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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. Gary Hurewitz

    What an ignorant statement that Jews are a minority and get minority status. They absolutely do not. Jews are Caucasians and therefore do not get minority benefits or minority owned business status. Jesus was a caucasian Jew and was probably somewhat dark skinned and dark, maybe curly hair like many Jews. He was certainly not blond and blue eyed like depicted. The last supper was a Passover Seder and Jesus lit candles over Hanukah. He was a Rabbi and an amazingly advanced philosophical, spiritual man.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • Cheryl Magnuson

      Yawn. Get over yourself.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • That guy

      I think the original Jews were black and Arab.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
      • Deserttrek

        doubt it ...

        December 13, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
        • That guy

          Science has proven the first human beings came from Africa. With that said it is a definite possibility.

          December 13, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • emintey

      I'm no ethnologist but I'd say that the jews in jesus time were probably racially similar to the inhabitants of the region now, similar to Turks and lebanese. Surely in their time in Europe they did quite a bit of interbreeding with native Europeans ofall kinds, certainly "sephardic" jews tend to be darker complexioned. Jews are certainly not of Northern European stock originally though they will tend to have more of those genes now. They are not blonde blue eyed Megyn Kellys.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • america one

      What a world we are living, people always find ways to satisfy them self like Jesus was white. Though there is more than
      six hundred year difference between Moses coming and Jesus arrival. There is no connection between two absolute different relegion. But we always take advantage by changing the verses of holy books. We might hear next time that Bible was revealed originally in American English or Jesus moved to Europe or America and became white. We all know the truth but will never accept it. This is called human nature ?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  2. That guy

    Jesus was an alien. He was also the Chris Angel of his era in the middle east. Jesus was sent to forgive mankind for there sins but you will be judged in the end. I thought I was forgiven? God is a alien with Bi-Polar disorder.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • Hmmmm

      Wow, if Criss Angel had done his gig back then, we'd be indundated by Criccians who swear by his miracles!

      December 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • What

      Jesus was Mexican? Well, I guess his name was Jesus...

      December 13, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
  3. Nancy

    Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is in the middle east. I doubt Jesus was white, but I know he is our Lord and Saviour.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • Lucy

      You know it because it was hammered into your head endlessly as a child and now you simply accept it as true.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  4. Neil

    Festivus for the rest of us!

    December 13, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  5. EscondidoDave

    As the saying goes, "If triangles had a God, he would have 3 sides."

    December 13, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
  6. Mr My Way

    Since both are myths it really doesn't matter what color you think they are.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • arthurrrrr

      Life is short-you will meet Him soon.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • ScottyG

      Exactly!!

      December 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
      • ScottyG

        I meant "exactly" to his comment about myths.
        Arthur, the only thing we will be meeting when we die will be the bugs eating our rotting flesh in the ground. If you think there's a better life in the "after life", get a grip on reality. This is the only life there is for all of us.....live it to the fullest.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
  7. tony

    Fortunately- Kelly,s comments about Jesus are irrelevant.She,s a dunce.Sadly- her comments reflect the religious right [i mean wrong in America ] .A black soul indeed

    December 13, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • What

      You use "black-soul" as in dark or evil - you are a RACIST

      December 13, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  8. M. Ozgoren

    CNN's obsession with FOX and Rush Limberger is unhealthy.

    How about we pretend they don't exist.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  9. James Reed

    He's a jew, so he is olive-skinned

    December 13, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  10. jam64

    Jon Stewart is anther stupid liberal just trying to stir things up. He also believes there is no war on Christmas.

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

      There isn't

      December 13, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      And he's right. What's your opinion on the other presenter making a fuss about some imagined problem taking her kids to a nativity scene when Fox has one outside the building.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  11. dgoren1

    Why is this an issue, and who cares? At the time when Jesus was said to be alive, people in that area would have had darker skin. How dark, who the hell knows. Dark like an African's skin, or olive complexion. Does it matter? Yes, he is depicted often with very white skin. It's obvious that he didn't look like that. Shouldn't his message be more important? Regarding Santa, he was drawn white, so that's what he is. If he was real and brought me $10MM why would I care about his color?

    December 13, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  12. Megyn Kelly, FOX Repoartererer

    Because I'm blonde, I don't have to think
    I talk like a baby and I never pay for drinks
    Don't have to worry about gettin' a man
    If I keep this blonde and I keep these tan

    'Cause I'm a blonde
    Yeah, yeah, yeah
    'Cause I'm a blonde
    Yeah, yeah, yeah
    I see people workin', it just makes me giggle
    'Cause I don't have to work, I just have to jiggle

    'Cause I'm blonde
    B-L-O-N-D
    'Cause I'm a blonde
    Don't you wish you were me?
    I never learned to read and I never learned to cook
    Why should I bother when I look like I look?
    I know lots of people are smarter than me
    But I have this philosophy: "So what?"

    'Cause I'm a blonde
    Yeah, yeah, yeah
    I see girls without dates and I feel so sorry for 'em
    'Cause whenever I'm around, all the men ignore 'em

    'Cause I'm blonde
    Nyah, nyah, nyah
    'Cause I'm a blonde
    Nyah, nyah, nyah
    They say to make it you need talent and ambition
    Well, I got a TV show, and this was my audition:

    Um, okay. What was it? Okay, um, don't tell me, oh yeah, okay...
    "Duck, Magnum, duck!"

    'Cause I'm a blonde
    Yeah, yeah, yeah
    'Cause I'm a blonde
    Yeah, yeah, yeah
    I took an IQ test, and I flunked it, of course
    I can't spell VW, but I got a Porsche

    'Cause I'm a blonde
    B-L-I-N-D
    'Cause I'm a blonde
    Don't you wish you were me?

    I just want to say that being chosen as this month's Miss August is like a compliment I'll remember for as long as I can. Right now I'm a freshman in my fourth year at UCLA, but my goal is to become a veterinarian, 'cause I love children.

    'Cause I'm a blonde
    Yeah, yeah, yeah
    'Cause we're a blonde
    Yeah, yeah, yeah
    Girls think I'm snotty, and maybe it's true
    With my hair and body, you would be too

    'Cause I'm a blonde
    B-L-... I don't know!
    'Cause I'm a blonde
    Yeah, yeah, yeah
    'Cause I'm a blonde
    Yeah, yeah, yeah
    'Cause I'm a blonde
    Yeah, yeah, yeah!

    December 13, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • Colin Morgan

      Just say Julie! AMGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG!!

      December 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
  13. John Jr

    Stop worrying about what other people think... if you think Jesus is white then go with it... and if other people think differently then go with it.... Who cares what color Jesus was.... I am just amazed by his story. We do not really know what Jesus looks like because there were no pictures taken..... Every one just knows him how media has portrayed him or how your own family has portrayed him..... This is the stupidist debate lol

    December 13, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  14. Reality

    The Mess of the Myths of Christmas unfortunately continues:

    Said co-nclusion is supported by the studies of many NT and historic Jesus exegetes.
    e.g.

    Professor JD Crossan with great tho-ro-ughness examined all the existing scr-iptural writings from the first and second ce-nturies AD/CE. If you do not have his 505 page book, The Historical Jesus, see Google Books.
    Using these doc-uments plus the co-nclusions of the major NT exegetes in the past two hundred years, he compared Jesus' reported acts and sayings to when they were reported and how many reports were made. Those acts and sayings with single or later att-estations along with the current biblical scholarship negativity, were judged not to be done or said by the historical Jesus. Approximately 67% of the NT was judged to be in that category, i.e. embellishments of the facts typically made to compete with the "Caesar", "Al-exander" and Egyptian gods. See wiki.faithfutures.o-rg/index.php?ti-tle=Crossan_Inventory

    Use this latter site to a-nalyze your NT references for "Crossan" acceptance, e.g. Matt 1:23
    26±. Jesus Vi-r-g-inally Conceived: (1) Gos. Heb. 1; (2) Matt 1:18-25; (3) Luke 1:26-38; (4a) Ign. Eph. 7:2; (4b) Ign. Eph. 18:2a; (4c) Ign. Eph. 19:1; (4d) Ign. Smyrn. 1:1b., was judged to be not from the historical Jesus but of th-eolo-gical importance.

    These same passages also are in direct conflict with

    (!5a) John 6:42
    (!5b) John 7:40-44
    (!5c) John 8:39-41
    (!6) Luke 2:27,33,41,48

    where Joseph is reported to be the father of Jesus.

    "In Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography (2000), Bruce Chilton develops the idea of Jesus as a ma-mzer; someone whose irre-gular birth circu-mstances result in their exclusion from full participation in the life of the co-mm-unity. He argues for the natural pat-er-nity of Joseph and finds no need for a miraculous co-nception. In his subsequent reco-nstruction of Jesus' life, Chilton suggests that this sustained personal experience of exclusion played a major role in Jesus' self-identi-ty, his concept of God and his spiritual quest."

    "John P,Meier [Marginal Jew I,220-22] discusses the v-i-rginal conception as part of his larger chapter on Jesus' origins. He earlier notes that both infancy narratives "seem to be largely the product of Christian reflection on the salvific meaning of Jesus Christ in the light of OT prophecies (p. 213). At the end of his examination, Meier concludes:

    "The ends result of this survey must remain meager and disappointing to both defenders and opponents of the doctrine of the vir-ginal conception. Taken by itself, historical-critical research simply does not have the sources and tools available to reach a final decision on the historicity of the v-i-rginal conception as narrated by Matthew and Luke. One's acceptance or rejection of the doctrine will be largely influenced by one's own philosophical and theological presu-ppositions, as well as the weight one gives to Church teaching."

    You might also say that here was a man whose simple teachings were embellished to compete with the gods of Rome, Greece, Ba-bylon, Pe-rsia and Eg-ypt to the point that only about 30% of the NT is historical.

    With respect to the Three Kings:

    The Three Kings/Wise Men myth was developed from all types of analogous legends and OT passages pre-Jesus. See faithfutures.o-rg/index.php?t-itle=369_Star_of_Revelation for a lenthly review.

    An excerpt:

    Gerd Luedemann

    "Commenting on the infancy narratives overall, Luedemann [Jesus, 124-29] concludes that Luke and Matthew represent "two equally unhistorical narratives." He cites the occurrence of a miraculous heavenly sign at key points in the life of Mithridates VI in a history written by Justinus (active in the reign of Augustus, 2 BCE to 14 CE). "

    John P. Meier (Notre Dame professor)

    "Meier [Marginal Jew I,211ff and 376] considers these traditions to be "largely products of early Christian reflection on the salvific meaning of Jesus in the light of OT prophecies" and concludes that their historicity is "highly questionable."

    Happy Mess of Myths to One and All!!!

    December 13, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • CWMessenger

      I'm not sure what your comment means, but I might ask, what nationality was Mary?
      Mary's genealogy shows up in Luke, and she is in the line of Jesse, and/or King David.
      With that, Je-sus was a J-ew. What color were J-ewish people in the first century?
      I would guess they were probably first-century J-ewish-colored.

      Another idea might be, if we want to know the sk-in color of J-esus, we might just look in the B-ible to see if it ever infers such a thing. Upon a read-through from beginning to end a few times, I would have to posit, there is NO evidence the B-ible makes reference to sk-in color (regarding J-esus). I think there are some Old Tes-tament passages that talk about some shades of sk-in color (in Song of Solomon) but this is mostly referencing sk-in color as an endearment to a lady in which Solomon was courting (and how lovely she was).

      As such, since the B-ible focuses hardly ANY attention to sk-in color, my best guess, for personal life application would be: PERHAPS we as individuals should NOT focus so much attention on sk-in color and just love everyone for who they are.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  15. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    The ignorance around the Santa Claus myth displayed not just by Ms. Kelly, but by the posters here who seem to have "knowledge" that the origins are Dutch or Scandanavian are stunning.

    Poor old St. Nikolaos of Myra in Anatolia. There's a Caucasian for you!

    December 13, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • What

      Born in what is now Greece - yes, that's part of current day Europe.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • James

      So how does that make him black and if it does then can't anyone that is middle eastern or greek claim they are black. Does this mean John Stamos, Ethan Hawke, Tommy Lee, ariana huffington are black? They are greek. Santa Claus comes from a dutch and gemanic origin utilizing elements of saint nicholas. He was not based on blacks that were around and the closest you can get is olive skin for saint nicholas. Jesus was middle eastern and not black. Does this mean tony shalhoub is black? What about casey casem or Terri Hatcher or F.Murray Abraham or Vince Vaughn or Danny Thomas are they black? They are lebanese syrian and of middle eastern roots just like jesus. Lets not fabricate or change facts to appeal to a racial group white or black. Jesus was not white or black and santa was white because the myth was originated in a place where most people never even knew there were black people at the time. German and Dutch people in the middle ages were white period . Now if you want to commercialize the myth and you want your own myth fine but don't try to rewrite history in to a politically correct lie.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
      • Doug Copeland

        Please.... tell me more "facts" about Santa. I'd like to hear your thoughts on his flying reindeer. What race are they?

        December 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
  16. anon

    Who cares, if your concerned with the race of either then you've really missed whats important, the message

    December 13, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  17. Munzell

    Doesn't matter what color his skin is...................As long as his blood was red..............

    December 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  18. the saint

    please fox news is just pandering to white Nazi's – everyone knows that the first humans on this planet came from Africa (eve gene) ; and if your god created man in hi image ,then his image is that of Africa, and if jesus is gods son then either biracial or just African – so there white fox news – just the facts deal with it

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

      ------–
      ------–

      ... http://www.GodIsImaginary.com...

      ... and thank goodness because he ...

      ............. emanates from the .............

      ... http://www.EvilBible.com

      ------–
      ------–

      December 13, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • Brianb2251

      The oldest recorded history comes from China and predates jesus by thousands of years. On top of that there has been more then one argument on the cradle of man. The fact that they found prehuman remains in the great rift valley which is essentially a huge tear in the ground only means that those were the easiest to find for us. We uncover new things everyday that tell us what we thought was wrong. Remember at one time people thought the world was flat, flies came from inanimate objects, and Genes were the devil's work.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • Realist

      *****************
      ------–
      ------–

      ... http://www.GodIsImaginary.com...

      ... and thank goodness because he ...

      ............. emanates from the .............

      ... http://www.EvilBible.com

      ------–
      ------–

      December 13, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
  19. Doug Copeland

    OH my goodness – really? Does it really matter what race Santa is depicted as being? You're telling me it's extremely important that we get the facts correct on Santa's race – Santa, the man who lives on the North Pole and flies around the world in a sleigh pulled by magical flying reindeer to every single house carrying gifts for every child on earth. Getting the facts straight about his race is what's important here? Perhaps, maybe - just maybe - folks can determine on their own what they believe to be true about Santa and it doesn't need to be turned into a debate.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • richard schwalb

      No sir. The debate is about whether Jesus Christ could be accurately described as white. The best evidence is that as a middle easterner 2000 years ago, his complexion was not as dark as a resident of southern or central Africa, but not as fair as a northern European either. Probably an olive to light brown complexion similar to residents of Egypt and Libya and Syria and Jordan today.

      December 13, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
      • Doug Copeland

        Again... I would say, Jesus – the man who walked on water, miraculously cured diseases and multiplied fish and bread to feed the hungry, was killed, died. DEAD. Reborn. These "facts" we're willing to allow people to believe, but you're telling me the REAL important question to ask about Jesus is "what race was he?" Really? Really?

        December 13, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  20. KLL

    Fox News at it's very best....hahahahahahaha. This is about as good as they get.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:01 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.