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. RJ

    Well well well...look what we have here...a Fox news anchor promoting racism disguised as a joke, annnnd, is excused for it. If this is what Fox news calls "fair, balanced, and unafraid", I think there is no reason to trust or watch Fox news anymore.

    December 14, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
    • Bible Bob, Knight of Infallibillibabbity and FOX 24/7 viewer

      Excused? That girl is gonna get a raise and a promotion! She just went Palin!

      December 14, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • Paul Preiswerck

      If every idiot at Fox News WASN"T excused for doing and saying stupid comments, Fox News would have no one left working.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
  2. dirksterdude

    Jesus was all colors of the rainbow. Either that or very deep Purple.

    December 14, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
  3. BuckRogere

    Achilles from the Iliad was the son of a Gawd – Zeus, I guess – and a human woman. Or was it Hercules? Anyway, neither of them were real and it reminds me of Jesus. Gawd father and human mother. Myth.

    December 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
    • Chuck

      Zeus has nothing to do with this story

      Jesus name in Hebrew is Yeshuah, which is Hebrew for JOSHUAH

      December 14, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
  4. Jon

    Looks like an excellent panel to discuss race....

    December 14, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
    • Bible Bob, Knight of Infallibillibabbity and FOX 24/7 viewer

      So you think that four right-wing white people working for a right-wing extremist propaganda channel CAN'T discuss race in a fair and balanced manner? Right-wing white FOX 24/7 viewers will definitely have an opinion on that, as soon as FOX and Rush tell us what our opinions are. Stay tuned.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
  5. BuckRogere


    You got me shakin in my Nikes harry. (I don't wear loafers.)

    December 14, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
  6. Ronald

    First We must love, believe in one self, one another we are all God's creation. Remember, in dream and in love nothing is impossible.

    December 14, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
  7. armyret71403

    A. Jesus was a Jewish Israeli. Netanyahu and all other Israelis are white. How could he be black?

    B. St Nick and Santa Claus are 2 different characters, only in America are they interchangeable. Santa actually originates with the Dutch "Sinterklaas". Aren't the Dutch historically white? Technically, if he lives in the North Pole, he would actually be Native American (Inuit),

    December 14, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • Lavender

      You need to ask yourself if all of today's Israelis actually are native TO Israel, as in, been there prior to 1948.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
    • Maelstrom

      It is possible he was darker skinned, but more likely he was the olive or darker white tones that are common to the people of the eastern Mediterranean region. Most Jews are repatriated European Jews who intermixed with Caucasians prior to the second world war. It's very possible that the Jews of today's Israel are a much lighter skin tone than the Hebrews of Christ's time. The color of Christ, however, was truly irrelevant as to his purpose. He was here to free all of humanity from a debt of sin, not create a new debt between races.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
      • ShannonCT

        Would that be the same debt of sin that he saddled humanity with because his original creations screwed up (which he knew would happen before creating them)?

        December 14, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
        • Maelstrom

          Our own natures create that debt. We weren't saddled with it. We have been given the gift to choose between good and evil. It's the only way we can truly become like God, which is the intent of our creation and why we are made in his image and why he calls us his children. To be all potent, you must have access to all options, including all moral ones. To be able to love and to feel emotion, you have to be more than just a machine set to a specific behavior or role. Humanity causes sin, because we haven't matured enough to avoid sinning, thus requiring forgiveness. When we die though, all shall be corrected.

          December 14, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  8. Shelia

    The devil works so well ...Instead of realizing that Jesus came to save us from our sin we are arguing about skin color of our savior???? don't fall for it people!!!! They are trying to get under everyone's skin and destroy Christmas spirit .. Well now we all understand why we should make images...

    Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

    — Exodus 20:4-6 (KJV)

    December 14, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
    • jez

      I am an athiest, but I just love the way Jesus was the one and only Nordic in the middle east. If there were a Jesus, who supposedly was a Jew, he would look like any of the muslim terrorists we see in the news daily. But all of this fuss about mythology is all so laughable. Plus, if this genius Fox News reporter thinks minorities should just get over the "fact" that Jesus and Santa (really??) are white, maybe all of the white singers (Bieber, Britnay, Justin, Emenim, etc.) should quit copying black music and dress. Where is her outrage there?

      December 14, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
      • Jim

        Jews are white or are you color blind? Jesus was White, and Saint Nicolas was a White European also know as Santa Claus, and Christmas is Christ Mass. The liberals want to make us White people think that everything important was made by a black man, and that if your White unless you sleep with a black person you are a raciest. This is totally wrong but it is liberal politically correct and I am tired of having to bend over backward to watch every word I say around someone who is of a different ethnic background. Get over it, Jesus and Santa are White.

        December 14, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
        • ShannonCT

          "Jesus and Santa are white", as is Muhammad and other fictional superheroes from the Middle East.

          December 14, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • Idiit

      JESUS IS NOT GOD! He never said he was and never asked to be worshiped. That is the biggest sin by christians today. He made up from other Myths from Babylonia to Egypt. Modern christians are the biggest fools around.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
    • ShannonCT

      Why would you worship such an immoral deity who punishes the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of a sinner?

      December 14, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
    • Hmmmmmmmmmm

      No graven images, like, uh, crosses or statues?

      Oh, those are the okay graven images.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • Mopery

      Why would you worship a god who created you sick, yet commands you to be well? Belief in god is the most prevalent form of insanity today.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
  9. Arabian Jesus

    Many European myths come from the Arabs. That's because civilization started there earlier, and then spread to Europe. Santa and Jesus and Mohammed are all Arabs.

    December 14, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • ShannonCT

      And all highly fictionalized.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
  10. Shelia

    Humans truly are a sad case..this race thing is going to end any civilization we ever achieved.. shut the hell up get along work together!!! geez we are one race HUMAN>>>

    December 14, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
  11. John

    Jews were not white back then they were short dark skinned with long noses, later on they migrated and started mixing with whites much later

    December 14, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
  12. John

    I know Jesus he is from Mexico and not his is not white

    December 14, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • Mopery

      You'd be surprised how many Mexicans are white, many emigrated there from Germany, some from Utah(ala-the polygamist Romneys).

      December 14, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  13. 1010101010

    NO. Sorry, but people in the Middle East are not normally white. It is more likely that he was black or some other dark ethnicity. We are wasting our time discussing this. However, Santa Claus was probably Anglo-Saxon or some derivative of thereof. What I really would like to know is how that reindeer had a red nose?

    December 14, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Arabian Jesus

      Santa Clause Was Turkish. So He could have been basically an Arab. Same with the Lord. The Lord Christ was an Arab.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
      • Maddy

        He was actually Greek, when Greece included modern day Turkey.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
  14. Chuck

    Jesus looked like Brad Pitt, Satan looks like Obama

    December 14, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • 1010101010

      Are you Chucky Cheese?

      December 14, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
  15. SChab

    Who cares if Jesus was white, brown, purple or green? Why does it matter?

    December 14, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • Chuck

      They want to claim Exclusive Racisal Rights to Jesus

      But the truth is already writeen down by Heroditus an exact description of him

      December 14, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
      • Maddy

        Really? Herodotus died in 425 BC. Amazing.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
        • Ya know . . .

          Oh don't bother. Religious people never let facts stand in the way of what they want to believe.

          December 14, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  16. Reality

    Jesus likely didn't give a crap what color anyone's skin was. That's one thing that made him such a cool dude.

    December 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Matthew 15:24 But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

      December 14, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • Byron

      Regardless of anyone's color, The Master's level of consciousness made him capable of reading the thoughts of others. What mattered to him was the character of the individual which is the real substance of anyone. because we are all spiritual beings we, too, can expand our spiritual consciousness and be more of the image and likeness of God that we were meant to be. By the way, both Satan and Santa are myths of the human mind, and whose "color" is determined only by the fantasy of those who embrace the cherished myths of Santa and Satan.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
  17. Edo

    I'm not a. Christian but I've read the bible. Description of Christ gives you the answer. Plus he was born in Palestine. He looked more like Bin Laden then blond hair blue eyed creature today's "Christians" are describing

    December 14, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  18. Lana


    December 14, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      What goal do you attempt to accomplish by continuing to post this video?

      December 14, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
      • Maddy

        And such a crappy rendition, at that.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
  19. BuckRogere

    Let me say again – at the risk of repeating myself – there is more 'evidence' for King Arthur than there is for Jesus, and nobody thinks Arthur was real. A myth, most likely.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • dirtyharry

      you are a fool. you are willing to risk your eternal over something you "think". if you knew
      the truth you would be quivering in you loafers after making such a statement. you think you
      are bigger and smarter than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? remember your answer
      when you are cursing him from hell.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
      • Jerry

        Typical – Fire and Brimstone. Some of us refuse to be intimidated.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers


        If you 'knew" the truth you would be able to demonstrate your knowledge, not just make empty proxy threats.

        December 14, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
  20. Chaiah

    Sorry, Megyn, but Jesus was not Caucasian. In fact, he was Semitic and likely had somewhat nappy hair and darker skin. You're not very bright and for you to put forth that Jesus was Caucasian indicates quite a measure of ignorance on your part.

    December 14, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • ES71

      Jews are considered to be white, though. Darker skinned but still white.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • Jerry

      Arabs are Caucasians. They are however not white in the sense that the word is used in Europe and North America.

      December 14, 2013 at 7:21 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.