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. Steve

    I dunno about Jesus, but the tooth fairy is a Lesbian.

    December 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • Charlie

      Steve, your intelligence level of zero is showing.

      December 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
      • Gawd

        Because he doesn't believe in talking snakes, an invisible guy in the sky, magical ribs, people walking on water, etc?

        December 14, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • donald duck

      What a idiot!

      December 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
      • Mopery

        The irony of using incorrect grammar when calling other people idiots.

        December 14, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • PeteZ

      Let me put an end to all of this stupid discussion. The god is white and his son is white. Actually the god is of Swedish descent. However, Jesus's mother was an Italian. End of discussion.

      December 14, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
  2. buccabiscuit

    Jesus was Hebrew. And why does color matter? ? ? ?

    December 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • donald duck

      Like that. Fox news, what a joke!

      December 14, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  3. Dana

    My imaginary friend is whiter than your imaginary friend.

    December 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  4. RT Colorado

    More important is...how many angels can you fit on the head of a pin?

    December 14, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Mopery

      Depends on how long the pin is, and how hard I stab...

      December 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
      • tallulah13

        That's the best answer I've ever heard to that particular question.

        December 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  5. @OD

    Thank good we have cameras today, otherwise in 500 years people would claim that Steve Jobs was Chinese. He was an Arab just in case you don't know, and probably the only one in history who managed to screw a Jew ( Wozniak) over money, LOL:)

    December 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  6. isolate

    What a tempest in a teacup. The really important thing is that he spoke English. Otherwise, how could we read the Bible?
    (Yes, it's a joke. Please don't overreact.)

    December 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Mopery

      It's not sarcasm if you have to point out that it's sarcasm...

      December 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
      • isolate

        It's been my experience that many of the posters in this blog cannot recognize sarcasm, irony or anything but literal interpretations.

        (My inspiration was Miriam Ferguson, the first woman governor of Texas, who allegedly said: “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.”)

        December 14, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
        • lol??

          OH ooooohhh, Deja vu all over again.

          December 14, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  7. JJ

    Amazing how many of you chumps will get into arguments about your delusions. Get help.

    December 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Paddy

      I know. It's like arguing about whether Leprechauns' vests are brown or green and whether they have 4 buttons or 5 on them!

      December 14, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  8. Mark Alpha

    Jesus was half white, half Kenyan, Obama is our new lord and savor, he is also the one who puts presents under your tree. All hail the king.

    December 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Mopery

      Pull the Koch out of your mouth before speaking again.

      December 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  9. PeteZ

    All of you who claim Jesus was not white are going to hell. There you will be fried in bacon grease for eternity..

    December 14, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • Mopery

      Jesus was not white. Love me some bacon grease.

      December 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Dave

      Cool! Make sure to use plenty of salt and pepper!

      December 14, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Edward J. Wilkins

      Who cares but white religious bigots and black religious bigots?

      I mean really...it's like getting mad if someone said Winnie the Pooh were Mexican. There is not one shred of physical proof he even existed.

      Is the Flying Spaghetti Monster really spaghetti or is his linguini?

      December 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • isolate

      Bacon grease is not kosher. It would offend YHWH if the smells of souls frying in bacon grease were to ascend to Heaven for the amusement of the deity, his angels and the rest of the Holy Horde. Try chicken fat as a frying medium.

      December 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
      • Mopery

        It would offend the YMCA? What?

        December 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  10. Dan

    The bible is a collection of fairy tales. Didn't you get the memo?

    December 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  11. Dan

    Non-cave dwellers are actually debating this?

    December 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  12. FYI

    I've heard she uses a jesus vib-ra-tor

    December 14, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  13. Dan

    Jesus is Mexican. He replaced the carpet on my stairs recently.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • Mopery

      Hey! That's the same righteous dude that fixed my radiator, and at a decent price, too!

      December 14, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • doobzz

      Shall we start a count of how many times someone posts this lame joke?

      Jesus cuts my lawn.

      Jesus washes dishes in the restaurant I go to.

      Jesus put carpet on my stairs.

      Jesus walked across the Rio Grande.

      Any others? Let's just get them out of the way.

      December 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
      • Akira

        Jesus just left Chicago.
        And he's bound for New Orleans.

        Hey, hey.

        December 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
      • okie dokie

        Jesus makes one hell of a chimichanga.

        December 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
        • Charlie

          Really hard to believe some of these comments on here from some who think they are funny, most are as funny as a head ache with no meaning or intelligence behind them, it's hard to believe some of you people are out on the streets, get a life.

          December 14, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
  14. DamienFish

    Actually Jesus was a physically disabled black woman. Only way God could get her through the Affirmative Action committee.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  15. Mopery

    Jesus was oriental.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  16. His panic

    With all the hoopla that her shenanigans have caused, I'm sure that by now she is totally hysterical.

    Well she may be anxious and in Panic. That is what happens when people like her do not really, really Trust in God and in Jesus Christ God's Only Son. Instead they choose to play religions and believe in Satan Claus instead of really believing in Jesus Christ as God's Only Son. If she would had chosen to really, really believe and Trust in God and in Jesus Christ God's Only Son, she would not be saying such blonde things. Much less believing in them.

    She may need medication for her anxiety and hysteria.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Salero21

      His panic is stupidity in full bloom. 😀

      December 14, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        No he is a genius!

        December 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
      • Sara

        He deserves the Nobel Prize of Psychology!!

        December 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
        • Dina

          I totally agree!!

          December 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
      • The Truth

        Salero21 is stupidity in full bloom.

        December 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
        • Truth

          Totally agree with Sara!! sal deserves that Nobel prize... in Psychology???

          December 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
        • lol??

          Freud never touched his mother's breasts.Well, when he was a baby.

          December 14, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
        • The Truth

          alright no need to gang on me. I'll agree that sal is a genius but the Nobel in psychology!! 😀 Pleeease give me a break!

          December 14, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
  17. Dina

    How can you give a skin color to a myth that may or may not have existed and can't be proven. This myth can be what you want it to be, white, green, dark, etc.The Jesus myth is no different than the Santa one, both created by humans to provide something better in the world.If it could be proven, Jesus would have been of Middle Eastern coloring which is dark. Santa, it doesn't matter.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • @OD

      Both Jesus and Santa based on real life people, I assume you know something about Jesus so I'll tell you about St. Nick, he was a monk in Turkey and he used to throw little bags with money into poor people's homes. This is where the character of Santa Claus we all know today evolved from. As far as he's looks go it is all thanks to an artist who did all those coca cola posters in the 50s I think, can't remember his name.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • LB

      I agree. What does it really, truly matter? It doesn't matter unless you're trying to stir up a controversy where on does not exist.

      December 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • donald duck

      I agree! Just Fox news always starting problems. Palin,Rush,.......shame!

      December 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  18. @OD

    Jesus was Semite which means he could have a very brown skin and he probably did. On the other hand I don't think we should make a white version of Bob Marley simply because so many white kids are into his music and have posters of him in their rooms...that's besides the fact that he was half white:) lol

    December 14, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  19. Tom Bowers

    It doesn't matter what color Jesus is. What matters is that he's an American ! 😛

    December 14, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • lol??

      native or refugee??

      December 14, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
      • ?

        People like you claim him for America. Hence the silliness of Megyn Kelly and tardos like you.

        December 14, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
        • Victor

          Apparently someone's sarcasm meter is broken...

          December 14, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • His panic

      Satan Claus is American. 😛

      December 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  20. corey ganisi bey

    Jesus is mytholgical concept and was not a real person. First if he was real the Jesus was not his name, because the letter J was not created until the 16th century. Secondly, the Jesus concept derived from the image of "Serapis Christos". The story of jesu is also the same story of Horus or Heru written thousands of years before jesus was born. Lastly, if he was real he couldn't been white. Living in exile in Egypt or Kemet, in his early he would have stood out. Ancient Kemet was the home of dark melanin people during his supposed existence.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • lol??

      Is existence living??

      December 14, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
      • ?

        Do you ever have a point, or do you just vomit words all the time?

        December 14, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • Dave

      "First if he was real the Jesus was not his name, because the letter J was not created until the 16th century"

      Seriously? The name "Jesus" is a translation from the Hebrew "Iēsous". Second, while it definitely cannot be proven he did exist, we can infer that he probably did (though not the divine man the bible portrays) by looking at other clues such as the find of the oscuary of Ciafus. You are correct though in one respect, he most certainly wouldn't have been white being that he lived in the middle-east.

      December 14, 2013 at 12:58 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.