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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. Robert Vosburgh

    just be happy there are people in history like Jesus and good old saint Nick where around. Just because you have a black president doesn't mean you need make a religious figure black. also santa clause so deal with it people.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • .

      Nice racist rant.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • skarphace

      Likewise, it doesn't mean you have to make a religious figure White either. This is just what Megyn Kelly did, and is why so many people are arguing that claim.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Dawn

      Don't you mean......"Just because WE have a black president" ?
      Seeing as Joseph was not Jesus's father but God was, unless you have seen god with your own eyes, Jesus could have been any color imaginable!

      December 13, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  2. denver

    It ought to go w/o saying that imaginary characters are whatever color you want them to be.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  3. Carol

    I'll give you that Jesus wasn't which it the truth. But I'm sorry, Santa is a fat white dude! 🙂 Lighten up everyone, its the holidays!!!

    December 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  4. I AM

    Look, we can settle this, does anyone have a picture of Jesus ?

    December 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      My brother-in-law has a plastic dashboard Jesus he bought at a Tea Party gun rally. Jesus looks pretty white in that one.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  5. Zarzoor

    of course both of them are white - has nothing to do with racism (and I am not white by the way). Consider the world origin from where St. Nick and Jesus were from….was not African. This has nothing to do with race, and is just a CNN media bang and opportunity to bring up any race controversy….Merry Christmas people.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • denver

      May come as a surprise to you, but Americans don't generally consider people from the Middle East white.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Are Middle Easterners white?

      December 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Joe

      Middle easterners are "white"?

      December 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • sarge325

      Yes, Denver, Doc and Joe, Middle-Easterners are Caucasian, which we refer to as "white."

      December 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • Eric

      Of course you are wrong. All have descended from Africa. Scientific evidence has put the world's earliest man in Ethiopia.

      December 14, 2013 at 1:19 am |
  6. dreamhunk

    Christianity and Judaism is an old BLACK people Egyptian religion

    Tacitus, the Roman historian of 90 A.D., says that the Romans of his day popularly believed that the Jews, which then abounded in Europe, came from Ethiopia, the land of the Blacks

    Ahmed Osman is a historian and the author of numerous books on biblical history, focusing on the late Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. His works and discoveries have opened doors that were shut by convention; requiring scholars and theologians to redefine the very roots of their beliefs."
    "If Jesus, in actuality was Tutankhamun, then I just had to ask the $64 thousand question, who then was the Jesus that Christians believe was crucified in the 1st century AD by the Romans? Osman replied matter-of-factly,“the gospels of the Nag Hammadi do not talk of a crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, neither does St Paul in any of his letters. Some Gnostics believe it was someone else, someone called Simon, who was killed on that occasion.” But then Osman astonishes me with what he says next.“However, I do believe that Jesus died on the cross, not the Roman cross, but the Egyptian ankh cross. All ancient Egyptian kings are believed to have been sacrificed on this cross. Though crucifixion on this cross only means physical death, not spiritual.The ankh was a symbol, not of death, but of life, and it is the ankh that was used by all Christians until the 4th century when the Vatican introduced the Roman cross for the first time. Even the cross that is reported to have been seen by Constantine, the cross that foreshadowed his conversion, represented the Egyptian ankh.”

    "...I am the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no saviour beside me." -Hosea 13:4:

    Christianity and Judaism is an ancient Egyptian religion. Black people religion. The 1st PPL. to walk the earth brought us the 1st religions. Non-Africans were NOT even on earth when it started. ALL Fact. Show me a African scholar who refutes this.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z13bcjRAsNw&w=640&h=390]
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhKGPslPwwA&w=640&h=390]
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5JnnWvgRjg&w=640&h=390]
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aeo2u-Y2pKY&w=640&h=390]
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKrSM6g7uNI&w=640&h=390]
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxWcqojtk2o&w=640&h=390]
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbSvGICj-vw&w=640&h=390]
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DKmTr5ntU8&w=640&h=390]

    First mistake European corruption of after Nicaea. It was an African bishop Athanasius who defended the trinity, against the Arians, who was started by Arius also an African bishop. Second after the council of Nicaea and Constantine, there the Third African Pope a saint as well Pope St. Gelasius I. So how was there a European corruption of Christianity? Look at the similarities between the ancient church in Ethiopia and Eritrea known as the Tawehdo right of the Catholic Church

    December 13, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  7. Water to Whine

    Just like a Fox News correspondent, take something that is not provable and present it as fact.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  8. katieandanton

    You are all a bunch of nit-wits. Santa Lives at the North Pole. He's an Inuit. He's neither black or white.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  9. Brian

    How about we just call him fake, and move on.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  10. Ryan

    Jesus was not white or black, he was middle eastern. Santa is fake and was created by satan.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  11. heyman

    Only on Fake News...

    December 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  12. dreamhunk

    ancient Hebrews
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DKmTr5ntU8&w=640&h=390]

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries&w=640&h=390]

    December 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  13. lol??

    What color were the Sodominians??

    December 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • .

      Look in the mirror and tell us.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
      • lol??

        That's on a need to know basis. You aren't that needy.

        December 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  14. sly

    He is real. Really.
    He is just your opinion – fact.
    He's black.
    No he's white.
    He likes the Red Sox.
    No, he likes the Yankees.
    I'm really stupid.
    Yes, if you are commenting on the color of your opinions, yep ... pretty stupid.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  15. sarge325

    How can anyone argue with Megyn Kelly's statement? The historical Jesus was a Jewish man born in Bethlehem of Jewish parents. He's Caucasian. Not a pale-beige "white" guy, probably more olive-skinned, but definitely Caucasian. While Santa Claus is obviously a mythical figure who can be portrayed any way one wants, he is based on a historical figure who was Caucasian. It is pure idiocy (political correctness gone mad) to argue otherwise.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • skarphace

      How does one argue that Jews are not Caucasian? There are many people that would argue that Jews are definitely not Caucasian. The earliest records of the Jews came from when they were slaves in Greece. There is no mention in either Greek records or the Bible where the Jews came from before that. They could have been from any race, but were most likely African or Asian. Some would even argue that Jews are a race unto themselves.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
      • sarge325

        Who are these people and where are these records, scarphace? Jewish people are Middle-Eastern. Like their neighbors and closest relatives, the Arab people, they are Caucasian. People from other racial groups have converted to Judaism, so not all Jews today are Caucasian, but the Jewish people of 2,000 years ago were definitely Caucasian.

        I don't really care. I'm just pointing out that Megyn Kelly's detractors are on a witch hunt, hoping to find something "racist." Personally, I always put "other" on my census forms and write in "human."

        December 13, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • Joe

      God, the father of Jesus, is Jewish?

      December 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • oldarmyvet

      Hi there, sarge325
      I agree with you up to a point. A broad definition of Caucasian would include someone from that region, but if you've studied anthropology, you learn just how elusive and subjective the idea of a race can be. Not so long ago, the British considered the Irish to be a separate race. One could argue that that distinction was based on a Germanic assessment of Celtic people, and in fact, uncomfortably close to the Nazi view that Slavic people were subhuman, despite their blond hair and blue eyes.
      There are many people in the U.S. who do not consider Middle Eastern people to be white, and refer to them by their geographic lable as a way to distinguish them from other races ("sand n*gger" being a common epithet for them).
      The irony of this whole big flap about Jesus is that He is just as mythical a figure as Santa Claus, maybe even more so, thus making the whole argument moot. At least Santa Claus has a basis in a real person, namely St. Nicholas, but there are no writings abot Jesus that are comtemporary with Jesus. The earliest writings appear more than 90 years after his supposed existence. Though they claim to be contemporary, none can be dated to that time. See "Misquoting Jesus "by Bart D. Ehrman). The idea of Jesus arose like so many other religious and mythical figures, particularly Classical Greece, and just as the Greek gods were revered and accepted as real, so too is this Jesus Christ figure. Pure fiction, but accepted as real.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  16. jim jimson

    ... and while we are at it why not rename that old Bing Crosby song to 'I'm dreaming of a Christmas of Color...'

    December 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  17. Chriz

    Sorry to disappoint ya'll but Jesus was a white gentile or of Jewish decent. This whole story is about race and for you, the author to ask us to follow in his teachings and not his color? Sounds great! I can do that right after you agree with the "facts" that Jesus is white!!!
    as for Santa Claus, sorry kids he is not real! So, take your silly notions of what color they are and stick in your fake Kwanzaa candle holder!

    December 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  18. Snow

    So when she says jesus is white, basic genetic knowledge says both her parents were white. Is she claiming god is white too? is he now "god of isreal" or "god of white people"?

    December 13, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  19. clambert506

    Good news. It's been determined that Jesus was the same color as Zues. Next problem!

    December 13, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  20. Jose soto

    Santa clos and Jesus were olive skinned, they were hispanic, you blacks and white should stop blamming in in race, its gettin sick

    December 13, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Mike

      Hispanics aren't olive skined, they are brown as they claim. Europeans are olive skined.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Ignominious

      While I agree he likely had "olive skin", to say Jesus was "hispanic" is laughable.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:30 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.