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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. Marc

    Let's have another silly fight ok? Like America needs more of these....I have to agree with MLK. It doesn't matter what color his skin was. It was his message that was important. Let's move on to more important things....like his message now.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
    • PJ

      Well said.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
  2. John

    So, let's see, Man was created in the image of God. At least the Old Testament says that. So if Man came out of Africa, especially when anthropologists say, then he had to have been black. If Jesus was the Son of the Father, according to the New Testament, then by definition, he was black or at least some color other than white.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
    • lngtrmthnkr

      John. I've seen a drawing of what Jesus would have looked like in his day ,in his region and his race at that time.He was dark complected with dark hair and eyes. But that dos'nt change anything about who he was or what he said.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • skyler

      Do you know that Jesus took his Father's name as his middle name? That's why they call him Jesus H. Christ.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
      • jdoe

        Herbert?

        December 13, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • jdoe

      Some people don't believe in evolution. For them man did not come out of Africa.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
  3. valoree

    I saw snippets of this on the comedy channel when they were making fun of it. It was the dumbest thing I have seen in decades. Ms Kelly deserves all the ribbing she gets.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
  4. Robert Brown

    Luke 3: 21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
    • skyler

      Does anyone else hear the voice of Linus from Charlie Brown when reading Robert's borrowed words?

      December 13, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
  5. SoulMan

    The Scriptures show he was a Hebrew. Matthew chapter 1 traces his lineage back to Adam, to Abraham, and so on. Why the hub-bub? He loved us and died for us. Enough Said.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
  6. Jim

    George Washington wasn't white, either.

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

      And your point being?

      December 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
  7. skyler

    As if.

    Any woman who would even think of supporting conservative policy – especially the social variety – doesn't really have any brains to begin with. Kelly who?

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

      Relevance to topic at hand? None. Begone leftist troll.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
      • KevinInPHX

        Let me explain how it was relevant. He was saying that another female, that supported the views that Megyn Kelly has, would have to also be a brain-dead moron. Pretty relevant. Certainly more so than your drivel.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  8. Don DaMiddle

    https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1680&bih=910&q=real+jesus+photo&oq=real+jesus&gs_l=img.1.1.0l10.4661.13208.0.16249.10.8.0.2.2.0.175.978.0j8.8.0....0...1ac.1.32.img..0.10.1013.H_qKF9WxUfo#facrc=_&imgrc=Ea60AkIXDyDpmM%3A%3BNHR60fmjIWCXZM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.popularmechanics.com%252Fcm%252Fpopularmechanics%252Fimages%252FIV%252Fface-of-jesus-01-0312-de.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.popularmechanics.com%252Fscience%252Fhealth%252Fforensics%252F1282186%3B300%3B300

    December 13, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
  9. Katya

    Jesus is a Jew, not a white European. The idea that Jesus is a white, blue eyed man comes from the European painters' representation of Jesus.

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

      Jew is a religion, not a race. So....?

      December 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
      • JJ

        Jew is a religion AND a race. Sorry.

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

          Being Jewish is a matter of one's religion, and (usually) also of one's *ethnic group* (*not of one's race*). [I say "usually" because one could, of course, have converted, to being Jewish.]

          December 13, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
  10. JJ

    If modern day Talibangelical Christians were to go back in time and meet a smelly dark skinned, bare foot, sweaty, nappy haired guy carpenter who claimed to be the son of god and had come to save humanity they would spit upon and look down their nose at him.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • politimom2

      Ironically Megyn Kelly will never meet Jesus because bigotry is not allowed in heaven

      December 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
      • hemipristis

        There goes your shot, sweetheart

        December 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
        • politimom2

          Noticing bigotry isnt commiting it but I'm cool

          December 13, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
  11. Robert Brown

    Luke 2: 41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. 43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. 44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. 45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. 46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. 47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. 48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. 49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? 50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. 51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • skyler

      Earth to Robert.... Earth to Robert....

      December 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
      • SoulMan

        Hey Skyfoo, what's yer prob? Oh yeah...never mind.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
        • skyler

          That's Mister Skyfoo to you.

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

      who wrote this?

      December 13, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
      • Robert Brown

        Doctor Luke put the words on paper. Luke is the thinking mans gospel. At the time, he was writing it to the Greeks.

        December 13, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
  12. politimom2

    What difference does it make there wont be any racists in heaven so who cares

    December 13, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
  13. Nomad-TO

    From what I hear and see about Jesus in in America, he must be a Southern Republican, who needs some training on women, minorities, healthcare and immigration issues 🙂

    December 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • Nomad-TO

      And, Santa Clause is the NSA chief who is implanting listening devices on our computers and smartphones, so the Republican Jesus can hear us at all times....Because he loves us 🙂

      December 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
  14. Tom N. Jerry

    I imagine Megyn got quite a few rug burns on her knees auditioning for her job, because I cannot think of any other qualifications she has.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
  15. CNeder

    There was Never anyone by the name of Jesus who loved two thousand years ago. The REAL Messiah of Israel who lived 2000 years ago was Jewish. And his name was Y'shua.

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

      Which is translated as "Jesus" in some languages.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
  16. hemipristis

    In today's PC culture, neither can be white because all good things are -of color. Only bad things are white. That's the current meme. Didn't you get the memo?

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

      Dum de dum dum. Learn some history.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
      • hemipristis

        I've forgotten more history than you know, Ms Dot. Frankly, so has my cat.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
    • The Jester

      I know! The poor white people, when will they ever get a break?

      December 13, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  17. jdoe

    Maybe he was albino. That would explain it.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
  18. tony b

    ok so 967,000 paintings of jesus and santa are all wrong, he was black

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

      You can paint Jesus or Santa purple. That means it's so, right? Take your meds.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • Nice Logic

      Yeah, 967,000 paintings done by people who had never seen him and who were born centuries later MUST be accurate.

      That makes him a blond, too.

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

        As accurate as your insinuation that he wasn't.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
        • Nice Logic

          Thank you for that. I do enjoy a good laugh. And remember: I'm not laughing with you; I'm laughing at you.

          December 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
    • UptheStairs

      All of the paintings of Jesus that are available were painted by people who were alive hundreds of years after Christ's death. Who cares what color he is. I'm more interested in proof that he was actually the son of God. Still we wait on that.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
  19. Ronald Elrod

    Really??? Are we really going there? Do we really need to give Santa Claus or even Jesus Christ a color? Why can't people just accept the fact that sometimes, at least with Jesus Christ and even God, are multiracial. Meaning, unless you were there in the flesh to witness them, you really don't know what race they are. Now, as for Santa Claus, as much as this is going to hurt some of you, he is not real. So, he can be any race, color, or national origin you want him to be. But I just wish people would stop the DRAMA and let it go! Religion is supposed to, and I say SUPPOSED TO, teach us tolerance when it comes to people of other races, creeds, colors and even other religions. My question is, what friggin' DIFFERENCE does it make WHAT color or race Jesus Christ, or God for that matter, is? So, let's just stop the race debate, PLEASE!!!

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

      Amen. A breath of sanity.

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

        Unlike yours..phew! No sanity here....

        December 13, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
        • hemipristis

          LMAO, the blog equivalent of "yeah, but what am I?" what are you, 12?

          December 13, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
    • .

      Tell that to the hysterical Megyn. She's the dip that started it.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
      • hemipristis

        sheesh, your reading comprehension skills are terrible too. If you read the story, you would know that she was responding to some lady-of-color who was wailing about the blackness of santa & jesus. So it was not her that started it.

        December 13, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
    • Ronald Elrod

      Actually, now that I think about it, Jesus Christ was actually JEWISH! I have absolutely nothing against the Jews, or anyone else for that matter. But I would like, just once, for people to stop being racist. It IS Christmas time and I feel that we need to be especially kind and generous to others, no matter WHAT color they might be. If you can't do it for me, do it for God or Jesus Christ. If you're agnostic, or even atheist, do it for a loved one who has passed on.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
      • An Atheist

        >If you're agnostic, or even atheist, do it for a loved one who has passed on.

        Because that's totally what makes us tick. Try, "do it because it makes you feel good to be nice to other people and not sow strife." The reason ALL people do nice things, religious or not. Trust me, there are LOTS of religious people that are not nice at all.

        December 13, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  20. jim davis

    Don't blame ME, I voted for McCain and Romney.

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

      Then you're a warmongering idiot. What dies that have to do with the story?

      December 13, 2013 at 8:35 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.