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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. JJ Evans

    Would it matter if He were green? Wow – you really DO hate us whites....man – it's really clear. That's ok. Just never forget we were the ones marching WITH you...ok? Wow....talk about biting the hand that feeds ya – huh?

    December 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Dumb white guy

      That's right. Jesus was white.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • JC

      Christians are the single most oppressed religion in the world. Just look at ESPN and banning commercials for a Catholic Children's hospital....not sure why the hate, but no denying it exists.....and Muslims feel oppressed....ask one or two Christians in Egypt.....if you can find two that still have their heads attached............

      December 13, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
      • The GOP need to pack up and leave

        No, Christians have historically and contemporally been the oppressors.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        ESPN is allowing the ad.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        You can say that with a straight face after centuries of christian oppression of jews in europe!
        Not saying there isn't some anti-christian feeling, but the majority of christians killed in conflicts is by other christians. Also consider that christians are also killing those of other religions.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • ChrisM

      No JJ, I like you a lot. It's Megyn Kelly that hates you. And don't you forget it. 🙂

      December 13, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
  2. Roger Mike

    jewish DNA has changed very little since 556bc

    this means the jewish jesus from 2000 years ago would be white like mondern day jews.

    it takes skin color 40,000 to 50,000 years to change through evolution.

    i am an atheist scientist,

    yes jesus was white just like assad leader of syria who is arab is white also.

    arabs are infact caucasians.

    Scientists compared the men's Y chromosomes, the tiny structures within cells that carry the genetic instructions that tell a developing foetus to become a boy.

    The comparison also showed that Jews have successfully resisted having their gene pool diluted, despite having lived among non-Jews for thousands of years in what is commonly known as the Diaspora – the time since 556 BC when Jews migrated out of Palestine.

    http://news.bbc.co.Uk/2/hi/science/nature/742430.stm

    December 13, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • Kyle

      False. Ashkenazi Jews are Khazarian.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • Larry

      we have an atheist talking about Jesus??????? So does he exist or not

      December 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
      • JJ

        No, he does not exist any longer. He's been dead for 2000 years.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • goddog

      Haha, If you are a scientist, I am the Easter Bunny.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
      • Satan Claws

        His 'science' says that the earth is 6000 years old.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  3. newageoftruth

    Reblogged this on newageoftruth.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  4. heavenly paradise white

    Arabs went the wrong way even if they are white of the Shem race like jews and Europeans ...

    Islam is evil and the opposite of Xianity aka white man religion.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  5. profettt

    WELL...I WAS PRAYING THIS WAS STILL ACTIVE. ....SO...LETS SAY IN YOUR BIBLE....THE BIBLE WE ALLLLLLLLLL LIVE BY....SAYS....IN REVELATIONS.....Revelation 1:13-15

    13And 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.
    14His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
    15And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.....TELL ME CHILDREN...OR BETTER YET..SHOW ME A WHITE MAN THAT COMES CLOSE TO THIS DESCRIPTION WITHOUT TANNING AND A LIL MIX IN HIS BLOOD. CASE CLOSED.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  6. cacique

    As white as a Jewish-Nazarene born in Bethlehem can be.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  7. buckcameron

    Jesus was a short Jewish guy. John Steward's OK with that.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  8. Agnostic

    CNN is so weak it's not even funny anymore.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  9. heavenly paradise white

    Jews and Arabs are both white of the white Shem causasoid race like white Europeans

    The oldest son of Noah was blessed and chosen because he kept the only true Word but assigned to spread the Word to the 4 corners of the earth and he did that ... and still doing it ...

    December 13, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • buckcameron

      If you believe the old goat herder tales.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  10. tonyl

    This clearly proves that Megyn Kelly is from a trailer park with NO ability of critical thinking before opening her mouth. FOXNEWS hired her for her blonde hair and looks but not the intellect.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  11. Youtube video - "Context!!!!!"

    Looks like the pope's next action item needs to be to replace all those white Jesuses in the U.S. churches with brown ones, though I suspect most Catholics who actually think for themselves already knew this.

    Is she dumb, or just a weeee bit racistt?

    December 13, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  12. Free Nuts

    Wow – people are nuts about this article

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0-04VDrCbM&w=640&h=390]

    December 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  13. Tony

    Saint Nick was Greek. so he was white.. Jesus was Jewish which means he was white with brown skin.. no different then Greeks or Romans of his time.. now get over it people.. to much to do about nothing..

    December 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • buckcameron

      St Nick was Turkish.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  14. Verax

    Well I guess little Meggie must have missed this when it came out: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/forensics/1282186
    The Real Face Of Jesus
    Advances in forensic science reveal the most famous face in history.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
  15. Matt

    He is white. And its not happy holidays you politically correct stooge...its MERRY CHRISTMAS!! DONT LIKE IT?? tough!!

    December 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Youtube video - "Context!!!!!"

      Interesting. If we are made in God's image, then what color is God?

      December 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • MacroInvestor

      Jesus or Santa? I'd say Santa is white. Jesus likely looked like just another olive skinned middle easterner.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  16. Agnostic

    She is only saying that since they've been white for a billion years, why change it now? Get real and focus on important things. If this is important to you whether Jesus or Santa is white, then you have issues. Jesus wasn't white. He was a tan man. Don't know about Santa, but he started out as Greek or something. You think some black dude would live in the North Pole? Hell no.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
  17. Hannah

    Notice how the first part of Megyn's sentence is cut off... hmmmm seems fishy. The alphabet news at it's best.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Youtube video - "Context!!!!!"

      Yes, it's a conspiracy to show that Foxy News is racistttt.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  18. John Doe

    Jesus was not white. He probably had an olive to dark skin tone. Jesus is from the Middle East. Most people in the Middle East are not white, and it has been that way for thousands of years. Also, Santa is not white. Santa is not fat. The image of a santa as white and fat was created because people believed that a fat white man was more angel like than a black man. This is a message to everybody. Santa is who you want him to be. If you want to believe in a black santa, go right ahead. If you believe in an Asian santa, go right ahead. Don't let what Christians made you believe what Jesus or Santa looks look. Believe what you want to believe.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
  19. wolfnumber6

    If I went to the core of Mongolia and say a nation filled with black people, the question would beg: How did all of these black people get here? Such is the case with jews in Israel.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Youtube video - "Context!!!!!"

      Ah, yes, you want to speak to one of those biblical literalists who believe the story of Noah's ark – they've figured this out already.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  20. Hitch

    All this hocus focus over a FICTIONAL CHARACTER. Jesus never Existed. Read that book. Read Jesus was CAESAR. Caesar's Messiah. Get a BRAIN people. I'm an ANTI THEIST. Even if zombie Jesus was real I would never worship a terrorist that demands worship or punishes people for thought crime. PUKE.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Agnostic

      No. Jesus was an actual living person at one time. The question is if he was the Son of God or not.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • D

      Christopher Hitchens was not logical and had a flawed outlook. I hope he is not your source of inspiration.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:53 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.