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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. Matt

    This may be the stupidest debate I ever heard of. Jesus was middle eastern Jewish. Therefore HIs skin color was undoubtedly the same – not "white" more of an olive-toned.

    St. Nicholas was born a Greek, so I expect his skin tone would be the same as Greeks – again not quite "white" more of an olive tone.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Only black Jesus fulfills the Messiah prophesy.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
    • ryanwin

      po-tay-toe po-tah-toe

      December 13, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  2. Not Megyn Kelly

    Jesus was not any more white than the Palestinians living in the modern-day "Holy Land" – either Muslim or Christian. This is so obvious it makes me sick to think a person of the intellectual caliber of Megyn Kelly could say otherwise; just another example of the pandering Fox News does on a daily basis. FML

    December 13, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • Dan J

      Modern day arabs are considered white by the U.S. government.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
    • jim davis

      The day I worship a Middle Easterner is the day I become an atheist.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
  3. ny88

    Rima, you made my day! Thanks!!

    December 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  4. Quick Poll

    Is Megyn Kelly

    A. A brilliant newsperson

    B. A blithering nincompoop

    December 13, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • ny88

      I would have to go with B.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
      • Quick Poll

        I'm just curious if anyone would go for A

        December 13, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
      • jim davis

        Megyn graduated law school and was a lawyer...how's your cashier job at Target holding up?

        December 13, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
        • Satan Claws

          Yeah, well, she's still a moron. Enjoy your food stamps, white trash.

          December 13, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  5. luis duque, jr.

    whatever it is that you think He looks like or looked like is of no consequence. no one here can give an account of this, but one thing you should know is what He will look like upon that great and terrible day: [Rev 1:10-18 KJV] 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, 11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send [it] unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. 12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks [one] like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. 14 His head and [his] hairs [were] white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes [were] as a flame of fire; 15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. 16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance [was] as the sun shineth in his strength. 17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: 18 I [am] he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • jake t

      Great insight. Not

      December 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  6. Greg

    Libtards: making life suck.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Greg

      when christards like wot i is is so special

      December 13, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • Satan Claws

      Making life suck for Rethuglicans, chickenhawks and neocons? Somebody has to.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
  7. speakandremovealldoubt

    Who cares what color people decide 2 fictional characters are? Let's just make them both green and call it a day! It does not matter! In both cases, it is more a physical depiction of a way of life, of an ideal, of kindness. People are really way too concerned with how much pigment a person has, let alone how much a figment has!

    December 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Dan J

      They aren't fictional. Like it or not, they both existed. That is an indisputable fact.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        Neither character as depicted is accurate. Saint Nick didn't live at the North Pole transported by flying reindeer to deliver gifts across the whole world. If Jesus existed, he wasn't the son of a god.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • john b

      I was about to say the same thing...they're all green...leave it alone already.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  8. ray

    HAVE YOU EVER SEEN SANTA OR JESUS MORON?

    December 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      You mean in a stain or a potato?

      December 13, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  9. lol??

    Gen 12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

    Families, not gubmints. Gubmints hate the King.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  10. Festivusfortherestofus

    "Oh the weather outside is frightful,
    and the comments inside delightful
    But wherever you've got to go
    Make it snow, make it snow, make it snow.

    Well Jesus is hoping to be whiteful
    But Santa is thinking blackful
    Wherever there a buck to be made
    They can colour them any shade

    Faux news thinks its likely
    That Santa and Jesus are whitely
    But the rest of us all know
    That it doesn't mean heck so blow

    Tada dum tada dum tada dum
    Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

    December 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  11. Jim Peters

    This is a non-issue, unless you are a bigot.

    The definition of "White" used for the 2000 Census in the U.S is: "White. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as "White" or report entries such as Irish, German, Scottish, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab, or Polish."

    Skin color is not the determining factor. "Race" is an label which is defined by some consensus. For the US Census, this is the whole list: White, Black or African American, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, Pacific Islander or Other.

    My point is, the label is only as useful as the definition, and in this definition of "White" Jesus was white. In some other definition, maybe not. This is the problem with labels and why they are useless. We are all humans, and share that heritage. Why should we care which "race" or "ethnicity" a person is?

    December 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Dan J

      So in plain speak, if Jesus were around today, and filled out the census, the government would require him to check the "white" box.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • lol??

      And be careful, ".............Irish, German, Scottish............" are extreme whites. That's why the albinos in Africa are slaughtered.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  12. sharon

    How do these Faux News hosts seriously sleep at night or look themselves in the mirror? Oh that's right they get BIG, FAT paychecks to justify their sheer BULL!!!

    December 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • oo oo

      R u seriously suggesting u r not jealous, dodo?

      December 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Being a talking head on Fox is all about looks Sharon.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
  13. ray

    KELLY IS A RACISTS TO THE BONE AND ONLY ON FOX YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH CRAP

    December 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • jim davis

      You're the racist.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  14. Hey-Sooos

    How is the even debatable? Jesus was a Semite who born in the middle east where people were shorter, darker skin tone with dark hair. Claiming he was Nordic is no less insane than claiming Santa Claus is real.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Dan J

      No one is claiming he is nordic. They are claiming he is white. According to the U.S. government, those semitic people you refer to are considered white.
      And guess, what? There have been fair skinned, blonde, blue-eyed people in the middle east since ancient times! To claim middle eastern people look a certain way is a bit bigoted.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  15. Jim P.

    The color one thinks a fictional character is is a matter of personal choice.

    Since "jesus" is technically a demi-god one can presume he had the power to be any color or form or shape he wanted to be. When dealing with mythology it really doesn't matter in any case.

    And like the question of Adam having a navel, it is an irrelevant issue about as important as deciding what color eyes jesus might have had. It makes no difference whatsoever to any aspect of the religion built around him.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • oo oo

      Point being, r u seriously suggesting u actually have evidence to support your statements? So, go ahead. Feel free to run away.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
    • jim davis

      Do you ever see black Santas at the mall, on TV shows or in "photos"?

      December 13, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  16. ray

    she is a racists to the bone, have yoiu ever seen santa or jesus moron??????????????? go back to school moron.. santa is a myth moron

    December 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  17. Bill

    Who cares? Santa is as real as Fox News' fair and balanced reporting.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  18. Chris

    I have noticed lately that it is now fashibale and exceptible to be racist against white people while at the same time, non whites and marxists scream about racism. You're anti racist but racist? Insanely hyporcrital.
    It's also interesting to see how these non European races are trying to slap their faces on a European tradition.
    Jesus was certainly not black and as for Santa, another fictional character, they are trying to make him out to be black too?
    Santa is an African now.... lmao

    December 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Alias

      Jesus wasn't white either.
      That image your church has of a man with light hair and blue eyes on a cross is wrong!

      December 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
      • Dan J

        I'm middle eastern. I have light borwn hair and blue eyes. My mom, an Iraqi, has red hair, freckles and blue eyes.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
      • oo oo

        Good point, bro. U can c inside her church so u no what they believe he looked like. Amen

        December 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  19. Skeptic

    Megyn Kelly has the intelligence of toe fungus, but she is half right. St. Nicholas is white, if you look at the history of where he came from.

    Jesus, on the other hand, is white if you consider the people of the Middle East white, which many do not. So that one is debatable.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Ralphie Gets A Red Rider Assault Rifle And Goes On A Kill-Crazy Rampage

      That is a despicable thing to say and I demand you apologize immediately! That is an insult to toe fungus everywhere!

      December 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Dan J

      You're right many people don't. But many more people do. When the U.S. government mas been making arab americans describe themselves as white, caucasian, non hispanic (according to the census bureau), Kelly is legally correct.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Steve

      Maaaaaan has Europe white washed and brain washed everyone. It only takes 2-3 generations to change the racial makeup of a society.....considering its been 2000yrs, it obvious they are no signs of blacks in Israel.

      Jesus was from the Tribe of Judah which was black. Even national geographic did something once literally proving the Tribe of Judah was black and Jesus more than likely is a black man. But whites will probably stop worshiping God if they found out Jesus was black.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
      • Dan J

        Jesus has lineage from the tribe of Judah, but not exclusively. And there is very little evidence that the tribe of Judah was black.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
      • jim davis

        The Bible says Jesus was King of the Jews. Have you ever seen a black Jew?

        December 13, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
        • Perhapsif

          Yes, Sammy Davis Jr.. Hey I wonder if Jesus was part of the Rat Pack?

          December 13, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • Corey

      St. Nick is only white if you also believe those who live in Turkey are white, since that's where he's from. It may have been ruled by Greeks at the time, but its Turkey now. So I think your Jesus logic also applies here as well.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
  20. Californicator

    I thought Jesus was from Mexico.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Charles

      So did I.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:56 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.