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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. Scott

    Jesus WAS NOT white. He was born in the Middle East and so he was dark as Indians. NO Gods in any religion was White. Almost all the religion in this world, their gods were born in Asian continent.
    It is really weird to see Jesus as a white man in Posters and Pictures. This is wrong. He was a very very dark man.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • Sam Harris

      The Jews and Arabs are genetically classified as whites.. get over it,, its science.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
      • .

        With waspy blonde hair and blue eyes, too.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
      • politimom2

        Of course because white is a clinically acceptable classification of humans lmbo

        December 13, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
    • John

      Jesus was a Jew. All the Jews I know have light colored skin.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
      • Sammy Davis Jr.

        Whoopi Goldberg?

        December 13, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
  2. Kim

    If Jesus was white he would have died from skin cancer while wandering around the desert for 40 hot days. No need for a crucifixion to save souls.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  3. Fritz Hohenheim

    Come on, people get real. IF Jesus existed, he was a Jew. He probably looked like most of the Jews that live in Israel now. Kinda white, yes, enough to pass as white people in Europe. Nikolaus who is based on a greek Bishop in Cyprus I believe was certainly a Mediterranean whitish person.

    To argue that they were black or brown or whatever is just plain stupid, just like the depiction of black Queen Nofretete. It's nothing but black racism in this case, understandable, but still plain and simple untrue.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • hemipristis

      *Bingo*

      December 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • Joe

      The vast majority of Jews living in Israel are of European origin. They look European because they inter-bred with Europeans. The sephardic Jews are the Jews that remained in the middle east from the time of Jesus. They didn't interbreed with anyone. They look much like Jesus would have looked. They are short, olive skinned, curly hair, and lots of body hair. Just like Arabs who are also of the same Semitic Ethnic group which is NOT Caucasian. The only Caucasians in the middle east are Persians.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
  4. Tos Hiba

    years ago two preachers (one was a black man and the other was white) were arguing about what color God was.... they both prayed over it for sometime and when they meet again the white preacher said God didnt tell him what color he was,but the black preacher said God told me "I AM WHAT I AM" the white preacher said i told you he was white !!!! the black one said how do you get hes white from sayng i am what i am ? the white one said because if he was blac he would have said "I IS WHAT I IS"

    December 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
  5. Robert Brown

    Luke 2: 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a mult.itude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
      • mebury

        ahhh fairy tale time.

        December 13, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
    • Fritz Hohenheim

      And your point is?

      December 13, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
      • Robert Brown

        Merry Christmas Fritz!

        December 13, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
  6. yoda

    Jesus was probably as white as Osama bin Laden

    December 13, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  7. jim davis

    First they take away Christmas by calling it "Holiday" or "Winter Vacation" and we now have "Giving Trees" now we can't have a white Jesus or even a white Santa. Liberals suck.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • Clue for the clueless

      Your Christmas hasn't been affected at all, you blithering dingbat.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • .

      Conservitardo. Learn some history, idiot.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • Mike

      Don't pin this all on liberals. I am a staunch secular republican.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • Rymond James

      What does a liberal have to do with knowing Jesus was a Jew with dark /olive complexion and black hair? Anyone with sense of history/ geography should know that.

      Conservatives should be able to figure that out. Why would Judas have to kiss Jesus for the soldiers know who to arrest? Because he looked like everyone else.

      A good conservative should know the Bible and not have to ask a liberal what the good book says.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  8. Mike

    Laughable debate by small minded simpletons who believe in ghosts and goblins and angels. This is a testimony to the power of social brain washing.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • jim davis

      LIE-BERALISM is a testimony to the power of social brain washing!

      December 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
      • Mike

        I am a secular republican pal.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
      • .

        Jesus was a liberal, dork.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
        • Mike

          You knew Jesus? Dork.

          December 13, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
  9. GR Downtown

    Kelly should just own it and say "You know what? I misspoke. The historical Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew, who was not white. The Santa Claus mythology is present in many cultures, but if you want to trace it to the 4th Century Bishop of Myra, that guy was born in what is now Turkey. Turks are not white. So Megyn, just own it and move on.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • FOX News Editorial Staff

      Too many syllables for Megyn. Could you get those down to monosyllables for her please? Thanks

      December 13, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • .

      She panders to her base of bigots. What do you expect?

      December 13, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • hemipristis

      "Middle Eastern Jew"= Caucasian. i.e., White

      Ok, next subject?

      December 13, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Pretty hard to when she already declared it a "fact".

      December 13, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
  10. ksubigj

    I like to picture my Jesus as a Super Mario type. Clearly not white. Racist "Christians" are hysterical.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • jim davis

      Go kiss your Obama shrine.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  11. southerngent

    What are you worried about? Obamacare is wonderful, the debt is growing, the economy is slowly growing, ALL IS WELL IN LIBBY LAND, UH! NOT! DEMS HAVE CONTROL OF 2 BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT, REID MADE SURE WITH THE NUCLEAR OPTION THE CAN OVERRIDE EVERYTHING ELSE! YOU SHOULD BE ECSTATIC. SINCE I DON'T READ FOX EVERY DAY LIKE YOU DO WITH CNN, I WILL CONCEDE MY MISTAKE ON THIS STORY WILL YOU CONCEDE ON OBAMA'S FAILURE AS A PRESIDENT?

    December 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • Larry

      I love the all-caps screamers.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
      • edfinkel

        I know, right? Who exhumed Sam Kinison so he could comment on here?

        December 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
      • southerngent

        at least answer (whisper) the FXNG QUESTION (YELLING)!

        December 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
        • Larry

          Okay. Here, I'll even yell it for you:

          OBAMA IS THE WORST PRESIDENT SINCE GEORGE W. BUSH!

          December 13, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
  12. Eric R.

    The debate over whether Jesus is white is stupid considering Jesus isn't even real.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • Mike

      Jesus was real. But he was just a guy. Not a God.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • Bill the Cat

      No reputable historian believes that. Only the fringe nuts do. Even atheist historians agree that Jesus of Nazareth existed.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
      • mebury

        no we don't

        December 13, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
  13. Vickie

    The Santa that I grew up was white. The Santa that my kids and grandkids have grown up with is also white and will continue to be. As for Jesus, who know? Jewish people are white and the BIble says that Jesus was Jewish. Who really cares and what difference does it make? This has all gotten incredibly short sighted and stupid.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
    • .

      Do you really think that the Hebrews were white?
      Do you think that a Greek living in Turkey was white?
      Do you know anything at all besides your fear of brown people?

      December 13, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
      • hemipristis

        It is generally accepted that "Caucasian"= white. And middle-easterners are Caucasian. Do I need to connect the dots here for you?

        December 13, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
        • gisher

          Oh so you have never heard of an Israeli who was black?

          December 13, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
        • Joe

          Caucasian does not include the Semitic groups, which are their own ethnicity entirely. The only Caucasians in the middle east are the Iranians. Arabs and Jews are Semitic.

          December 13, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • Scott

      Jesus WAS NOT white. He was born in the Middle East and so he was dark as Indians. NO Gods in any religion was White. Almost all the religion in this world, their gods were born in Asian continent.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
      • hemipristis

        See comment above.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
      • Joe

        Apparently you've never heard of the Norse gods what with it being so unusual and rare and never talked about. In fact I bet you've never even heard of Thor the God of Thunder or Odin the All Father or even Loki the God of Mischief. Yep, just absolutely no way you could know about the gods of the Vikings.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
    • gisher

      You are going to say straight faced that a totally fabricated creation called Santa Claus who also has flying reindeer is a known proven color? Seriously? Have you lost your mind? How the hell can you prove anything that is an entire work of fiction? Yes I know Santa was bases on Saint Nic ...pardon me but how is a Greek living in Turkey anything less than very heavily suntanned at best?

      As for Jesus, most think he existed, including myself, but he was a Jew living in Israel and I cannot tell most Arabs from most Jews.

      What should be said is I am sure most people want their icons to be less threatening which if one is white, pretty much makes those icons white. And what a sad, pathetic shame that is.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
  14. Robert Constant

    Fox News? What she probably wanted to say is that Jesus was Irish and voted for the local version of the Tea Party.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
    • Vickie

      She said exactly what she intended to say and is actually a very smart lady. Some of us are tired of people trying to rewrite history for their own agenda and trying to change traditions that have been around for years. Enough already, it's ridiculous. Have a black Santa, have a black God, who cares? Mine is white and will continue to be.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
  15. Jake Gittes

    Stupid girl say something stupid. That's now what passes for news.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  16. Bo

    Basically, I feel that Jesus was brown and this is why....In the Bible, it states that when Jesus was born Herod sent his soldiers out to kill all the first born boys, Yet, Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt to hide from the Jewish King. Now, think about that, he goes to Egypt to hide. If he was white in those days, he would stand out like a soar thumb. Why didn't he go to Rome or other parts of Europe? Because he was not white. He wanted to blend in with people that looked like and talked like them.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
  17. Copenshaw

    Because the article is intended to just incite.. Look at the header..

    Since it is Jesus, and not Mohammed, it does not come with health warnings.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
  18. DeathStalker74

    This notion that Santa was not white is total BS. The real St.Nicholas was GREEK! He was NOT a penguin! As for Jesus, he was most likely olive skinned. Regardless, we have enough pictures of him over thousands of years to know that he was not black, asian, etc. Stop trying to rewrite history and just accept that certain things are the way they are – even if they don't fit the PC mold that our society is so fixated on creating.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • politimom2

      Uh Santa was Greek but from an area in Turkey.... In turkey people are also olive skinned which was likely the case for Santa as well.... besides no one is white except albinos

      December 13, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
    • paulaaruggiero

      We have pictures of Jesus? This is the most hilarious thing I've heard all week. Thanks for the laugh.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • Robert Constant

      What a complete joke! You believe the artists' renditions of what they think Jesus might have looked like are real! That is amazing! Thank you. I haven't heard anything that amusing for years! Here is one for you. Nobody knows when Jesus was born. December 25th was chosen hundreds of years later arbitrarily, some believe because it coincided with the winter solstice before calendar changes. Also scholars are still disputing whether Jesus spoke Hebrew or Aramaic.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
  19. Iulu

    I don't care what color Santa Claus is all I want from him is what I asked in the letter that I mailed last week, I'm pretty sure he will read it on time...

    December 13, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
  20. reidme

    Who cares if he's black or white? He came to help us get through each day. And if you believe, came to save us.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:20 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.