes from The a Babble, a crappy bit of fiction.

          December 13, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
        • Adamus Prime

          Well that is different then a "logical fallacy". I believe all my points followed a sound logical path in supporting the conclusion. Your issue is not with the logic flow leading to the conclusion, rather you take issue with the premise all together. Whether the bible or Christ are fact or fiction is not what was brought into question in this so called "news" article. It was whether Christ was white or not. I do agree with you this is not news and is senseless to argue.

          December 13, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  7. Rubyzoot

    Another attempt at fox news to say something intelligent and they come out looking like fools! Santa is a fictional character. Christ was born in the middle east of Jewish decent! Where does it ever say Christs color of hair of his color of eyes of his skin color? No where has it been in scripture! Now this is just plain silly to assume that anyone would know for sure especially a painter born 1000 years after the fact or a clergy born even later, that being said I think its safe to say that these people would depict Christ as someone they could relate to but not someone they would have seen. That crazy woman on fox news she is a misinformed American with some really bad respect issues. Bottem line Christ was a human, a Godly soul , Santa is fictional.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Balthazaar

      Given his background, it would have been a subject worth commenting on if he had been blond, or had blue eyes, or pale skin. They likely would have seen that kind of an anomaly as a sign of divinity.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  8. Balthazaar

    Interesting that the blond eye candy posing as a reporter on fox noise equates Santa and Jesus.........is she part of the war on Christmas?

    December 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  9. kyd83

    This entire debate serves about as much purpose as an argument over who would win in a battle between a Star Destroyer and the USS Enterprise.....

    December 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Balthazaar

      A grizzly bear against an Orca.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
      • Jason

        Brown jesus versus robot santa

        December 13, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  10. Jim R

    The good news is that delusions are good in almost any color. When is our species going to grow up?

    December 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Ernest T Bass

      Exactly........ just imagination...

      December 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  11. Leszek

    This country is going down the toilet. Open destruction of their own history, culture and religion by activist haters. Merry Christmas!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Ernest T Bass

      Destruction of mythology as reality is a GOOD thing.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
  12. Dyslexic doG

    So what color is god? jesus is half jew and half magic man in the sky, so his color would be a mix. perhaps light brown with little sparkly bits and some flames here and there ... ?

    December 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Jason

      I'm thinking flames with a cool neon racing stripe.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  13. SV

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster is also white. Especially when he's enrobed in wonderfully tasty alfredo. Mmmm. Al Fray-doh!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  14. Bill

    As a white Christian I find it silly that people who claim Jesus was white, especially "Nordic, Greek, features". Jesus' birthmother was Jewish. His Father....God, the Holy Spirit, has no previous bodily form.
    Anybody that argues that Jesus was caucasian, clearly has not read and studied the bible.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Ernest T Bass

      And we know that the bible is mythology, so what's the point?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  15. dogon

    What color is imaginary anyway?

    December 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Jason

      Octarine.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  16. Princeton

    Guys Guys guys... Jesus was Jewish!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  17. Lizzy

    People who lives in that part of the world aren't even white , nor black. It shouldn't matter his skin color. The lady who wrote the artical was not saying let's change Santa black? She was saying why isn't there any black fictional hero that kids look up to? Why does everything have to be white? I know Santa is set in history from saint nick, but society has crushed what it really is. "Oh a big fat man bringing presents" it's lying anyway.
    Stop lying to kids it's dumb. Then the fact how she says Jesus is white..... Not saying it's anything wrong with that, it's just why does he have to be? What from pictures we see today? People are so closed minded it kills me. I hope one day people see Jesus and he is purple . So it can shut everyone up about "his color" Color doesn't make anything people who claim color is just doesn't feel important enough.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  18. Robert

    Isa 53:2-5,

    2. For before him he grew up like a young plant, like a root out of dry ground. He was not well-formed or especially handsome; we saw him, but his appearance did not attract us. 3. People despised and avoided him, a man of pains, well acquainted with illness. Like someone from whom people turn their faces, he was despised; we did not value him. 4. In fact, it was our diseases he bore, our pains from which he suffered; yet we regarded him as punished, stricken and afflicted by God. 5. But he was wounded because of our crimes, crushed because of our sins; the disciplining that makes us whole fell on him, and by his bruises we are healed.

    This is all that is spoken of his 'looks'.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  19. palintwit

    If anything is a threat to the national security of the United States of America, it is Sarah Palin, this screaming, unrefined oaf with as much class as a searing release of flatulence followed by hysterical giggling at a state banquet. Is this what the people of the USA deserve?

    December 13, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • RobS

      No way am I voting for a flatulent candidate!!!

      December 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  20. Higdons

    This article is a veiled attempt to proselytize and to claim MLK said Jesus was white; which in effect puts your Fox news anchor in the same class as MLK. You wrote:
    "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.”
    That is an example of using a bible verse to add power to your article; whereas the verse has nothing to do with the race context.
    As for MLK, his speech was clearly figurative; where no text depicted Jesus as any other way than white, and it would have benefitted MLK none to get technical.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:59 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.