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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. Kurtis Wagner

    "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."

    Ah.. BS-NN has decreed that all of America has refused to acknowledge the "Christian Savior" as a Caucasian. I guess that's to be expected as they think they can do no wrong, when in fact they are such a low rated cable news feed that they resort to ANY tactic, including race-baiting (like in this article), stating opinion as fact, and accepting input from Jewish comedy news anchormen as the go-to for correct info on Christianity. Kind of like asking a dog for their opinion on why cats act like they do.

    The attempts by the media to write Caucasians out of history is familiar. Say bad what you want about the German National Socialist Party of the 1930s & early 40s, but when they want, social & political groups these days love to employ their tactics to twist the world to their warped view.... basically because they were and ARE very effective.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
    • lol??

      The Diverse Beast is a melting pot of ideology, too??

      December 13, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
    • sam

      Oh, shut the hell up. The fact remains that Jesus, if he existed, sure as hell wasn't white. Grow up.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
      • lol??

        Hell?? Are you a believer??

        December 13, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
      • jim davis

        Proof that Jesus wasn't black is the fact that the Bible condones slavery.

        December 13, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
        • lol??

          Well Moses did have to pull off a rescue mission.

          December 13, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • Todd Taras

      ? Real or not; Nazareth, like today, didn't have many caucasians, anglos, aryans, whatever you call choose to call them. Also, I think you're nuts.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
    • Scott

      This is not an attempt to write white caucasions out of history but to tell it like it is. Jesus was from Nazareth, he was a Jew, to assume he is white skinned is historically laughable. this tradition comes from interpretation of the Bible from people who had never been to the Middle East and knew little or nothing of History. Just as the Mideviel artist painted biblical stories in 13th century armor and dress, American religious leaders wanted Jesus to reflect their image of the world, so in White society he became white. Correcting this is not revisionist, it is part of the scientific persuit of fact from fiction.

      Of course there are many Religious Right advocates that do not accept historic or scientific facts and believe in Creationism over proven Evolution, believe the earth is 5000 years old instead of Billions reguardless of the fossil and rock record.

      In the end these people are arguing over the face of a man whose teachings are more important than his skin tone. If being olived skinned is a game changer for a Christian then maybe they need to ponder their beliefs. The message of Jesus has always been more important than the man. But perhaps this desire to make Jesus conform to these Fundamentalist views instead of them conforming to his teachings is why there is so much hate, bigotry, lack of compassion, militancy and unacceptance of others that seems to perpetuate the American Fundamentalist Christian political scene. Mr. Cruz and Rick Perry are not exactly pinacles of Christian Charity yet they are exonerated by the Religious Right

      December 13, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
      • lol??

        Americans did it??

        December 13, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
      • Kurtis Wagner

        I believe in no religion what-so-ever, however, neither creationism, nor evolution has been "proven" as you claim (hence the "missing link", etc).

        But a with BS-NN struggling for ratings, I'm sure they'll say Jesus was a black alien from Sirius, but they won't say jack about other religious figures whose holidays are also happening around this time of the year. Any negative words for Judah or Mohammed? Nah... there's not enough ratings vs. trouble they'd get into to make it worth their while. So, I guess it'll be a while before anyone really comes to the realization of whats going on, and by that time, it'll be another holocaust.. or will it just be considered supporting "cultural diversity"?

        December 13, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
  2. Steven Gold

    It's like arguing what color Harvey the invisible giant rabbit is.
    Santa is not real.
    If Jesus was real, he was a man or preached.
    That's it.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
    • Kurtis Wagner

      You do know that they showed what Harvey looked like at the end of the film right?

      December 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
      • Steven Gold

        Yes. " end of the film". Key word film, as in not real.

        December 13, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
  3. Mopery

    He was the son of God, and saved many from evil: Praise Perseus!

    December 13, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
    • Steven Gold

      To bad for those born before he was around to save them from the 'one true god'. Not one of the many other 'true' gods. But for me if someone likes to believe that, well knock yourselves out and enjoy.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
  4. Faux News strikes again

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdkGA_rgHRY&w=640&h=390]

    December 13, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
    • Sammy Davis Jr.

      Funny, but the FOX pundits are funnier.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
  5. John

    Lol now that I think of it Malt Liquor and KFC is WAAAAY better than stupid milk and cookies

    December 13, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
    • Mopery

      The 1950's called, they want their stereotypes back.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
    • .

      Oooh. See the pretty bigot.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
    • DB

      Racist, eh? Oh I bet you don't even think it is! And yet it's pretty damn racist to trade in stereotypes like that.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
  6. sanity

    What's really weird is that Obama's mother is white, but liberals insist that he is black.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
    • John

      If he is not black what is he?

      December 13, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
      • sanity

        White. What other options do you see?

        December 13, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
        • Steven Gold

          Mixed race.
          This is not hard.

          December 13, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
        • sanity

          Steve, hen was the last time you heard MSNBC call Obama "mixed race"?

          December 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
        • Steven Gold

          Sure. But I personally don't really care what popular media or others say. If a person is the product of two races, it's mixed race, at least from a technical point of view.

          December 13, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
      • Frank

        Gray

        December 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
      • sanity

        Steve, I agree, of course.

        December 13, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
    • Wally M

      And what is the evidence that 'liberals' (specifically) claim that 'Obama is black'?

      Can you produce a graph with liberalism on the X axis, and claim-of-blackness on the Y axis?

      December 13, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
      • sanity

        I suggest that you start following the news. I'm pretty sure Obama is called first black President of the US by NYT, CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, NPR, Reid, Pelosi, Biden, Matthews,...

        December 13, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
        • sanity

          "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man." –Joe Biden on Barack Obama

          December 13, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
  7. Ted

    Jesus was not black or white. He probably had more of an olive complexion being from the middle east. The west has given Jesus the white, chiseled, anglo look.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
  8. Dan

    As far as Jesus goes, I know lots of Jewish people, and I can tell you this . . . they're NOT BLACK.

    Saying that Jews are black . . . is a lie.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
    • Sammy Davis Jr.

      Excuse me?

      December 13, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • Whoopie Goldberg

      Excuse moi?

      December 13, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
    • Lenny Kravitz

      Say whaaaaaa?

      December 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • kenkajin

      Yeah, because it's a well know fact Jewish people didn't come from the Middle East/Northern Africa like all the historical records have shown.

      That group of Jews in Ethiopia? Yeah, they just got lost going to Katz's for a bagel and schmear.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
  9. Jaffa

    Jesus was an alien from another planet who raised Lazarus from the dead with CPR. He used a replicator on his star ship to feed the 5000 and healed the blind with a laser scalpel. He was black, gay and had an Australian accent.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
  10. jimbo

    Let's see, son of God and a virgin mother. So what color is God? Figuring that out should keep Megan's brain twisted in knots for a while.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • Steven Gold

      That color would be: clear.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
  11. Ronnje Harper

    I knew Jesus was black the first time I ever heard about the person almost forty years ago. So if you have ever thought this person called Jesus was white you are simply stupid. Religion is stupid and makes for stupid people. Religion is a pox on humanity – a disease of the mind.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • Brandon

      Why is religion stupid? just because there are stupid people that are religious doesn't mean all religion is stupid. the same could be said about anything. ive know some pretty stupid athiests

      December 13, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
  12. Bootyfunk

    jesus was white? the "king of the jews"? now that's funny. yes, most of the people in isreal/Middle East sure look white... lol.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • Frank Calzone

      They are olive skin but still Caucasian.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
      • Sensible

        Err no…that makes him an Arab..he certainly was NOT caucasian

        December 13, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
  13. Ummmm

    After you're dead you don't have a body anymore...and therefore you no longer have skin to have a skin color. So what Jesus of Nazareth and Nicholas of Myra are currently is probably clear.
    During life you had an Israeli and a Greek.
    Again neither of them has skin anymore.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • PJ

      Well, you have clearly never read the Bible. Because Jesus Christ was "resurrected". Which means he got his body back. You can look it up.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
  14. Marsh

    Whether black, white, pink or blue.....maybe the focus should be on their message and less about the color. If you don't know the message that's being given by these two icons, then maybe you shouldn't comment on Megan's show either!

    December 13, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      and what are the messages from these two "icons"?

      December 13, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
      • No one

        Handouts to the poor, which is rather an amusing contrast to what some use their names for. As much as many do not care about the Pope, he's currently making those who do care go ballistic.

        December 13, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
      • Steven Gold

        For Santa, if you are 'good' you get toys/gifts. Nice a commercial.
        For Jesus, if you believe anything other than what one religion says, your wrong and will suffer for ever (but he loves you).

        December 13, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
    • Thomas

      Agreed, but good luck getting the left to stop playing the race card.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        and good luck getting the right not to be racists...

        December 13, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
        • Mopery

          They'll all be gone in another generation anyhow.

          December 13, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
      • .

        Thomas, you dim bulb, the only one making this racist are your idiots at Fox.

        December 13, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
  15. Dan

    Uh . . . Santa is white, because he was invented by white people in a country populated by white people.

    If Santa isn't white, then Fat Albert isn't black.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      christmas trees come from an egyptian tradition.
      gift giving was taken from a roman custom - in fact, the dec. 25th holiday is based on the roman holiday Roman Saturnalia.
      other parts of christmas were taken from different cultures....

      December 13, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
    • Josh

      Santa is based on Saint Nicholas who was from Turkey... Likely a Turk or Greek.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  16. Captain Wolff

    I'm fine with Santa being white, remember that he's Greek, not Nordic. He only looks Nordic because living for 1700 years tends to result in a general lack of pigmentation, among other things.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
  17. lean6

    This is hilarious. I guess Fixed News is trying to come to grip with the failure of the birther movement as a way to redeem its faith in a perfect white world. Plan B: Santa Claus and Jesus. Good luck getting THOSE birth certificates.

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

      Yep, about the same odds as getting Barry to release his Harvard grades transcript.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
      • lean6

        Lol. It's much more useful to have the mental midgets obsessing over it, occupying themselves like a cat with a ball of yarn.

        December 13, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
  18. I thought

    Jesus was Jewish?

    December 13, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
  19. James Barber

    Does that mean that Mr. and Mrs God were white? Did god only make the white man? Who made every one else? Back to ancient aliens.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
  20. Gyh8r

    I guess if you don't like don't watch it! DUH!

    December 13, 2013 at 9:08 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.