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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. Jimmy Jazz

    The cumulative IQ of the four Fox babblers in the picture is still below room temperature.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  2. crakkka

    My Jesus, Santa, easter bunny and tooth fairy .....are all white..

    Slaves are black

    December 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • .

      Die, racist pig.

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

      Slaves are Jews*

      December 13, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  3. Bill Mitchell

    How about this for a shocker. OBAMA IS WHITE! Yep. (as much as be is black)

    December 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  4. Beaver face

    Is this a real fight about two fake people. People are real stupit

    December 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Bill Mitchell

      Um, Jesus is a verified historical figure. Only Obama's birth certificate was fake – and of course, Santa Claus.

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

        Verified by a total lack of any evidence.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
        • Bob Bales

          Verified by the fact that the people in the time and place He is said to have lived, who would have known whether He did or not, acted as if He did. The claims of the early Christians that Jesus was God was based things He had done in the listeners' vicinity just a few moths prior. How many converts would there have been if those listeners had never even have heard of a man named Jesus? Exactly none.

          December 13, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Jimmy Jazz

      Fox know how to chum up their yokels. Hint: you don't do that by telling the truth.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  5. Bill Mitchell

    Liberals yawn at 1 million innocent babies aborted every year but get excited about this. You sicken me.

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

      80% of those women are Christian, so your stupid partisan argument is....stupid.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • Riiiiight.....

      More than seven in 10 U.S. women obtaining an abortion report a religious affiliation (37% protestant, 28% Catholic and 7% other), and 25% attend religious services at least once a month.

      It's those darn liberals I tell you! Arghhh!

      December 13, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • Black Santa

      “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.
      Respectfully, http://i.cnn.net/cnn/2002/TECH/science/12/25/face.jesus/story.jesushead.cnn.jpg

      December 13, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  6. Scott

    Gaaah! Who CARES what color Jesus Christ was! There is no description of him in the Bible! (Or anywhere else!) The man was Palestinian Jew; he probably looked like Jeff Goldblum with a beard and a tan. So the heck what?

    December 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  7. Jar Jar Binks

    Since the release of my three films I have attended Harvard law school and hired a locution tutor who has improved my speaking abilities rather dramatically, therefore I can now say, I too am white!

    December 13, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • .

      You can also say you're a racist.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  8. ShadowTalker

    If Jesus is white, then so is the Devil...Religion and beliefs are based on your faith, why does it matter?

    December 13, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  9. crakkka

    Don't try to make Santa black....

    And I won't try to make kwanza white...

    You can keep it...

    December 13, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Tiny white penis

      You still got me Crakkka! Now go stand in the corner cry a little, tears are my favorite lubricant...

      December 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  10. wheels

    Jesus was just an average magician during his day.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  11. ptw

    Consider Megyn Kelly's audience. They don't want facts. They want affirmation of their preferences and beliefs.

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

      Nailed it.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  12. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Anyone who confuses Ms.Megyn Kelly with a journalist is blind, or at least blinded by her appearance, which appears to be the only reason she is employed in her current position.

    That and the fact that she is at least smart enough to know that she has to keep reguritating the talking points she is handed by her handlers to keep the bullsh!t flowing freely down bullsh!t mountain.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  13. Hasoan

    Amazing how a white dude was born to a jew. lol

    December 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  14. JacksKnight

    I admit that when reading this article I laughed but later shook my head as I heard those words coming from her. Jesus was not White! He was born and raised in Bethlehem. He was a carpenter. He was crucified under Roman law, as told in the Bible, which stretched across the Mediterranean, Africa, and into some of Asia. He most likely looked like the people from that region. The image of him changed because as stories are told if you’re not around to see the person, you from your own opinion of how they look. So I’m sure the great artist that have painted these images long after Jesus was gone, made him to look more like himself and their peers. Same with Santa, that’s why you can buy a black Santa for decorations. Jane Elliott did an experiment that plays into this a little. Deep down, for some whites they truly see themselves as the chosen race and that what the world has progressed to these days would not be here if not for them. Check out the experiment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeK759FF84s

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

      I am sure that every race feels the same way deep down. Especially black americans. Call me racist all you want but assuming evry thing a white person does around a black person is racist is prettty self centered.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • Nathan

      Reasonable answer, but Jesus was born in Nazareth. The Bethlehem story with the manger, star, and wise men is a myth so that Old Testament prophecy could be shown to be "fulfilled", and Jesus could be from the line of David which he was not.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
      • JacksKnight

        Thanks. I meant to put Nazareth.

        December 13, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  15. John Vance

    Santa and Jesus are both omnivorous bipedal primates of the species H sapiens. The rest is just decoration.

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

    I am pretty sure Jesus was a Jew.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Steve8271

      Get out of here. We're talking about religion, not facts.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  17. claudius1964

    Jesus is an Ultravivd Mult-Colored Array of pigmentations.... an all-encompassing Kaleidoscope.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  18. Steven

    I am not sure where all these ignorant (stupid) posters are from – probably public school educated. By simple geography, we know Jesus and Santa are white or Caucasian. The people who lived in the Middle East in the First Century AD where Caucasian. Santa is based on a Greek Saint. Where they blue eyed and blond – not likely. Where they white – yes.

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

      What part of Turkey don't you get?

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

        Turks, Greeks,- still white. But thanks for pointing that out.

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

      Whatever your religious beliefs are, Santa is a myth. So Santa can look like anything any individual family likes...as long as there's a red suit and a white beard, even the Grinch (who is green...and also *not real*) got away with it.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • John Vance

      You're correct that a lot of people don't distinguish "races" properly. The vast majority of people living in the near, middle and south Asia are caucasian. It really shouldn't make that much of a difference though, we're all the same species. Races not a very useful description or categorization in the modern world.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      olive skinned are called Caucasian. Do you also call them white?

      December 13, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  19. will

    Jesus would have been of middle eastern origin so my guess would be he would be a darker tan, and Santa is white because of the origins of Santa myths are Dutch. its pretty simple, white Europeans made Jesus white so he would be easier to identify with

    December 13, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  20. batteryinme

    All news casters (aka people who can nearly read) are brilliant. FOX is loaded with brilliant readers. White people really are a hoot.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:18 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.