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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. PattyCake

    You all do realize that Jesus and Santa are fake right? No more real than Zeus, Apollo, Gita, or the Easter Bunny. How is the Fox ditzoid going to verify anything about an imaginary man?

    December 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • Amanda

      You probably think the moon landing was staged too don't you? Even though there is overwhelming evidence that it happened and also that Jesus was a real man that lived during the first century.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
      • LB Cole

        Where is this so-called "overwhelming" evidence? Can you cite clear examples? Love to see them.

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

      No, Jesus was real. Granted, depending on your beliefs, he may not have been the legitimate son of God as he claimed, per se, but it's somewhat largely accepted that he existed as a person–even if he was just a delusional or something. Actually, I may recall hearing Richard Dawkins reflecting this belief.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • morairt

      good luck convincing people Jesus wasn't real..

      December 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
      • LB Cole

        I love all the empirical proof, all the evidence you present to make your case that Jesus WAS real.

        Caesar's Messiah, you can look it up.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  2. Dionysus86

    The fact that this is even news is disheartening...

    December 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • Thomas

      You are so right.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
  3. Valkyrie

    What horrifies me is that apparently kids are watching Fox News.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      LOLOL

      or adults with infantile minds ... ?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  4. eshelmanvonbraun

    Fact:

    1. Jesus was Hebrew not "white" or black or hispanic

    2. Santa Claus (A Germanic translation of Saint Nicolas) was Greek.

    These are historical facts look it up.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • god jones

      you can call it a fact all you want truth is being hebrew is not a race nor is being Jewish.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
      • eshelmanvonbraun

        Hebrew is a race Jewish is a religion.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  5. yvonne

    As for me and my House Santa is black, will always be black, as for Jesus he is black also!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • Pope Benedict

      Amen!!

      December 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Doesn't matter

      And the sun is purple. See you can say what you want but that doesn't change actual facts...which so many like to do today. All you'd have to do is look a the region from whence he came and ascertain what he probably was (still doesn't matter though). As history says he came from the Hebrew population he probably looked like people still look there now.
      Not hard to follow. Truth is, it doesn't matter as it was Him and His deeds that matter. That should be the message that is sent. Don't remember his color ever being an issue in the Bible.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  6. Doris

    God of the gaps. It's an expression to denote what theists use to "fill in the void" for the unknown.

    As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explains in his talk The Perimeter of Ignorance, throughout history many of the great minds give virtually no mention to any god for their discoveries and explanations. (Ptolemy, Isaac Newton, Laplace, Huygens, Galileo.) That is, until they reach the problem they feel they cannot and will never fully tackle.

    Perhaps that is all God has ever been – a placeholder for discomfort or frustration over the unknown; an excuse of last resort when, for one reason or another, one gives up investigation. It is at that point of discomfort over the unknown when one should remember what humanity has already witnessed: that today's scientific explanations were often yesterday's gods.

    What is the effect when man relies solely on his gap-filling gods? Consider this:

    Two-thirds of star names have Arabic names. They came from Islam's fertile period (AD 800-1100.) During that time Baghdad was the intellectual center of the world, open to people of all or no faiths. During that time were some of the greatest advances known to mankind: engineering, biology, medicine, mathematics, celestial navigation; this is the time and place that gave us numerals we use, terms like algebra and algorithm.

    Enter Imam Hamid al-Ghazali in the 12th century. The fundamentally religious period of Islam begins, and so begins the steady decline of free intellectual expression in that area of the world. Some would argue that it has since never recovered.

    Of course the effects of such reliance touches us today – even in the U.S. We see some who refuse medical care for their children for instance.

    "[If] the nature of... government [were] a subordination of the civil to the ecclesiastical power, I [would] consider it as desperate for long years to come. Their steady habits [will] exclude the advances of information, and they [will] seem exactly where they [have always been]. And there [the] clergy will always keep them if they can. [They] will follow the bark of liberty only by the help of a tow-rope." –Thomas JeffersonGod of the gaps. It's an expression to denote what theists use to "fill in the void" for the unknown.

    As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explains in his talk The Perimeter of Ignorance, throughout history many of the great minds give virtually no mention to any god for their discoveries and explanations. (Ptolemy, Isaac Newton, Laplace, Huygens, Galileo.) That is, until they reach the problem they feel they cannot and will never fully tackle.

    Perhaps that is all God has ever been – a placeholder for discomfort or frustration over the unknown; an excuse of last resort when, for one reason or another, one gives up investigation. It is at that point of discomfort over the unknown when one should remember what humanity has already witnessed: that today's scientific explanations were often yesterday's gods.

    What is the effect when man relies solely on his gap-filling gods? Consider this:

    Two-thirds of star names have Arabic names. They came from Islam's fertile period (AD 800-1100.) During that time Baghdad was the intellectual center of the world, open to people of all or no faiths. During that time were some of the greatest advances known to mankind: engineering, biology, medicine, mathematics, celestial navigation; this is the time and place that gave us numerals we use, terms like algebra and algorithm.

    Enter Imam Hamid al-Ghazali in the 12th century. The fundamentally religious period of Islam begins, and so begins the steady decline of free intellectual expression in that area of the world. Some would argue that it has since never recovered.

    Of course the effects of such reliance touches us today – even in the U.S. We see some who refuse medical care for their children for instance.

    "[If] the nature of... government [were] a subordination of the civil to the ecclesiastical power, I [would] consider it as desperate for long years to come. Their steady habits [will] exclude the advances of information, and they [will] seem exactly where they [have always been]. And there [the] clergy will always keep them if they can. [They] will follow the bark of liberty only by the help of a tow-rope." –Thomas Jefferson

    December 13, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Doris

      sorry for some duplication – paste finger was wobbly

      December 13, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  7. Kyle

    Jesus was a white(ish) Jew and Santa (St Nick) was a white Greek. You can't have them. Get your own.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  8. crakkka

    Jesus was a Jew....

    Are Jews white???

    I don't know, why don't you ask one and see what he says.. lol

    December 13, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • god jones

      Jew is not a race, but thanks for trying. It goes back to a zionist that felt if you call Jewish people a race it's that much easier to scream anti antisemitism or racism
      Jews come in all races
      it would be the same thing to say Christianity is a race, but that would include tons of Africans and they wouldn't have that

      December 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • eshelmanvonbraun

      Rod Carew…

      …nevermind, he's hispanic

      December 13, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  9. Truthbetold

    Okay, here's the deal. Simply put. Before everyone gets their knickers in a twist and continues on the pathetic arguments between race. St. Nicholas was a white man. He was from Finland. Does it matter what color we depict him as? No. If black families want to depict him as the same skin tone, that's fine. That way their kids might better enjoy him or the parents themselves will feel better about it. Santa Clause is an icon to the western world. People of all color should just enjoy it how they see fit. Please stop turning this into a race issue. If black families want to have black Santa, let them have it. White families want original Santa, let them have it. Stop being petulant. White's, get off black's backs, blacks, same to you. If you can't get along, leave each other alone. Everyone has rights to just the same amount as anyone else. Grow up and look at humans as humans. No more of this black/white crap. Stop perpetuating ignorance. No body in this country alive has enslaved your people. Blame the dead ones who did, not the whites alive today. How the Hell can you possibly blame someone who whose grandmother wasn't even concieved during that time? It's insane. I think whites have atoned enough, especially since YOU were BORN free. Whites that are guilty of it, stop that white power bull. It's just ridiculous. How about human power for a change? Christmas is about family, especially the children, and for those who believe about the day our Lord was born to give himself up for sacrifice for us to live and be set free from Satan's grasp NO MATTER THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN. Now about the Jesus thing...Jesus was neither black nor white. He was an Israeli Jew. He was middleastern. He probably look more like Jim Caviezel in Passion or Matisyahu with a slightly tanned skin tone with brown eyes. Come on people, knock it off! You quarrel and grapple at eachother, acting like wild animals! You all should be ashamed. Ignorance extends across all races, but why shouldn't tolerance. Whites have faced hardships and so have blacks. Lets hope GOD doesn't judge on color of skin. We'd all be screwed. Some whites have a problem with that, but as sure as the sun rises, so do blacks. Stop shaming yourselves before the world, shut your mouths. Take the bitterness out of your hearts and LET go. Stop looking at eachother as if the other were subhuman. Stop pitying yourselves because your who would be hundreds of years old grandparent struggled. That time is not now. It was then. It did not happen to YOU. Its horrible what happened, not saying that, but it's not your battle. Never was. Your thoughts of bitterness turn you all, white and black, wretched. It coats you like a disease. Leads to violence, hate, fear. How dare you. Stop this foolishness. I beg of you.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Christie

      Well said, thank you

      December 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • god jones

      iit makes no sense to make these people blonde hair and blue eyes, just wouldn't happen. they would both be of darker skin we know this. nothing to argue about. it's funny to me that people are so threatened over the fact that jesus was not white

      December 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  10. Punchmanster

    Not the original punchmaster who posted her a few ago (acroll up), just wanted to use his or her name to say he or she is a complete a z z for making that insanely vile comment. Not funny, in the least

    December 13, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  11. Renee

    The Only thing people need to be concerned about it receiving the Holy Spirit into their hearts and lives. Jesus died on the cross and took our sin upon himself so we could have everlasting life. Repent and turn from your wicked ways and invite him in before its too late for you.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Madtown

      so we could have everlasting life
      ---
      Who's "we"?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Dave

      Jesus was crucxified for being a percieved threat to the Roman occupation just like 1000's of others. Nothing more

      December 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
      • eshelmanvonbraun

        Jesus was crucified because he was a threat to the Sanhedrin not the Romans. The Romans went along, but it was the Hebrew leadership leading the charge.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  12. BrownGuy

    Just because JC was born in ME does not make him light or olive skinned. My wife and I are both brown skinned and our son was born in US – that does not make my son white.
    Clolr of JC's skin woulld be dependene on his mother, father and their ancestory.
    So, what color was JC's father??

    December 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  13. Econ302

    Lets consider Jesus is from Israel, what do people from Israel look like?

    December 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • god jones

      llike they came from Europe and are in a part of the world that they don't belong

      December 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  14. Kiska K

    Gee, why are all the Fox defenders on this site?
    If Jesus looked like anything, he looked middle eastern. Dark hair, darkish skin, dark eyes.
    And don't tell me to "respect" Christmas because other people enjoy it. I don't see you Christians being so respectful of other people's beliefs.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  15. crakkka

    Jesus was a Jew.....

    Are Jews white..???

    Ask a Jew if he's white or black....see what he says...

    December 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • wildmangreen

      now that is both an interesting and intelligent question/comment.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Dave

      He was a middle-eastern Jew. Most likely with more of an olive complexion.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  16. Not All Docs Play Golf

    If Mary and Joseph were white, they would not have been turned away from the inn.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  17. Steve

    Jesus is from Israel, so most likely his is dark skinned. Santa is from the North Pole, so most likely he is white.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  18. kush

    I have to disagree with your statement cuzz in the bible it says feet of bronze hair of a lamb and dont no white person have those features. Also if you take the coordinates of the bible he's on Africa

    December 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  19. Z_2k

    Santa IS white, for God's sake. He is a character created by white Europeans. You want a black Santa, have some African's create one just like they created Kwanza in 1966.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • Chris

      Santa Clause came from Sinterklass who is a combination of St Nicolaas and the god Odin. If you are referring to the historical St Nicolaas, he was from a part of Greece that is Modern day Demre, Turkey so he would most defiantly be Brown and not White.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  20. ss

    jesus wasnt god and santa claus is fiction (strong evidence suggests same of jesus). not going to get bent out of shape over racist tinged remarks from a bubble dweller like megyn kelly about two mythical cultural characters. if the gripe is about FOX's manipulative messages and ulterior motives being revealed, this is always pointed out–well over ten, fifteen years–and is continually ignored by those committed to backing the conservative cause and agendas. btw, not oblivious to cnn's jumping on this and why a negative light story on fox is splashed on the front page here.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:32 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.