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. Vic

    It is healthy to discuss such issues out in the open and not leave the stones unturned. It is one of the societal advancements.

    From the Bible at a glance:

    "16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."

    Romans 2:11
    "11 For there is no partiality with God."

    Romans 10:12,13
    "12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”"

    Galatians 3:28
    "28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

    Colossians 3:11
    "11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all."

    All Scripture Is From:

    New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation


    Earlier Post:

    December 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Science Works

      The bible is full of holes Vic !

      December 14, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
      • Vic

        I concern myself with what's really clear.

        December 14, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
        • Science Works

          Please tell it is the talking donkey or snake that is REALLY clear.

          December 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
        • Vic

          Don't concern yourself with literal understanding of every word, what matters is the moral of the story.

          December 14, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
        • Science Works

          ViC you are like fred refuting your own DNA !

          December 14, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          I agree with Vic. Look at the moral of the story. Might makes right, and if you're the mightiest, you can tell everybody else to love their enemies while you torture yours forever in a pit of never ending fire. Greatest azzhole of all time, that god of the bible.

          December 14, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
        • Science Works

          Vic do you know when the last time the supervolcano in Yellowstone Park erupted or does the bible tell you ?

          December 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
      • BJ

        How would you know? Someone else who doesn't know told you?

        December 14, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • God

      Remember that my only standard is that you obey and worship me totally. I don't care about whether you were a good person or a murderous child-molestor, just so long as you focus on what is important: Me. It's all about me, and nothing else matters.

      Oh, I am really into having you on your knees as you kiss up, so down on your knees. I love you so much that I want you to be my toady and spend the rest of eternity doing nothing but telling me how wonderful I am. I only torture people who don't suck up.

      It's what a real god would do.

      December 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
      • Winter

        That sounds like what an atheist imagines what god would say. I don't worship that god.

        December 14, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
      • Vic

        Oh geez...

        Here is the thing:

        God saves the believer in Him by Hid Grace. Now, God gave humanity Natural Revelation to establish order in this life. It is up to man what to do with it in this lifetime. In the end, however you managed your life, what matters is true faith/belief, for the next.

        December 14, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          I am very thankful that I see such stupid reasoning as so much nonsense, Vic. Thanks for foiling.

          December 14, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  2. Cathy

    Israel was founded in the 1940's. There are a lot of people in Israel from Morooco.

    Jesus was from the Middle East. Middle Eastern are not Black but they are not white either. They are Middle Easterns not European.

    Why is this so hard to understand. Bethlehem is a Palestinian city. He was born in a Palestinian city. No wonder Europeans and people from the Middle East think that we are not so bright..

    December 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  3. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Any Colour You Like


    -David Gilmour

    December 14, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  4. Makes you wonder

    Hypothetical situation: Jesus and Satan both appear in America and claim they are the messiah. Both do miracles and say the same right things (Satan is the Great Deceiver after all). Satan comes looking like a Renaissance art version of Jesus, with long blond hair, blue eyes, tall and thin. Jesus comes looking as he did 2000 years ago, dark skin, black wooly hair, fairly short.

    Who do you think the vast majority of Christians are going to accept as the real Christ?

    December 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • Winter

      The majority of Christians are not white European looking.

      December 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  5. Rick Hatfield

    I have read the Bible 5 times cover to cover and I know for a fact that Jesus was Hebrew from the tribe of Judah. They are Caucasian or white or whatever you want to call them. I have never seen a Black person born as Hebrew. If you go to Israel you will see they are caucasian or at least, they are not people of color. SIMPLE FACTS!! Get over it.

    December 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • magicpanties

      I have read the bible leventeen times and can state unequivocally that whatever I say is true because I say it with such utter confidence so how could I possibly be wrong, and if you would just really listen, and, well, maybe not really listen, but just really believe, because I really, really mean what I say.
      Jesus was purple.

      December 14, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • Yama King

      You can't be born Hebrew. Judaism is a religion, it's not a race. You can be born black, you can be born Chinese, you can't be born Hebrew. A black person can be a Hebrew if he wants to. Anyone can be a Hebrew if he wants to.

      December 14, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
      • Cathy

        so true! Thank you

        December 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
      • KHS

        Correct. Just note that Hebrew is neither a religion nor a race. It is a language. In modern Israel they speak Hebrew. BTW Jesus did not; he spoke Aramaic.

        December 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • RM

      Just because you read the Bible doesn't mean you know facts. The reason current day people in Israel look white is bc they left the Middle East and mixed with Europeans.
      It's unfortunate, you are an idiot who totally disregards science and facts!

      December 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  6. George T Hibs

    Jesus is what ever color you imagine him to be. It is not what color he is or isn't. You only have to ask yourself "Is he in your heart." Color is irrelevant.

    December 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Yama King

      Jesus lives down the street from me. His last name is Gonzalez. I don't know what all the fuss is about, he's Mexican.

      December 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • okanaduh

      right on Christ is all things to all people period, race is immaterial.

      December 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  7. FOX News Editorial Staff

    We would like to clarify the conservative position on the matter of what is white. If the person involved is from the Middle East AND is Jesus, then that person is definitely white. If the person is from the Middle East and is NOT Jesus, and especially if they come to America, then they definitely are NOT white.

    We are very proud of Megyn Kelly for bringing this very important news topic to the fore, even though the blog she is referring to made no mention of Jesus at all, and for bringing the very very important Santa issue into play, even though the original blog never suggested Santa be any color.

    This kind of reporting is what has brought us to the front of the pack, because our audience loves a good looney-screed, and we love to cater to that.

    Thank you for your time.

    December 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • magicpanties

      thenk yew, ahm so plowed to be merican

      December 14, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • MD

      it doesn't matter what color Jesus was. What does MATTER is the message He left for us.

      December 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
      • magicpanties

        Yes, just like it matters what my invisible pink unicorn said.

        December 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • Cathy

      Isn't Megan Irish. Is she Jewish or Arab? Does she know when Israel started? Did Rupert Morduch put her up to this?
      Israel was founded in the 1940's. There are a lot of people in Israel from Morooco.

      Jesus was from the Middle East. Middle Eastern are not Black but they are not white either. They are Middle Easterns not European.

      Why is this so hard to understand. Bethlehem is a Palestinian city. He was born in a Palestinian city. No wonder Europeans and people from the Middle East think that we are not so bright..

      December 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  8. Peter Bishop

    The "tear down religion blog" on CNN strikes again.

    December 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • Akira

      How is an opinion on what Fox does tearing down anything?

      December 14, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  9. Reality

    Science > racism


    December 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  10. Dr.Nova

    I am reading so many misinformed comments. As a cultural anthropologist from Israel, please allow me to explain it as I understand it:

    Jesus was from Nazareth, if you go back in history, Hebrews were a darker people, but the exodus to Europe, changed the make-up of what was considered Jewish. The ancient Hebrews look very much like the Arabs that reside in Nazareth today. Those that did not leave, they were not yet Arab, nor were they Muslim. Many became converts of Jesus, and some remained Christians until the Muslim conquest came through. Many converted, though others didn't, and Nazareth became a mix of Arab Muslims and Arab Christians. Many families have been in Nazareth since before the time of Jesus and those families remain there, all are considered Arabs today. The Arabs and the Jews who remained in the Arab world after the Exodus, and virtually indistinguishable, when dressed in similar clothing, you cannot tell them apart aside from their language and mannerisms.

    Jesus probably looked similar to a modern day Arab Christian resident of Nazareth – the idea of a Middle-Eastern looking God was just too devastating to European and early Americans that they made Jesus into their own image.

    December 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • magicpanties

      uh, yeah... except that Jesus is a fictional character, so this argument is like debating the skin color on Krypton.

      December 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
      • Dr.Nova

        I understand. I should have included the qualifier, if in fact Jesus was real, based on the information we have about him, his race would likely be what I had explained.

        December 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
      • LogicInStyle

        That's a stupid thing to say. Virtually every expert the world over, Christian or otherwise, acknowledges that Jesus existed. The nature of his existence is an entirely different matter. But to deny that he existed at all is absurd.

        December 14, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
        • Dr.Nova

          One shall always respect their cynics, there is a shred of doubt, and thus, I cannot state with complete certainty that I know Jesus existed.

          December 14, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • Patrick

      Jesus's first miracle was being born white in the Middle East.

      December 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  11. SelahPraise

    Megyn Kelly is beautiful on the outside. How can she be soooo ugly on the inside. I would not care if Jesus was white. His deity transcends race, he needed to come in to the world as someone. But its the arrogance that Megyn portrays that bothers people, the fact that everything good belongs to the white race and nobody else really matters. Jesus came as the lowliest of the lowly, lived a very poor life. He wouldn't have been accepted by most people today. Jesus said "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor" God knew that the poor would be more receiving of the gospel than the rich and the affluent. They would be more sincere spreading the gospel. I consider myself rich today. If I lived in Jesus' time would I listen to what a mere carpenter had to say? highly unlikey, neither would Megyn Kelly.

    December 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • Forrest Gump

      Stupid is as Megyn does.

      And life is like a box of chocolates. At Fox, they are white chocolates.

      December 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  12. magicpanties

    Well, the color of my favorite imaginary being is... purple!

    December 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  13. Hamd

    While you atheists and Christians continue to argue....Islam is flourishing...Jesus (peace be upon him) would truly be pleased.

    December 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • magicpanties

      Oh, JC on a stick, your religion [and its followers] is just as silly as Christianity, perhaps more so.

      December 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      Nah. We Atheists have successfully undermined Christianity; we'll do the same to Islam. Piece of cake. Next?

      December 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
      • Hamd

        Hasn't been done yet, and never will. Move on please.

        December 14, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          Of course it will, numerous other religions have gone the way of the dinosaurs and with education comes the need for less religion.

          December 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
      • KHS

        I'm afraid we atheists have not yet undermined Christianity in the US. About half of the population still believes that the earth is ten thousand years old. Things look much better in Europe. – Forget about Islam. That will be a tough job! How do you fight fanaticism?

        December 14, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
      • Lee McBride

        Really? You must have set the bar for "successfully" pretty low. Of course they say that ignorance is bliss also.

        December 14, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
      • Lee McBride

        "Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools instead." -Romans 1:22

        December 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  14. Ted


    December 14, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  15. magicpanties

    Is my invisible unicorn pink?

    December 14, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  16. Hotbite

    Don't think there were too many pale-skinned dudes walking around Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

    December 14, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  17. toogie

    tony b if you think you are white go to south Georgia and tell thme you are a jew you will fiind out real quick what you really are

    December 14, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  18. Minty

    Jesus came from a region that had a range of skin tones, from light to dark brown. So unless people were standing right there next to him and took pictures, no one knows. If anything ,people would consider him Middle Eastern. People argue about dumb things.

    December 14, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  19. Brian

    Who cares?

    December 14, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  20. juju

    I'm black, and I know that Jesus Christ was Hebrew. Not white. So what did Jesus have to do with this? Half of you haven't even mentioned the fact that in the Holy Bible it indicates that Jesus was Hebrew.

    December 14, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Why believe that when the bible gets so many other things wrong?

      December 14, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • ck

      Exactly! If Christ truly did exist (as Christians argue and believe), then how can anyone argue that he was black or white? He was a middle-eastern Jew! You can't just paint him whatever color you think he should be to suit your narrow little mind. When I see paintings of a blonde haired, blue eyed Christ I can't believe how stupid people are.

      December 14, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • Dan

      Are Caucasians considered Whites? If they are, Jesus is a Jew and they are Caucasians.

      December 14, 2013 at 2:22 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.