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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. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    We know that Santa Claus is white becuase he has a sidekick called Black Pete (Zwarte Piet).

    December 13, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  2. BuckRogere

    An Austrian corporal with a little mustache thought Jesus was a Celt. At leas he said he thought that. He was not renowned for his truthiness.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  3. troll Spotter

    Jesus was beige.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • The bible is a badly written book of fairy tales

      This is your contribution to the discussion?

      December 13, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
  4. strangerq

    GOP rejects every elements of Jesus message of love and charity.

    But prattle on about his skin color?

    I still think Obama being elected President has caused them to loose their minds.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • tessie may

      Yeah me too. You can almost see them frothing at the mouth. It represents everything they fear in life.

      December 16, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
  5. YeahItsMe72

    The bible comes from a part of the world where people have darker skin than norther europeans and it's not the same place as where white Europeans come from. I think you can pretty safely assume that everyone in the bible is not white. Jesus, in the new testament, Moses in the old. It's not a part of the world where white people are from period.

    It's like when Elvis made blue Hawaii and is love interest was a native Hawaiin with blonde hair. Just creative license to make the story more acceptable to this audience.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
  6. David R. Scott

    TALK IGNORANT... LITTLE STUPID WHITE GIRL KNOWS GOD IS WHITE.... How stupid fox news is.... hillbilly heaven!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • troll Spotter

      Here is a REALLY cap locked ignorant one. AVOID!!!!!!!

      December 13, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
  7. human being

    We are all human beings, and everyone has a right to their opinions. I could care less about what anyone in the media thinks. The fact is that race makes people assume too much, race is too personal. White people are sensitive to white issues, black people are sensitive to black issues. The focus should not be on race, but on humanity. Look at yourselves posting racially insenitive comments that are hurtful, and false for that matter just to prove your point. Seriously you would think that America has grown up after all our history with race. Our awful and brutal history with race cannot be erased, but it can be overshadowed by humanity. One thing I love about this country is that when we need to, black, white, hispanic, or asian decent we stick together. That was proven after 911, after VT, after Boston, after Newtown and so many other instances where race didn't matter. We are reduced to Santa Claus and Jesus today, it doens't make sense to me. I am a black man: fact, my ancestors were slaves: fact, I love America: fact, I was born human with no knowlegde of race: fact. My point is we are taught these racial boundaries and for what reason as a species do we separate? We all bleed the same, are born the same, and die the same.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • tessie may

      Slavery is our (relatively young) country's "childhood trauma". It influences our entire view of ourselves, our society, and our place in it. I don't know if we can ever overcome it since we can't even speak openly abut it. Every time I think we are making progress, I hear a white person talking about "welfare queens" and black people talking about "blue eyed devils". Sigh. Now people want to drag God into it. Who cares what color he is? As he came to save all mankind-which includes womankind-his physical appearance is of no consequence. What tiny little minds he/she gave most of us.

      December 16, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  8. JT

    Jesus was neither Black or White. He was light brown...so was Santa. Both sides lose!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • Steve

      Actually they are both aliens (the outer space kind). No other explanation for both Jesus' and Santa's miracles. (See Arthur C. Clark – Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.) So they are both green or gray. Not sure which. (Please note this is a joke...sarcasm...believe anything you want.)
      Do we really care that some idiot on Fox spouts completely unverifiable facts? Spoiler Alert: Hey, Megan, SANTA IS NOT REAL. GET A LIFE.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
  9. phazon

    If people actually followed the bible and didn't hanged carved images of worship up this wouldn't even be an issue what the bible say you shall not have any Gods before me Claiming that a picture of Jesus is actually a picture of him and thinking it protects you or keeps you safe is an act of worship. You can try and contradict all you like but the bible is very clear on this matter. Even thought the Israelites made a cow to represent God and not a different God shows that God does not approve of any items used in worship.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
  10. Gene

    OMG seriously? Pathetic.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
  11. from the right hand of God

    No, when I was in human form I certainly was not "white" but looked like the other Palestinians there at that time; now I come in all colors. btw. Santa Claus does not exist. I do. Nor does Rudolf. or Frosty the Snowman. or the Easter bunny. Try to worship and celebrate Love (=God) rather than Mammon for a change, a good one.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • David R. Scott

      THE GOP ARE WOMEN HATING BIGOTS!

      December 13, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
      • rs1201

        And you're a toothless trailer trash person!

        December 13, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
  12. jim davis

    Jesus is no fun, at least Santa brings you cool stuff!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  13. One one

    God is black. He made man in his own image. The first humans originated from Africa. They were black. If they were god's image, then god must be black.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • troll Spotter

      Here is a racist one. Does it really matter what color YOU think God is?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • TheTruth

      Jesus was a Jew, who's lineage is traced to the beginning of the Jews. He was white – but Martin Luther King, Jr. was right: the color of his skin is meaningless. The only important thing is what He did for mankind.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Steve

      God has a color? Really?

      December 13, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
  14. BuckRogere

    If there even was a Jesus, he was Semitic. That means he had brown hair – not blonde.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  15. Friend of Brian H.

    Oh, give me a f***ing break. I'm sick and tired of this politically-correct crap. Santa Claus is white and Jesus is white. End of discussion. Get over it.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • Eliyah Yisrael

      Jesus was white? PROVE IT!!!

      December 13, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
      • jim davis

        The Bible says "Jesus WALKED across the water"...it doesn't say he "SHUFFLED across the water".

        December 13, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
        • Eliyah Yisrael

          He also hide and blended in among the africans. Just like paul was confused as an african just like moses lived in the house of an african and pretended to be one.

          December 13, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
      • john isner

        Prove he wasn't!

        December 13, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
        • Eliyah Yisrael

          read the comment above I just did lol!!!

          December 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • David R. Scott

      STUPID GOP MORON

      December 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
      • jim davis

        She practiced law for 9 years what do YOU do?

        December 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
        • rs1201

          My guess is he cleans toilets...public toilets!

          December 13, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
      • troll Spotter

        To the left of your keyboard is a CAP lock button, turn it off.

        December 13, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
        • The bible is a badly written book of fairy tales

          HOW DO YOU KNOW HE'S NOT HARD OF HEARING?

          December 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
  16. Sunnysmom

    There is so much wrong with that Fox piece not even including the race issue. I'm not even Christian and I'm offended that she compared Jesus to Santa Claus. Megyn Kelly is certifiable.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • vinster76

      methinks you be jealous cuz she is hot and you are probably NOT........I never knew a woman not to be jealous of another woman's appearance....

      December 13, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
  17. mrerry christmas

    oh well.. more hate to spread around this Christmas.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  18. kevinn

    Jesus was an aramaic jew. He was caucasian, lived in the middle east, he probably spent a lot of time outside (his stepdad was a carpenter after all) he probably had a pretty good tan. I mean we know his family going back to David right? What are we arguing about? He definitely wasn't a blonde scandanavian guy.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
  19. My two-cents

    Why do people get offended by the physical description of religious figures? Stop believing that religious figures and selected groups of people are somehow superior to other humans. The so-called World's great religions have and continue to kill, oppress, hate, fight wars, etc in the name of their beliefs.

    Here are the lyrics from one of John Lennon's songs:

    Imagine there's no heaven
    It's easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today...

    Imagine there's no countries
    It isn't hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace...

    You may say I'm a dreamer
    But I'm not the only one
    I hope someday you'll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world...

    You may say I'm a dreamer
    But I'm not the only one
    I hope someday you'll join us
    And the world will live as one

    December 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • Nice try

      Been there, done that. It was called the Soviet Union.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • HM8432

      Trotting out that B-Rated song again? In his last Rolling Stone interview, John Lennon denounced the extremist views he had in his younger days. He expressed that he enjoyed debating Liberals who had the misguided views that he had once had. That, and he was a Reagan supporter. If he still believed there was no God in 1980, then he quickly found out whether or not he was correct!

      December 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
    • e4productions

      Rev. 1:13-15
      Jesus feet were like fine brass as burnt in fire.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  20. vinster76

    Oh Lordy, the pizza is here!!!!! Thank God, now I can get off this site.....

    December 13, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • rupert

      Is it pepperoni? I like pepperoni pizza.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
      • vinster76

        we got a couple Supreme Pizzas, gotta have the black olives. green peppers, onions, as well as the pepperoni.....Oops, did I just say black olives? Sh-it, I am in trouble with some ethnic group now......

        December 13, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • jim davis

      Liberals don't want you to eat pizza (if you are white) there are starving children in non-European countries.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:32 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.