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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. Seth

    Gen 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

    Gen 2:8 And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. 11 The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;12 And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. 13 And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. 14 And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.

    Deut 26:5 And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous:

    Hosea 11:1 When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt

    December 13, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      Maybe you could also buy a second book for your home library. Lots of good stuff out there.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Seth

      Mat 2:13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 15And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        Logic fallacy – appeal to an alleged unproven authority.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  2. highplainsparson

    Racial diversity is a myth. There is only one human race.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • Seth

      AMEN!!!

      December 13, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  3. Wow

    It's funny if you go to Catholic Churches in non-white areas the depictions of Jesus often look like the dominant ethnicity of the area.

    I will never forget the huge, muscular "Samoan" looking Jesus in Hawaii.

    Only white people and Middle Eastern people think Jesus looked like them. BTW one of them is right.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • tarura

      A man created God in his image.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  4. Stand Your Ground

    I'd rather know what color was Michael Jackson.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  5. DrWu

    Santa has historically been white. That is an absolute fact based on the historical origins of Santa Claus. Jesus was a Jew but his skin color could have been darker color. Megan Kelly isn't wrong. She's just referencing what has generally been historically been displayed for the most part in American culture. She isn't saying that someone can't or shouldn't depicts a colored Santa or Jesus. What difference does it make if someone states a historical truth? There should be nothing wrong with whatever skin color that character was... white, black, brown, yellow, blue... Who cares? You have to be extremely delusional to believe that just stating historical facts about characters in American culture is somehow racist. This leftist media attack on the popular news analyst Megan Kelly is nothing more than a progressive fascist propaganda smear campaign.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • DaGuest

      Those are not historical "facts."

      December 13, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
      • DrWu

        Megan Kelly is historically accurate in regards to how Santa and Jesus have usually been portrayed in American culture. To twist the historical fact is to be dishonest, delusional, malicious for the sake of political reasons or all of the above.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • G$

      The problem is that although the character of "Santa" has more or less always been depicted as white, Megyn was referencing the HISTORICAL St. Nicholas, who was a Greek operating in what today is Turkey–he did not have white skin, and pretending that he did is where people take offense. The same with Jesus–we all know Jesus was a Jew, who looked like Jews from that area look today... and yet Americans insist on drawing him as some blonde-haired blue-eyed guy...because (many) Americans are subtly racist and their savior couldn't possibly have looked like what people actually from the mid-east look like, because we don't like THEM.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
      • DrWu

        The original Saint Nicholas may have originated in Turkey and other countries but it is my understanding that the modern American depiction of the fictional character historically known as Santa Claus imaged as a rotund smiling elderly white man with a beard in a red and white suit was popularized by in ads by the Coca Cola company in the early 20th century.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'This leftist media attack on the popular news analyst Megan Kelly is nothing more than a progressive fascist propaganda smear campaign.'

      sure because kelly wasnt getting all upset by the claims at all. her response to it is purely a smear campaign, right?

      December 13, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  6. Johnny Hurst

    What does it matter what Jesus was? Jesus was a Jewish and therefor was most likely olive skinned, he could have had black looks or white ones. It shouldn't be an issue. He was the Son Of The One True God. As far as Santa he's white as far as I'm concerned but if you want a black Santa then fine.If you want an Asian Santa so be it.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  7. Glenn Beck

    Well, personally, on my show I have always reported that both Jesus and Santa were white. Santa has always been depicted as white, so he's white in my book. Big Bird is yellow. If he was red, it wouldn't be Big Bird would it?

    December 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Emma Goldman

      Makes perfect sense, Glenn.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • DaGuest

      So you admit you lie on your show? There is as you know, scientifically and geographically, zero possibility that Jesus was white.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  8. tonybot3

    Most scientists now generally have consensus that Santa was likley of SE Asian persusion, probably Vietnemese.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • .

      Sure. Uh huh.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • Which God?

      Wait, didn't I frag that guy back in '68, after he tried shooting me?

      December 13, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  9. sly

    The only folks in America who really care about whether folks are white or black are the dumb whites – y'know, the Southern TeaBillies.

    Proven long ago that the poor dumb whites in the south chose to be prejudiced againest the blacks because the whites were so ignorant, and so made fun of by folks of intelligence, that they had to pick a 'group' that was picked on more than them.

    So when you see some white hillbilly on here dissing the blacks, just remember he is likely missing some teeth, dropped out of elementary school, and his mother likes sleeping with black dudes.

    Just the facts ... I call em' as I see em'.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • Emma Goldman

      Amen.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  10. Crosswinds

    It matters not what color Jesus was. He was Jewish. He was God in human form........

    Galatians 3:26-29.........

    26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • Seth

      Amen!!!

      December 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  11. Stand Your Ground

    If Santa were real, how many houses would he have been able to enter before being shot in the United States?

    If Jesus were real he would have been found in the detailed historical records from the time.

    Case Closed.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • skarphace

      Most historians consider the Bible to be the most detailed historical record for the time before and during the life of Jesus. So yes, most historians consider Jesus to be a true historical figure. Whether or not he was demigod is up for debate.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
      • don

        the bible doesn't claim Jesus is a demigod, rather, God, the creator. Read John chapter 1

        December 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
        • skarphace

          Originally, Jesus was a demigod because he was half-God, half-human. There is still debate about his ascension concerning whether or not he became God, or is separate from God. Even from within the Christian community, some do not believe in the Trinity, although most Protestants do (Catholics, Mormons, and some others do not).

          December 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
        • don

          No, you misunderstand what the bible says about Jesus. It never even hinted he was half man and half God. It says He is 100% both. Not a demigod but God! He is the one that said "let there be light" and it was so. The one that spoke with Moses in the desert. There is always debate about something but that doesn't make it valid.

          December 13, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
      • cedar rapids

        biblical historians claim its historical, others not so much.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
        • don

          and what is laughable is those that deny it historically will defend using the hieroglyphs of Egypt or other non-biblical texts even though very few verifiable pieces of info are there. Its called being in denial

          December 13, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  12. campbellsoup

    Megyn Kelly has lost her mind, its sad to see. How does she know what "color" Jesus was? Was she alive 2000 years ago? She's stupid for making such an emphatic and conclusory statement with absolutely no basis in fact. But Megyn herself is becoming whiter by the minute – every time I see her, it seems her nose has gotten thinner, her hair a bit lighter. No wonder this is an important issue for her. Unfortunately, she looks like more of a fool now.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • don

      she hasn't lost her mind but those suggesting Jesus was anything other than a Jew from Israel is crazy. He wasn't black, greek, or anything else. She knows well what color Christ was and so should you.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
      • skarphace

        Sure, Jesus was a Jew, but that doesn't answer the question about his race. The debate about whether Jews were Caucasian, Asian, African, or a mix, or even a race unto themselves, is still being hotly debated, even from within the Jewish community, and probably always will be.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
        • don

          its only a debate for the few in denial. Is there a debate if Iranians are Caucasian or Africans black? No! Same here

          December 13, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
        • cedar rapids

          ' Is there a debate if Iranians are Caucasian or Africans black? No!'

          Depends whether you claim olive skinned as being 'white' Caucasian and whether you believe all those from Africa are black?

          December 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  13. sly

    Allah Ackbar – God is Great!

    Our good Allah loves all of you. You can sleep well at night knowing Allah is taking care of you. And his little brother, Jesus'.

    Now ... everyone, let's all sing Praise the Lord!

    December 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Emma Goldman

      Amen!

      December 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • don

      The Lord Jesus is God not a little brother.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  14. Tired of Silly1

    Santa IS white. Jesus is a mythological being and has no color.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • .

      But Santa is real?

      December 13, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
      • Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

        He"s real white

        December 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
      • Tired of Silly1

        Way more likely than the virgin birth. Besides, Santa is nice. Jesus is weird.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
        • don

          and you think you came from a rock is plausible – lol. I see the evidence for a creator. I believe a creator has a purpose and it make no sense to believe a creator creates with no purpose in mind for their creation – this explains revelation. you can have your rock.

          December 13, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
      • ScottCA

        The character Santa is short for St Nicholas. St Nicholas was a person a Greek Saint.
        They wrote the fiction of Sinteerklaas loosely based on this saint. And he was Caucasian.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Jon Matthew

      Techinically St. Nick was actually Greek and Jesus was an ethnic Jew. And yes Jesus was a real historical person. Just because you didn't see him 2,000 years ago doesn't mean he wasn't a real person. Heck I never saw George Washington with my own eyes but that doesn't mean I'm going to deny his historicity! Jesus is one of the most written about persons of alll of humanity. This is a fact that cannot be denied. The questions doesn't come down to his existence but whether he was divine as he claimed himself to be. That is another conversation for another day.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  15. Getagrip

    And I think Megan should always be spelled Megan, not Megyn. That's how it was intended to be spelled – any other spellings are sacreligious.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • gb0423

      and just because she is uncomfortable with the traditional spelling of her name doesn't mean it has to change!...Megyn Kelly, racist mental midget

      December 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
      • don

        how has this shown racism?

        December 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  16. scottk

    They are both myths, so they can be any color you want.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Dorian3333

      Scottk....there is a difference between myths and the lives of Jesus and Santa. Santa was based on a European Saint thus was real....and Jesus, regardless of your belief, did exist and lived on this planet....and both were white. Jews list themselves as white and Europeans of the day would have also.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Santa or Sinteerklaas as he originally was called is short for Saint Nicholas, and St. Nicholas was a real person and he was Caucasian.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  17. sheptunes

    CNN- leading the way on perpetuating racism

    December 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Dorian3333

      Agree 100%. This is another story used by the TMZ crew there to make a story out of nothing. The skin color of Jesus is not important to believers. However, the historical fact is that he was Jewish and thus would be considered white. What is really funny is that all of the libs quoted here that are sounding off on this have no horse in this race with the exception that they are completely, for some reason, committed to bashing anything in this country or world that is considered conservative. They see Jesus and I guess because Santa Claus is tied to Christianity as one of their main targets. We are in a time where it is cool to bash these things and this will not end well for our country. That is what is really sad. We have people in this world that make money off of attacking our belief systems....I will list Stewart and Colbert because they are in the article. They are funny but this type of humor is not in our interest as a nation. When you attack others, even groups that are seen as the status quo, you open yourself up to attacks too and that is what is happening now. Unless cooler heads intervene this will get worse.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
      • cedar rapids

        'What is really funny is that all of the libs quoted here that are sounding off on this have no horse in this race with the exception that they are completely, for some reason, committed to bashing anything in this country or world that is considered conservative'

        sure, and you dont attack libs at all, right?

        December 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'CNN- leading the way on perpetuating racism'

      by reporting on fox news getting all upset about the claim of skin color of jesus and santa?
      sure, blame cnn why dont you.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  18. Name*john

    The color of Jesus' skin is not important. Some people dont read their Bible and just like to make claims needlessly. I dont believe He was White nor do I believe He was Black (i'm Black by the way)
    Listen to what Paul said in 2Corinthians 5:16. "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more".

    December 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • Tired of Silly1

      Santa is more likely to be real than your virgin birth dude.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  19. Jorge

    Whats so special about being white? Why does everyone think that a white person is better just because of their skin color? What is white, what is black anyways? there is different shades of colors even within a race... I have met every single type of people... Blacks, white, brown, yellow and in all groups I have met smart, dumb, mean, ugly, pretty, angry, happy people... So, my point is... we are all humans with the same qualities and defects!! Please, stop thinking there is a better or worse!!

    December 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  20. ScottCA

    Santa is a shortened name for Saint Nicholas who was Caucasian he was from northern Europe, so it is factual to call him so.

    The character from the bible Jesus on the other hand is said to have been middle eastern which would make him middle eastern Asian and not a Caucasian European.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Correction St Nicholas was Greek. But the tales of Sinterklaas were Dutch and is the modern root of Santa Claus.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • LinCA

      @ScottCA

      You said, "Santa is a shortened name for Saint Nicholas who was Caucasian he was from northern Europe"
      Actually, Saint Nick was Greek, born in Patara in Asia Minor (part of modern day Turkey).

      December 13, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
      • ScottCA

        Too late I already self corrected that detail. The tale however of Sinteerklas was from the Netherlands, which I pointed out in that self correction.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
        • LinCA

          @ScottCA

          You said, "Too late I already self corrected that detail."
          Yeah, I saw that the moment my comment posted.

          You said, "The tale however of Sinteerklas was from the Netherlands"
          True. It is spelled "Sinterklaas", which phonetically is pretty close to Santa Claus. It morphed to that in New Amsterdam, which is now New York, after the British took over.

          December 13, 2013 at 2:24 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.