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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. BeBoppin

    I thought Jesus was from Bethlehem, PA. Mostly likely he is white. Case closed.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
  2. Jeff

    White people want a white Santa, and we should keep our Santa white.

    If that offends the other races then let them make their own movies, cartoons, etc. that depict a colored santa. I won't watch them, but at least it'll stop some of the whining.

    Our country has become disgustingly politically correct, unless it serves a motive.

    Indians, for example can open Casinos but white people can't. That's obviously racial favoritism, and then the Indians have the chicken _ _ _ _ audacity to cry about the Washington "Redskins."

    December 13, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
  3. Anna

    He was Semitic, and very likely quite middle-eastern looking, based on the region he was from and era. Most black people would consider him white. Most whites today in America would consider him Arabic. But, since we humans have been mixing with one another for a tens of thousands of years, since it is more likely that any random black person on earth has more in common genetically with a random white person than another random black person (due to probability, because there are so many black people from differing genetic subgroups), and since humans share 96% of our genetic makeup with chimps, the concept of "race" is really, scientifically, just a fiction best left to ignorant crazies like the Aryan nation.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
  4. Steve Smith

    What a surprise–another FOX news racist.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
    • lol??

      Only one race walked off the ark. Are you wrong or dem??

      December 13, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
      • This should be good

        So how did the other races come into being and get all over the globe in such a short time?

        December 13, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
        • lol??

          Doin' what comes naturally.

          December 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
        • This should be good

          So now it's nature doing it, eh?

          December 13, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
        • lol??

          You had "the talk" with dad??

          December 13, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
        • Better and better

          So your dad said your offspring would change color rapidly and run off to specific corners of the Earth in a stunning display of high-speed evolution?

          December 13, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
        • lol??

          Wow B&B, sounds like you had intensive first hand instruction from your middle school teacher!! Dads usually bring up affordability.

          December 13, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
        • lol??

          Solomon figured out a way to make the bride's parents pay above the average and took care of the affordability index problem mightily. It kinda snowballed.

          1Ki 10:14 Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold,

          December 13, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
    • sarge325

      What a surprise, Steve. Another leftie crying racism when there is none. What did Megyn Kelly say that you believe to be racist? She correctly identified Jesus, a Mediterranean Jew, and the historical figure on whom the Santa Claus myth is based, as members of the group widely known as Caucasians. I'm picking up on racism, among those denying that these people were Caucasian. If a few hundred years from now someone claimed that Nelson Maandela was Chinese, don't you think a news anchor should set us straight?

      December 13, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
  5. Robert

    Arguing the skin color of mythological characters is a hoot. Gotta love those religious types.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
    • lol??

      CNN has to eat, too.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
    • sarge325

      Jesus is a historical figure. Santa Claus is based on a historical figure. Maybe you should watch Fox News more often to improve your access to factual information.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
      • Dan the Man

        Once again, there is no tangible evidence that Jesus existed. What is written about him came decades later, from people who never met him. There may have been a Jesus, but there is no proper historical sources. What his followers wrote is contradictory and easily could have been inventions accreted mouth to mouth in those years, the same way the Arthur legends came up.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
        • lol??

          Paul met Him, alright, and you will, too!

          December 13, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
        • sarge325

          Dan, historical fact? No. Very good evidence of his existence given the time period? Yes. Doesn't matter if he really lived for this discussion. Assuming he probably did, he would have been a Mediterranean Jew, a member of group referred to today as "white" or Caucasian.

          December 13, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
  6. Frank

    Megyn Kelly makes the average cheerleader look like a genius.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
    • lol??

      Usually cheerleaders ain't average.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
  7. Rett

    I actually learned some things from this article. I never knew there was actually a movement back in the day that tried to press the claim that Jesus was white.....as a teacher of history I really enjoy learning new things like this. Of course, I think it is laughable to try and portray a Meditteranean Jew as a white European but I guess people have often embraced ridiculous ideas to further their goals.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
    • sarge325

      Megyn Kelly did not say Jesus was a white European. She said he was Caucasian, which we colloquially refer to as white. Mediterranean Jews are Caucasians. Jesus was a Mediterranean Jew. She was 100% correct.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
      • Nubianbrotha

        Sarge you're an idiot. Do you know anything about the caucas mountains and read something other than fox headlines

        December 13, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        If Megyn Kelly calls Arabs and other Semitic people "white" OK, I'll accept your argument, otherwise, nope.

        She did not use the term Caucasian. She said "white". If she also uses white for Arabs, fine but I'll bet she doesn't.

        December 13, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
        • sarge325

          Nubian, incorrect. GOPer, correct. Arabs are classified as Caucasians – by those who use these terms. Personally, I don't care. There is only one race,, human. But Megyn Kelly correctly identified Jesus as Caucasian using the widely accepted terminology.

          December 13, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
        • sarge325

          In American English, "white" is the colloquial term for Caucasian. They are synonyms. I've never seen a person who's skin color was actually white.

          December 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
  8. David

    Hahahaha.. arguing about the color of two guys that never existed. Wow Fox news.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
    • jim davis

      Hahahaha Labeling George Zimmerman as "white" in order to race bait. CNN News. Wow.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
    • Rett

      Wow. Someone who denies that Jesus ever existed. Most reputable historians, I suspect, would disagree with you.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
      • Dan the Man

        Actually, there is no evidence of his existence from his lifetime, and what exists is heresay. Most suspect that there was a real person there, as there was likely a real Arthur upon whom the legends were built, but there isn't anything tangible to support his existence.

        December 13, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
        • sarge325

          Dan the Man, the historical writings of Jesus by his followers only 100 years after his death are stronger evidence of his existence than we have for many other figures accepted as real.

          December 13, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
        • Dan the Man

          Try to read a bit better, sarge.

          December 13, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
        • sarge325

          Nice non-response, Dan. Thank you for giving clear support to my statement.

          December 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
    • sarge325

      Jesus was a historical person. He was Jewish, I.e., Caucasian. Santa Claus is a mythological figure based on an actual person, a European, a Caucasian. It is interesting to see people laughing at the foolishness of Fox News when Megyn Kelly was factually correct in what she said.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        Since when did she say "Caucasian"?

        December 13, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
        • sarge325

          In the brief clip we saw, she said "white," which is synonymous with Caucasian. The so-called "white" racial group is neither white in color nor restricted to the Caucasus mountains.

          December 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
  9. Fun Times

    "There are people who believe that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, that they roamed the Earth at the same time. There are museums that children go to, in which they build dioramas to show them this. And what this is, purely and simply, is a clinical psychotic reaction. They are crazy. They are stone-cold-f-ck nuts. I can't be kind about this, because these people are watching The Flintstones as if it were a documentary." –Lewis Black

    December 13, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
  10. tarura

    Jesus was not black, he was tall.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
  11. Brandon

    Why are we trying to change someones race after hundreds of years?? for those that say Santa Claus can be any race, how is that possible? he cannot be both black and white, sorry. just accept the fact that he is not black, stop being racist and move on with your life

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

      Brandon if you would like us to move on the color of Jesus & Santa then let's start putting the real face on the majority of drug dealers & users in this country and welfare & food stamp recipients instead of always portraying them as Blacks and other minorities

      December 13, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
  12. vickster339

    ROFL, I have compelling evidence for the existence of at least 1 deity and this is the best modern media can come up with? This world is nuts.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
  13. Ruff Locks

    And it matters how? Imagine judgement day when you stand before God, not Jesus, and realize that his color will not save you for your sins of chosen deviance.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
  14. ghghk

    yeah religion is F.U.K.K.E.D up

    December 13, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
  15. Todd Taras

    Love fox news. Hilarious. Like "The Simpsons" and "Workaholics" in 1. It is fake, right?... Right?!

    December 13, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
    • Anna

      SNL gets Fox news down pat. I love the scrolling list of corrections, in the bit, to things they got wrong during the newscast, like: Bangladesh is not an 80s metal band.
      Peaking at ladies’ butts is not a background check.
      Actual crows do have feet.
      Pot pie is legal in every state.
      The California wildfires are not a soccer team.
      Jason Collins was not turned gay by a Washington Wizard.
      The NRA is not a branch of government.
      Foreign visas do not let Russian students go on shopping sprees.
      It's hilarious.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
    • sarge325

      And what is hilarious about it, Todd? Megyn Kelly was 100% correct. What is hilarious is people pretending to be smarter and superior who are themselves wrong on the facts.

      December 13, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
  16. Jeff

    Who cares?

    December 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
  17. Bootyfunk

    jesus...

    long hair, great tan, washboard abs, hung out with 12 dudes, never got with a woman...

    dunno if he was white, but i'm pretty sure he would have been pro-g.ay marriage.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • sarge325

      Now that's funny.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
  18. lol??

    Ok socie scientists, give us some myths from say 200K yeas ago. Don't hold back now.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  19. Jib76

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49wut32Cguw&w=640&h=390]

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

    "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." Yet Kelly insists that "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact ...". I wonder where she finds that 'verifiable fact.' Perhaps the same place Fox finds so many others of their 'verifiable facts?' Perhaps from one of O'Reilly's rants?

    December 13, 2013 at 9:19 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.