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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. Atruth

    No one knows what race Jesus was.

    Saying he's white doesn't make one racist, just wrong, or potentially wrong.

    It's likely he was dark skinned, what most people in US would describe (wrongly) as Arab looking. He could have been African. He almost certainly was not light haired and blue eyed as that is a Northern European thing and there were few if any of those in Bethlehem/Jerusalem at the time.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  2. The Film Professor

    Megyn has blue eyes? They look brown to me, and we know she dyes her hair. What a totally dumb comment. Then again, consider the source.....

    December 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  3. Will

    He was born in Nazareth in the Middle East – he was not white! Hello!!!!!

    December 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  4. OhWow

    Congratulations lady, you've officially become a blond joke!

    December 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Become?

      December 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  5. jaja man

    Looks like we are gonna need a Southpark episode to sort out this debate.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  6. lol??

    Is an A&A mind more than skin deep??

    December 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  7. kfletch87

    Jesus was not black. He was not white, but he was not black. He was the same color as all the other Palestinians or he would have stuck out like a sore thumb growing up. Historians agree Jesus was a real figure, you can choose to believe or not believe he was the Son of God, but most agree the person existed. Anyone who claims Jesus is black is ignorant. Does it matter? It shouldn't. Historical accuracy matters, but from a religious standpoint, it should not matter. The story of Jesus should rise about such superficial matters.

    As for Santa. Santa can be white, black, purple, or brown. He comes down chimneys way too small for him, and he rides a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. He is just a figure who is supposed to bring the "joy of giving" during the Christmas holidays.

    Saint Nick on the other hand, was Greek. He would look like a normal Greek. So white would be appropriate. Black, brown, etc., he was not.

    I've seen some comments about how ignorant Kelly is for bringing up this subject and I think too many of you are the ignorant ones who can't stand to see anything on Fox news that you don't agree with. Santa Clause and Jesus are Christian "idols" for lack of a better word. For anyone other than a Christian to comment on his race is ridiculous. It would be inappropriate for me to argue that Muhammad was black, or Muhammad was white, because we know where he came from, we know where he was raised, and we know what the people look like from that area.

    Why is everyone so insecure and sensitive about race? Why are some black or brown people so upset that Jesus is commonly referred to and depicted as a white man? Why are so many white people so upset if others want to believe he wasn't white? Does it matter? At all? Does it make one iota of difference? Jesus' message should rise above all this petty discussion.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • NickZadick

      Who cares what color he was...he is a fictional character!

      December 13, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
      • Goaty McCheese

        Um, no here isn't.

        December 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Kshock15

      Kudos, well said. I wanted to comment, but nothing nice would have been said.. These people are so retarded.. This race thing is sickening.. Black people continue to drag it on and make it worse.... Stop and grow up. There are bigger and more important things to deal with.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  8. youreyesareweird

    I think it's fitting to mention two of the more popular delusion in a child's life together.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  9. Jeff

    Politically, I lean to the left, but know that Ms. Kelly is correct. The ultra liberals are as bad as the ultra conservatives.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  10. AE

    What's next, are they going to try and say Jesus wasn't a Republican?

    December 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Sokesky

      Yeah, and then they'll say he wasn't an NRA member!

      December 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
      • AE

        And that he didn't love America!

        December 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • Owl96

      There were no Republican or Democratic parties when Jesus was born. That means maybe he was either a Federalist or a Whig. Most likely he was a Bull Moose.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  11. Steve

    What does Santa say? HO HO HO! There is your answer 🙂

    December 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  12. ccb

    Far too many Christians violate Ex. 20:4 and other scriptures like this one which CLEARLY prohibits the making of ANY image of anything in heaven above. God in His infinite wisdom knew that man would try to draw( remember those old calendars that had a 'picture of Jesus" with long golden hair, blue eyes and a halo), make statutes, etc., of heavenly beings and things. So all those Sunday School books, Christian books and literature portraying Jesus as Caucasian ,pictures in Bibles, people seeing Mary???, etc., is just the type of idolatry that God was and is expressly forbidding. God does not want any people group to claim He is one's color or race. In fact, many recent historians, biblical as well, even believe may not have had long hair at all and that His pigmentation based on his human genealogy was that He certainly was not European at all, but a certain type of a man of color, whatever that may mean. You have some Jewish folk whose pigmentation is 'colored' if you will. The point is God prohibits the making of any image(that includes bowing down to any graven image in any church) to depict anything in heaven.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  13. nc1965

    Everyone knows by now the Jesus wasn't white.

    Skin like bronze, hair like wool (nappy) as described in the bible. And the discovery channel showed that he was only 5' 3" tall.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Mitch Vilos

      Don't let it ever be said that liberals don't revise history.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • JohnESmith

      Skin like bronze means black? Last time I checked it was the Middle Eat where it is mostly sunny and arid. So yeah, he would be tan. I have a tan, and i'm not black. Hair like wool could mean a couple of things. White as wool, or just thick hair. or curly. Which many people of the Middle East have. Many whites have thick hair, it means little. If Jesus was black in a mostly Greek and Semitic world he would have stood out, and none of the gospels mentioned that.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  14. Dan

    Yep go ahead give'm everything. Give'm the black jesus they want, the black santa they want, you can't say black nomore cus it's politicaly incorrect... weel when are you people gonna realize that 90% of racism comes from the black themselves? And don't say "cus we suffered in chains blah blah blah" you didn't, they ancestors may have but you didn't. The reason for the failure of most of you is just because you stayed home instead of going to class, walk around trying to look like gangster instead of looking like a neat civilian. The black that succeeded in life, did not blame it on slavery but got out of bed early and went after an education and got it. But now people are arguing that black people should have a black santa or black this or black that. One thing that apparently only I noticed. There is a dating website for blacks only, and that is ok I guess cus they suffered in chains right? But try to put a website for white people only, see the size of the problem you get into. Many of my black friends agree that black people are far more racist than white people. Yeah I agree there is racism in both parties, but instead of fighting to make things even, most of the blacks are fighting for the wrong reasons blaming on their ancestors that again MAY have been in chains. My granmoh was a slave, my italian granpah took her from the slavehouse my family is mixed, we all pursued an education and got it. One thing we never ever did was to blame our failures on the FACT that my grandmoh was a slave. People should now better and be better. Respect our past and work together for a better future.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Kisha

      Don't get man because the cradle of civilization started in Africa have you ever heard of the out of Africa Theory....The first man migrated out of Africa and while black people were traveling all over the world white people were stuck drawing in caves like animal because they weren't civilized until they met the African people then they destroyed them like everything else.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
      • JohnESmith

        You are mixing civilization with human origins. The first recorded human civilization started in Mesopotamia....modern day Iraq.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
  15. Dyslexic doG

    Yesterday morning there was a knock at my door. A pleasant and enthusiastic young couple were there.

    John: "Hi! I'm John, and this is Mary."

    Mary: "Hi! We're here to invite you to come kiss Hank's ass with us."

    Me: "Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who's Hank, and why would I want to kiss His ass?"

    John: "If you kiss Hank's ass, He'll give you a million dollars; and if you don't, He'll kick the guts out of you."

    Me: "What? Is this some sort of bizarre mob shake-down?"

    John: "Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do whatever He wants, and what He wants is to give you a million dollars, but He can't until you kiss His ass."

    Me: "That doesn't make any sense. Why..."

    Mary: "Who are you to question Hank's gift? Don't you want a million dollars? Isn't it worth a little kiss on the ass?"

    Me: "Well maybe, if it's legit, but..."

    John: "Then come kiss Hank's ass with us."

    Me: "Do you kiss Hank's ass often?"

    Mary: "Oh yes, all the time..."

    Me: "And has He given you a million dollars?"

    John: "Well no. You don't actually get the money until you leave town."

    Me: "So why don't you just leave town now?"

    Mary: "You can't leave until Hank tells you to, or you don't get the money, and He kicks the guts out of you."

    Me: "Do you know anyone who kissed Hank's ass, left town, and got the million dollars?"

    John: "My mother kissed Hank's ass for years. She left town last year, and I'm sure she got the money."

    Me: "Haven't you talked to her since then?"

    John: "Of course not, Hank doesn't allow it."

    Me: "So what makes you think He'll actually give you the money if you've never talked to anyone who got the money?"

    Mary: "Well, maybe you'll get a raise, maybe you'll win a small lotto, maybe you'll just find a twenty-dollar bill on the street."

    Me: "What's that got to do with Hank?"

    John: "In this town, Hank is the same as good luck. All good things are attributed to Hank'"

    Me: "I'm sorry, but this sounds like some sort of bizarre con game."

    John: "But it's a million dollars, can you really take the chance? And remember, if you don't kiss Hank's ass He'll kick the guts out of you."

    Me: "Maybe if I could see Hank, talk to Him, get the details straight from Him..."

    Mary: "No one sees Hank, no one talks to Hank."

    Me: "Then how do you kiss His ass?"

    John: "Sometimes we just blow Him a kiss, and think of His ass. Other times we kiss Karl's ass, and he passes it on."

    Me: "Who's Karl?"

    Mary: "A friend of ours. He's the one who taught us all about kissing Hank's ass. All we had to do was take him out to dinner a few times."

    Me: "And you just took his word for it when he said there was a Hank, that Hank wanted you to kiss His ass, and that Hank would reward you?"

    John: "Oh no! Karl has a letter he got from Hank years ago explaining the whole thing. Here's a copy; see for yourself."

    From the Desk of Karl
    1. Kiss Hank's ass and He'll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
    2. Use alcohol in moderation.
    3. Kick the guts out of people who aren't like you.
    4. Eat right.
    5. Hank dictated this list Himself.
    6. The moon is made of green cheese.
    7. Everything Hank says is right.
    8. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
    9. Don't use alcohol.
    10. Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
    11. Kiss Hank's ass or He'll kick the guts out of you.

    Me: "This appears to be written on Karl's letterhead."

    Mary: "Hank didn't have any paper."

    Me: "I have a hunch that if we checked we'd find this is Karl's handwriting."

    John: "Of course, Hank dictated it."

    Me: "I thought you said no one gets to see Hank?"

    Mary: "Not now, but years ago He would talk to some people."

    Me: "I thought you said He was a philanthropist. What sort of philanthropist kicks the guts out of people just because they're different?"

    Mary: "It's what Hank wants, and Hank's always right."

    Me: "How do you figure that?"

    Mary: "Item 7 says 'Everything Hank says is right.' That's good enough for me!"

    Me: "Maybe your friend Karl just made the whole thing up."

    John: "No way! Item 5 says 'Hank dictated this list himself.' Besides, item 2 says 'Use alcohol in moderation,' Item 4 says 'Eat right,' and item 8 says 'Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.' Everyone knows those things are right, so the rest must be true, too."

    Me: "But 9 says 'Don't use alcohol.' which doesn't quite go with item 2, and 6 says 'The moon is made of green cheese,' which is just plain wrong."

    John: "There's no contradiction between 9 and 2, 9 just clarifies 2. As far as 6 goes, you've never been to the moon, so you can't say for sure."

    Me: "Scientists have pretty firmly established that the moon is made of rock..."

    Mary: "But they don't know if the rock came from the Earth, or from out of space, so it could just as easily be green cheese."

    Me: "I'm not really an expert, but not knowing where the rock came from doesn't make it plausible that it might be made of cheese."

    John: "Ha! You just admitted that scientists don’t know everything, but we know Hank is always right!"

    Me: "We do?"

    Mary: "Of course we do, Item 7 says so."

    Me: "You're saying Hank's always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know that Hank dictated it because the list says so. That's circular logic, no different than saying 'Hank's right because He says He's right.'"

    John: "Now you're getting it! It's so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank's way of thinking."

    Me: "But...oh, never mind.

    from Jhuger.com

    December 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Uh

      Is this a 3rd Graders understanding of teh religion?

      December 13, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  16. claudius1964

    Thus sayeth the Lord, be fruitful and multiply..... 🙂

    December 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Groucho Marxist

      When the world gets overpopulated, will he bip back in and tell us to stop multiplying?

      December 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  17. truth is a blinding light

    CNN cant find any news so they make some up. Jezz CNN get a life.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  18. Daniel Mesohoni

    What color is the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, and the smart FOX News reporter?

    December 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      all fictional creatures

      December 13, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  19. Pat0

    What I see here is a bunch of WHITE HATE!

    December 13, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Groucho Marxist

      That figures, considering you are alone in a room using your imagination.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • .

      Poor persecuted you.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Sokesky

      In that case, you probably need to go back to school for some reading comprehension skills.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  20. Groucho Marxist

    Jesus was actually Flying Spaghetti Monster during one of his benders. Santa was a minion of Gozer.

    And this is as true as any other opinion on them.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:47 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.