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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. Jim R

    The good news is that delusions work in almost any color.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  2. Stephen Way

    Bravo to Megyn Kelly taking a common sense approach, and courageous stand against this rubbish. Unfortunately, I am certain that she will lose her job when the blacks start to complain. No one can offend the blacks!

    December 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Wes

      It's quite courageous to stand up for something so asinine and false, especially on national TV. Courageousness isn't always righteous, however.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Darrell Gray

      A common sense approach would be to do some homework... She has not done any and makes statements out of ignorance. Jesus was not white... he was middle eastern. That's not white by any measure. And you're right... offend the "blacks" to your own detriment...

      December 13, 2013 at 11:34 am |
    • Opposing View

      Here is the link: http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/19/showbiz/duck-dynasty-suspension/index.html?hpt=hp_t1 The following

      December 19, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  3. Doc Vestibule

    "We understand that when God made man in his own image and pronounced him very good, that he made him white. We have no record of any of God's favored servants being of a black race...every angel who ever brought a message of God's mercy to man was beautiful to look upon, clad in the purest white and with a countenance bright as the noonday sun." (Juvenile Instructor*, Vol. 3, page 157)

    * Mormon publication for the indoctrination of children

    December 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Opposing View

      Another pack of lies....

      Why do atheists always tell lies? Answer: They have no God to keep them moral, so why not....

      December 13, 2013 at 11:36 am |
      • midwest rail

        Are you disputing the accuracy of the citation ?

        December 13, 2013 at 11:39 am |
      • sybaris

        By your logic any person who is not christian is not moral

        what a filthy perverted belief system you have there

        December 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
        • Opposing View

          Yes, and immoral person would say that. LOL...

          December 17, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  4. The Truth

    Jesus wasn't white, he was Semetic and probably looked like a modern day Palestianian or Syrian. The Bible doesn't really tell us and most agree his ethnicity was Jewish. If we gather what we know from the people of the time, he was a darker skinned Middle Eastern.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Try Luke if you don't like the King of the Jews prophesy; Jesus bin Perez was dark black.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:21 am |
      • Lucifer

        Jesus bin Perez would be lynched if he were alive today

        December 13, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  5. Opposing View

    This isn't even a debate. Anyone with even half a brain knows that Jesus Christ was a Hebrew. End of story. The scriptures state, "He came to his own and his own received him not". Meaning he came to the Israeli people as their savior but they rejected him.

    John 1:10: He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

    Thus this debate is a non-issue...

    December 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Rita

      Oh then you must have been around 2000 years ago and met him personally if you know all this definitively.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:21 am |
      • Opposing View

        Rita… And so what part of the scriptures do you not understand? Apparently, all of them...

        December 13, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • sybaris

      Quoting the bible is like an 8 year old stabbing at you with his pretend Star Wars light saber........... cute and ineffective

      December 13, 2013 at 11:34 am |
      • Opposing View

        It won't seem so ineffective on Judgment Day. That same bible will send you to the lake...

        December 17, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
  6. Common Sense

    Pope Julius II paid or supposedly paid Michelangelo to paint these white images and these are the one's no other race can forget. The psychological effect from these pieces have had a terrible impact on the minds of those who are non-white, but not to mention the horrifying tales that democracy started with the Greeks and Romans. The World History has been distorted to favor one particular race, and what race might that be? If we want a better understanding of World History we must start with The Ancient Kemet Mystery System. Kemet = Africa. Africa (Aphrike) is a Greek word basically meaning "Not Cold".

    December 13, 2013 at 11:16 am |
  7. lol??

    Bookies are just lookin' for a new market.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  8. dazlinn

    Why does this matter? It isn't what they looked like – it's what they did that counts.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      If Jesus were white the Union would have ceased to exist at the end of 1862. I matters a lot in America.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:16 am |
  9. DJS419

    Jesus probably looked like Osama. It's all part of the grand scheme. When Jesus comes back everyone will think he is Osama and be all like "kill it with fire!" and he will be all "Peace unto ye" and then kill us all for not practicing what he taught...which is forgiveness. It's all in the bible.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  10. sybaris

    Jesus is hispanic, everybody knows that

    December 13, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Jesus bin Perez makes that obvious.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  11. Dan

    LOL. People are actually arguing over the color of their imaginary friend.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • Opposing View

      Any moron who thinks Jesus was imaginary is a moron indeed...

      December 13, 2013 at 11:20 am |
      • Lucifer

        Oh the irony........

        December 13, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • FellowTraveler70

      "Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and most biblical scholars and classical historians see the theories of his non-existence as effectively refuted.[1][3][49][10][11] In antiquity, the existence of Jesus was never denied by those who opposed Christianity." from Wikipedia

      December 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
      • G to the T

        I'm an atheist, I believe the man Jesus most likely existed, but please, PLEASE don't quote Wiki. It's not anything close of a reliable source of info.

        December 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  12. Jib76

    Most residents of the middle east are white.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Lee M. Robinson

      Just as you say, by our way of thinking most in the so called middle east are considered white today, but not all are and never were. And as we know Jesus was not like most he was the one and only with a dark complexion of an Afro Asiatic man. Live with that fact and may God bless you.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  13. Harold Seeward

    This is a non-story in response to a non-story. Who cares about any of this? Must be a slow news week.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Gandalf

      The trolls do.....

      December 13, 2013 at 11:13 am |
      • Rob

        Gandalf.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  14. Bill, NY

    The concept that Jesus was not white might scare an incredible amount of people away from Christianity.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Opposing View

      It would only scare those people who didn't have the truth in the first place...

      December 13, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Hannigan

      Well, here is the thing people in the Middle East tend to often have a olive skin color. So they are neither white or black. So neither race for that matter has right to claim what Jesus looked like. But I would guess he looks just like every modern citizen living in Israel right now. Probably had a beard long hair olive colored skin. Because they lived in a desert which most of the Middle East actually, which would leave it hot.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  15. jeses

    Jesus was from Israel. Or atleast from that area of the world. So he was of Caucasian/ middle eastern tones and features. He looks something like a tan, bearded middle eastern man.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Mary was from Ephraim, not Judah.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  16. The Lady

    He was white, since people of Jewish and Arabic ancestry are considered white. He was just not blond and blue eyed with a fair skin complexion.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • Dan

      They don't consider themselves white. Westerners classify Middle Easterners as Caucasian, because they didn't want to cop to a Jewish Jesus.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Black as an Ehraimite.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • Opposing View

      Jesus Christ was a Hebrew. And why is it you don't know that?...

      December 13, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  17. Jib76

    Jesus is Jewish.
    There are several subgroups of Jews with different culture and traditions:
    Ashkenazic: Descendants of Jews from France, Germany and Eastern Europe
    Sephardic: Descendants of Jews from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East
    Mizrachi: Descendants of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East
    • Other subgroups are Yemenite, Ethiopian and Oriental

    December 13, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • Lucifer

      Actually..........Jesus is dead

      December 13, 2013 at 11:13 am |
      • John P. Tarver

        What a loser you are Bilial.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:14 am |
        • fred

          What a brainless, religious, degenerate you have become. Have fun with your life of religious hate and discrimination.

          December 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
        • John P. Tarver

          Benjamin Franklin Tarver freed the slaves silly fool.

          December 13, 2013 at 11:19 am |
      • lord Kubota

        Hey Lucifer. You don't look like the picture of health either.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:18 am |
        • Lucifer

          Yeah I'll admit........it's a tad warm down here but maybe it's just me

          December 13, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      The tribe of Ephraim is in Ethiopia today, just ask them.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  18. mick

    None of us were there at the time, soooo................... the remainder of the story is just plain ol' run of the mill faith.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  19. Suzy Mack

    At least AIDS is real. I'll settle for that.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • Jimmy Mack

      You want AIDS?

      December 13, 2013 at 11:18 am |
      • John P. Tarver

        Bug hunter.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:20 am |
      • lord Kubota

        I like it when gay atheists get it. Proves God's existence.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  20. Clarence LeBlanc

    Jesus is simply a combination of many myths dating over 1000 years BC. Make your imaginary friend any colour you want. The only miracle is that people who live indoors are still talking about this.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      John the Baptist is an historical figure, due to the riot he started killing 120,000 Magis; driving out the false religions.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:12 am |
      • fred

        Oh but i thought 'thou shall not do murder'..........unless in the name of god. Then it's kill, kill ,kill

        December 13, 2013 at 11:15 am |
      • AmazingBuddhist

        Funny how one can automatically call other religions "false religion" and then claim without scientific proof that it's the only true religion.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:22 am |
      • Thinker...

        That sounds like more than a riot.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Dan

      Well said.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • Opposing View

      2 John 1:7 – For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist...

      December 13, 2013 at 11:30 am |
      • G to the T

        Try sticking to Mark. It's a lot less fantastical...

        December 13, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • FellowTraveler70

      "Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and most biblical scholars and classical historians see the theories of his non-existence as effectively from Wikipedia

      December 13, 2013 at 12:16 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.