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. Informed

    IF the character Jesus was in fact white when born, he would have of course been executed immediately as an abomination and the work of the devil. The fact that there is NO mention of him having a radically different skin color than everyone around him shows clearly its all fake and made up.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Opposing View

      2 John 1:7 – For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:39 am |
      • Ian

        More quoting from an Ancient book.......I can quote from fiction too .."Pikachu use Thunderbolt....Its Super Effective" Pokémon Yellow 1995

        December 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • LOL

      LOL like all the Romans who were controlling that part of the world at that time.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • LOL

      Second the bible said he had skin of Brass......that's about the same skin tone of a white guy in the sun

      December 13, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • Tom

      Um....why would that happen?

      Since almost everyone in Palestine was white in his day? Just like today.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  2. Earthling

    The level of ignorance at FOX continues to amaze me. And the fact that people swallow their crap whole is a very sad statement about the level of education in this country.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Zalupa

      And people that follow CNN without questioning its legitimacy also amazes me. The funniest thing about Americans today is how you follow one side and deny the other, even if you side is just as retarded as the other.....

      December 13, 2013 at 11:43 am |
      • Zalupa

        Particularly the self proclaimed atheists... OH and by the way, don't forget to insult me because i misspelled a word on using my iphone.... That usually seems to be the way of the wounded spineless of degrading another post.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • LOL

      The fact that your unable to think freely is a larger, sadder statement of this nations educational system and voting laws.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:44 am |
  3. Czar Chasm

    I'm pretty sure the Sasquatch are white as well. Once we shave them down i'm sure we will find a white guy under there... And of course their cousins the abominable snowmen are white too...

    December 13, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  4. Not All Docs Play Golf

    He's white! I just verified it by running out to my car and checking my plastic dashboard Jesus I bought at a Tea Party rally. So it's settled.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:35 am |
  5. fedupwithla

    As usual, the intent of CNN is to concentrate on skin color, muck and stir things up, create a fight, and completely miss the message of Jesus. They do a good job of that as with every other article that's posted. "Tis the Season, indeed!

    December 13, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      Yeah, well, while Sarah Palin complains about "the attack on Christmas," as I note that Thanksgiving was essentially cancelled to schedule a shopping day, I would say it's more Chrismas' attack on us!

      December 13, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • Darrell Gray

      But it wasn't CNN that started this mess... it was Megyn Kelly at Fox that brought race into the mix. All the news in the world and Fox wants to complain that someone want's a different colored Santa? Nothing more going on in the world? This is the measure of that network when they are obsessing about freaking Santa Clause! And any person of any intelligence knows that Jesus was FAR from Caucasian... Education is a must. It's almost common sense to know that.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:40 am |
      • some dude

        You suggest education and intelligence are requirements to become Faux News anchors.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  6. Bless you

    It doesn't matter the color it is the same he is red because he bought each of us with his Blood. It is sad that people believes in Jesus but doesn't know him if everyone took the time to know him that's John 3:16 read it and you know about his love. The world just wants to believe but will not compromise with Jesus. Remember why fight get to know him.
    God Bless you

    December 13, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  7. ErnieK

    Kelly actually is right about Santa... yes, St. Nick was Greek but every single other thing about him aside from the name comes from a Nordic tradition (reindeer, sleigh, North Pole).... but she's completely tone-deaf and bonkers about Jesus. Jesus was Jewish. Jesus was Semitic. He was very, very tan. Neither white nor black.

    Now, if her definition of "white" includes the entirety of the Middle-Eastern and Semitic peoples, she probably should have said so. It would be surprising, but I can see how she might just... annex those cultures as being "closer to light than dark"... But that region is usually considered it's own area when it comes to racial relations in the world.

    Then again, it is Megyn Kelly, and she might just be reaching for ratings... again....

    December 13, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  8. Czar Chasm

    Where should we send money to help Fox News anchors get an education? Their Alabama home schooling was not sufficient for them to be regarded as anything but a joke.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • BRAD

      hahaha so true

      December 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  9. Steve

    And Bugs Bunny is grey and white – face it folks, facts are facts and you can't change someone's color to suit you. The people who made up Santa and Jesus get to decide their color just as Disney got to decide Bugsy's color.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • ErnieK

      Disney decided Bugs Bunny's color? Sure about that?

      You're not helping our side in this debate.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:35 am |
      • Steve

        Not sure about it at all. And I have no interest in helping anyone's side in a debate.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Johnny B

      Too bad for you Disney did NOT think up Bugs Bunny....brainiac. And just like Bugs Bunny, Jesus and Santa are fictional characters...but unlike Bugs, they are based on real people.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • Edward

      Bugs Bunny was made by WB not Disney. If you gonna be ironic or sarcastic at least have your ducks in a row.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • FellowTraveler70

      "Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and most biblical scholars and classical historians see the theories of his non-existence as effectively refuted.[1][3][4][9][10] In antiquity, the existence of Jesus was never denied by those who opposed Christianity." From Wikipedia

      December 13, 2013 at 11:48 am |
  10. Common Sense

    Pope Julius II paid or supposedly paid Michelangelo to paint these white images and these are the one's no other race can forget. The psychological effect from these pieces have had a terrible impact on the minds of those who are non-white, but not to mention the horrifying tales that democracy started with the Greeks and Romans. The World History has been distorted to favor one particular race, and what race might that be? If we want a better understanding of World History we must start with The Ancient Kemet Mystery System. Kemet = Africa. Africa (Aphrike) is a Greek word basically meaning "Not Cold".

    December 13, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Darrell Gray

      You're right... The popular depiction of Jesus is reportedly a man named Cesar Borgia. This is all speculation, but the depiction revered by millions across the globe is indeed inaccurate. He was from the middle east and FAR from Caucasian. Check the link...

      December 13, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • New Age Goddess

      Love and Light.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  11. Not All Docs Play Golf

    I believe in a Christian America, the one Sarah Palin inspires us with when she teaches us about how Paul Revere rode a 4-wheeler all night to warn Abe Lincoln that Buddhist communists from Russia were coming to attack our statue of the 14 commandments on the white house lawn. It just makes my chest swell with Tea Party patriotism. And she taught me that the 'murkin flag has 12 stripes, for the 12 apostles. Sarah makes my cry with her beautiful American Christian patriotism.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Donny

      *sheds a tear*

      December 13, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  12. Howard

    To even DISCUSS Jesus in the context of the color of his skin is inherently racist. Any value Jesus had was in the universality of his message about how all people should treat all other people.

    And I don't even consider myself a Christian.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • AKLoggie

      If you live by the teachings you cited you are more of a Christian than you think.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • Xecutiv

      In a world of "white supremacy" the color of Jesus is important. If the color of jesus did not make a difference, why did they make him white?

      December 13, 2013 at 11:48 am |
  13. jeremy

    LOL Aruging over bunch fake people is to funny..Make them any color any age any size does it matter here both fake lol

    December 13, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • FellowTraveler70

      "Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and most biblical scholars and classical historians see the theories of his non-existence as effectively refuted.[1][3][4][9][10][11] In antiquity, the existence of Jesus was never denied by those who opposed Christianity.[" from Wikipedia

      December 13, 2013 at 11:49 am |
  14. Science Works

    Way to funny now Santa is included !

    December 13, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  15. BRAD

    This is wrong. It's not about racism. It's about ignorance. Saying a person from the middle east 2000 years ago is white, is just plain ignorant. And to have such ignorance being proliferated from a "news" source should be offensive to all. How are we to trust anything from fox news when they air such ignorance???? It then becomes entertainment, not news, which again is offensive.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • jeremy

      Brad your first mistake is acatully believing anything the news says lol .. come on now there goal and intent is to stir things up.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:31 am |
      • BRAD

        well played sir, well played

        December 13, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Justin

      Speaking of ignorance...

      Jesus was a Jew. Jews are white. Doesn't matter what middle easterners look like. And around the Mediterranean at that time, most were white. It wasn't until those further in the east came and conquered the area that we think of that area as non-white.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:43 am |
      • BRAD

        well justin, in order to state that people from an area of dark skinned folk are actually white because of their religion (remember jewishness is a religion not race) you have to state your sources. unless you are saying jesus was an albino. that pretty much is your only option.

        December 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • New Age Goddess

      Speak Truth Brad. 🙂

      December 13, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  16. Black Pete

    Zwarte Piet (pronounced ['zʋɑrtə pit], "Black Pete") is the companion of Saint Nicholas (Dutch: Sinterklaas from which the American figure of Santa Claus is derived) in the folklore of the Low Countries. Like Santa Claus, Zwarte Piet is a hybrid stock character of pagan origin. In its modern form, the character is commonly depicted as a blackamoor, with blackface make-up, and dressed in stylized colourful Renaissance attire, akin to Maures in European heraldry, and similar to Moorish characters in the "Moors and Christians" Iberian folk festivals commemorating the Reconquista.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • Jesus bin Perez

      I need me one of dem!

      December 13, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  17. Ken

    Jesus was a Jew. I never thought that was up for discussion. Santa hails from Northern Europe, definitely White.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • Mysterios

      Sorry, but Santa was never a guy from Northern Europe.
      Sant Nicklas was (as mentioned in the article) a Greek living in the region of Turkey. It is verry unlikly that he was plain white like the norhern people. In this region, you can't say what he was like exactly. To much mixture of people there (european or arabian, who knows?)

      December 13, 2013 at 11:37 am |
      • Ken

        True, St. Nicholas the Bishop hailed from the Mediterranean region and was the basis for Santa Claus, but Santa Claus as it developed was from Northern Europe.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  18. chukch

    America is maturing as a Nation among them many beliefs from the past are being dismissed as incorrect and ill-conceived

    December 13, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  19. Mark

    Jesus ordered his followers to abandon their possessions and families and follow him, since the apocalypse was imminent, on pain of infinite death. That's enough to put him in the same category as David Koresh, Jim Jones, Charles Manson, L. Ron Hubbard, Joseph Smith, etc. This is repulsive and pathetic no matter the ethnicity.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Greg

      The apocalypse was coming........HIS apocalypse

      December 13, 2013 at 11:29 am |
      • Mark

        In fact, it was so imminent that it was supposed to happen within the lifetime of some of those who heard him speak in person. (Matthew 16:27-28).

        December 13, 2013 at 11:33 am |
        • Justin

          Incorrect. You took it out of context. Jesus was speaking to the disciples about his prediction of his death. Per verse 28, "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” And when did he enter his kingdom? After he was raised from the dead, then spent some time on Earth, then went to his kingdom in heaven. The disciples witnessed this. The passage is not about the rapture.

          December 13, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Justin

      Maybe you should try actually reading the Bible before you say things that aren't true. What you said is complete blasphemy.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:46 am |
      • Fact

        Thankfully we don't live in a theocracy where you can demand his execution for blaspheming your silly imaginary God.

        December 13, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  20. delanooch617

    Jesus was most likely brown, being from the middle east and all. Santa, who is based on Saint Nick, is white. He's based on a Caucasian man. And it's as simple as that.

    December 13, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Justin

      Jesus was a Jew. It wasn't until after Jesus' time that those that we think of as middle eastern today with brown skin sacked Jerusalem.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:54 am |
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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.