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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. MightyMoo

    If you are worried about what color skin Jesus had you have problems.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
  2. FraK

    Jesus spoke English, though, right?

    December 13, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
    • Wally Wally

      Yup, Jesus spoke Alabama Southernese. Drank budweiser and hung out at the Jerusalem 500 NASCAR, uh, NASCAMEL races.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
      • Vic

        LOL!

        I gotta tel ya, this thread is so funny already! I think you have a shot at standup comedy.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
      • Trevor

        Na bro, he spoke ebonics, drank 40's and hung out in the LBC at swap meets....

        No, you ignorant hillbilly, he spoke Seattle PC English, drank Starbucks lattes, drove a Prius and hung out in public parks, getting high and bashing others that don't agree with our obviously superior point of view...

        Get a grip...

        December 13, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
        • Trevor

          I was born without a sense of humor or a brain. That's why I vote Tea Party.

          December 13, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
    • Vic

      I was gonna say that is funny before the first reply hit. It is now hilarious.

      Anyway, Jesus Christ spoke Aramaic.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
      • Say wha?

        So you think that Jesus spoke a language that the people of Jerusalem couldn't understand? That's rather stupid way to win converts. Maybe, just maybe, he would have spoken Hebrew? You know, a language the people could understand?

        December 13, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
        • Bible Bob

          Jesus was prepared, of course. He brought that sign interpreter from the Mandela funeral so that the people of Jerusalem could understand him.

          December 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
        • Tracy

          Most biblical scholars believe that Jesus spoke Aramaic, as well as Hebrew and probably some Greek.

          December 14, 2013 at 12:01 am |
  3. meng

    No, it's totally possible that Jesus was white. I mean, he could have been an albino. Caucasian? No, absolutely not, not a chance in hell, and believing that he was caucasian is proof that you're an idiot, but white? Sure.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
    • Hmmmmmmmmmmmm

      Albino Jesus? Well I guess that isn't any more ridiculous than what the Bible says, so yeah, sure.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
      • John P. Tarver

        Those red eyes would have really set things off.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
        • Hmmmmmmmmmmmm

          You can do albino hamster Jesus if you like. All good with me.

          December 13, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
  4. TruthandConsequence

    Jesus was of a single color...whatever the color. But what He had to say had nothing to do with color. Although I believe it is an error to consider Jesus was a black man or a Chinese, it does not matter. Those who make an issue of it are unlikely really concerned with Jesus -- just poking racist comments is most important to them.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Black Jesus was the reason the slaves were freed, so it does matter.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
  5. marty rogers

    use your mind people. whee was he from? what did his peers look like? that is probably what he looked like.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
  6. Vic

    I just watched the video posted by Jib76 earlier, and it was astounding!

    That is really astonishing. I cannot help but reflect on it; God communicates with us in so many ways that we can understand. It is my belief that God poured out such an enormous talent into such a young person along with the inspirations (note that God can inspire an image of Jesus in the flesh that is demographic) just to connect with us.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
    • Grant

      It's fun to use your imagination like that, isn't it?

      December 13, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
      • Vic

        Well, I believe it is more of an inspiration than mere imagination.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
        • Grant

          Imagination by any other name is still as imaginary.

          December 13, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • Fundy Method of Inquiry & Verification

      I guess if you verify things long enough using the Vic method, you'd be as excited as Vic too!

      It works like this:

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YIj4rLYo0c&w=640&h=390]

      December 13, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
      • Vic

        Hey, what do you know, hamster is the only rodent I like.

        December 13, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
        • Harvey the Rabbit

          You are just an anti-bunny bigot.

          December 13, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
  7. NC Allen

    Jesus was half jewish, therefor of Caucasian descent. The Bible would have talked about Jesus if he were black. To be honest with you, What does it matter? Race baiting, uneducated idiots are the only ones offended by such crappy reporting. If you cant take an insult, stay out of the kitchen.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
    • .

      Really? Sure about that?

      December 13, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
  8. Juan

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
    ★*˚°。°*。°*˚★*˚°。°*。°˚°★*˚°。°*。°*★*˚°。°*。°*★
    ˛ °_██_*˚°。°/ ♥ \*˚°。°*。°*★*˚°。°*。°*★*˚°。°*。°*★
    ,˛. (´• ̮•)*.。*/♫..♫\*˛.*˛_Π_____*˚°。*。°*❤*˚°。°*。°*★
    ,,.°( . • . ) ˛°./• ‘♫ ‘ •\.˛*./______/~\*˚°。°*。°*°*❤ ˚°*★
    ,,*(…’•’.. ) *˛╬╬╬╬╬˛°.|田田❤|門|╬╬╬╬╬*.........

    December 13, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
  9. Paul

    Let's think about this. Jesus had a Jewish mother and the Father was God. If memory serves me correctly God made the stars, the moon and the earth. He then populated the earth with man and all other creatures. Let's see now. Man comes in an array of colored hues, red, black, white, yellow and purple–so I guess if would be a safe bet that God comes in all colors too. Therefore Jesus must share a wide array of colors himself and cannot be solely aligned to one race or color. If this is the case then Jesus must a man of all colors.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
    • Timmy

      So he's of Benetton?

      December 13, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
  10. Chris

    Speaking of racism, why hate on whites? So Santa was white, why is that a big no no? Answer, the racists want everything good (instead of so much bad) to be attributed to blacks. Who is it that gives so much to charities? Whites, that's who. They are following in Santa's footsteps.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
    • .

      Your fear sustains me.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
    • politimom2

      White people give to charities so they can write it off during tax season and the money they give usually goes right into the pockets of the white people who started the charities rather than the people who need it so congrats

      December 13, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
  11. anthonyntx

    Jesus was white... The Middle East is full of white people.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • .

      Lol.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
  12. Dina

    How can you prove the race of a person or even say the person has a race when the actual existence of that person can't even be proven? Common sense unless you if there was a Jesus and he was Jewish, which he is supposed to have been, then he would not be blond and blue eyed although I have seen some Arab children with blond hair and blue eyes apparently from Crusader genes.The whole thing is stupid.There is no way to prove any of this so if you are a Christian and white, then Jesus is white.If you are another race, then Jesus is that race. As for Santa, this is a myth anyway and he can be what ever you want him to be, but I believe he was written as a white man.It's all so stupid and racist to talk about the color of one;s skin.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
  13. TK

    by the way there are jews that are as balck as coffee

    December 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
    • peppercorn

      Santa & Jesus are same with Americans, there's black and white.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • Franky

      Balck coffee?

      December 13, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • John

      Yes there are, Sammy Davis jr was a prime example

      December 13, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
  14. HotAirAce

    Megyn Kelly defended herself and Fox News on this evening's show. She pretty much ignored her comment about jesus and focused primarily on the Santa part. Some spin is going on . . .

    December 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
  15. TK

    jesus is white because white folks would have a stroke if jesus appeared and he was as dark as any African (sub saharan)

    December 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
  16. dave

    Jesus was half Jewish on his mother's side

    December 13, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      and half whatever the father was.... which was more likely the blacksmith than a sky fairy.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  17. FraK

    The love you feel for others, is just a chemical reaction in your brain.
    Nothing else.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • dave

      never been laid, huh FraK

      December 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  18. politimom2

    Jesus could not have been white because he preached tolerance and humility, and santa must be white because he has a race of enslaved people who do work for no pay... so she was half right

    December 13, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • dave

      You win the prize for most racist comment – You do know that the black slaves brought to America were purchased from their black owners in Africa. There is no part of human nature that does not exist in people of all skin color

      December 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
      • politimom2

        Not every slave was bought from african owners and slavery had been around since the begining of time however white people were the only ones to try to justify it by saying it was because of race... thanks though I learned my racism from WASPs
        PS I am not african american, black or any derivative just a witness of the system

        December 13, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
        • Trevor

          WASPs = racists? These very FEW folks that you've associated with and witnessed racism from are NOT true followers of Christ if that's what you're inferring PAL. The only accurate part of you statement is that they're skin color was white...

          December 13, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
    • Elf Liberation Army Faction Brigades

      We will liberate ourselves from the fascist tyranny of the fat old white guy! Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the elves! We are readying weapons made from candy canes . . . some technical difficulties there, but we will overcome them! The revolution is near! We will overthrow the obese tyrant soon, after milk and cookie time, maybe later after apple pie time. Oh, and after the nice nap and Paris Hilton sex tape. Sometime. But soon.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
  19. qqq

    Is Jesus white? In the Western tradition, yes. In other traditions, no. They can have their tradition. Let us have ours, please. Stop this PC crap!

    December 13, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • Dan the Man

      In other words, the truth is PC and bad.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • dave

      Jesus was Jewish. You cannot have your own tradition about his skin color, not that it is important.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  20. Cattlelight

    A peace to remember

    Colors of the skin make a person see envy jealousy hatred... Though not a just accord it is color, though color is bearing of weight, and though weight is power, but through life I shall ascend touching the everglades of heaven reaching for the stars,
    Just as I defy all gravity, I shall correct my port, I shall sail in a land of beauty and fret not but what of death, but what of life I shall find and of simple days I shall again, yet again and again love not of what I have lost, but what I have gained in my heart and in my arms.
    Christ

    December 13, 2013 at 10:17 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.