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. Science Works

    And the hands that were supposedly nailed to the cross are marvels of evolution !\

    Discovery of 1.4 Million-Year-Old Fossil Human Hand Bone Closes Human Evolution Gap

    Dec. 16, 2013 —


    December 17, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Manleywaest

      Only in the USA could anyone see Jesus as "White" or "Black". Jesus was a Hebrew from the Middle East.
      1. Abraham the father of Judaism was from IRAQ/SYRIA (Think about that before wanting more war in the Middle East)

      2. Ephraim who Jacob blessed had an Egyptian mother. Moses came from this line.

      3. Moses "passed" as an Egyptian because HE LOOKED LIKE ONE.


      December 17, 2013 at 10:58 am |
      • Science Works

        merry Christmas !

        December 17, 2013 at 11:07 am |
  2. laststonecarver

    They could have been albino, and white – in the Great used to Was, as it were –
    The Great used to Was, that time when one person distinctly remembers differently from another, but through concensus, occurances are deemed to be actual, and are recorded, LATER, by a Controlling Majority –

    December 17, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • JR


      December 17, 2013 at 10:44 am |
      • laststonecarver

        If there were a Jesus or Santa, they could have been albino, and so could have been white – regardless of race, ethnicity –
        History – the Great used to Was – is recorded, LATER, and is possibly a demonstration of occurances that actually took place – especially considering the instraments to record such events, and the perception of the recorder/reporter – and certainly the length of time intervening between event and recording –

        December 17, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  3. nonracist

    religion itself is the reason why there is racism,and I believe religion will provide the solution for humanity to unite and eliminate it.human greed is innate to nature but we will evolve and transcend to a higher level of cosciousness when we will accomplish the next stage of evolutionary religious faith.there will be a religion centered and concerned on the betterment of man,the lack of universal communication delayed this transformation,but it will be realized in the next hundreds of years.It is now starting with us.The internet is providing the medium that will unite us and ulitmately accomplish what God willed for us.

    December 17, 2013 at 5:47 am |
    • Sue

      God wanted the internet, where the information to defeat the ignorance which spawns belief in him is circulated?

      Not too bright of him, unless he simply wants to retire from servicing the petty needs of his followers.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:28 am |
      • dev

        Sue,God is much more complex and far reaching and powerfull than you think,your concept of him is not different from those who worship him thousands of years ago.However the definition of His powers is not clearly understood.His being all knowing,all powerfull and all present is the descriptions that match what is happening to everything.If you disregard science in religion ,you are lost,,but scientific knowledge explains everything in religious history.

        December 17, 2013 at 8:55 am |
        • fintastic

          More like scientific knowledge explains that religion is an invention of man. Fiction – myth.

          December 17, 2013 at 10:01 am |
        • Sue

          "your concept of him is not different from those who worship him thousands of years ago."
          You mean flawed, like how Paul, Peter and even Jesus viewed God, I suppose?

          "However the definition of His powers is not clearly understood."
          Then how can you claim to know that my concept is flawed? You don't "clearly understand" it either, right?

          "His being all knowing,all powerfull and all present is the descriptions that match what is happening to everything."

          "but scientific knowledge explains everything in religious history."
          Not everything, yet, but I doubt that you'll like the explanation.

          December 17, 2013 at 10:19 am |
  4. nonracist

    religion itself is the reason why there is racism,and I believe religion will provide the solution for humanity to unite and eliminate it.human greed is innate to nature but we will evolve and transcend to a higher level of cosciousness when we will accomplish the next stage of evolutionary religious faith.there will be a religion centered and concerned on the betterment of man,the lack of universal communication delayed this transformation,but it will be realized in the next hundreds of years.It is now starting with us.The internet is providing the medium that will unite us and ulitmately accomplish what God willed for us.b

    December 17, 2013 at 5:43 am |
    • lol??

      The race is known for bullyin' and jumping to conclusions. Know the Tower of Babel story??

      December 17, 2013 at 6:04 am |
  5. nonracist

    now i am beggining to understand why religion cant change the racist discriminition of non white people to colored ones.Because they clinging to old

    December 17, 2013 at 5:16 am |
    • igaftr

      all people are colored.

      December 18, 2013 at 9:25 am |
  6. Reality # 2

    As per most contemporary NT scholars, his parents were Mary and Joseph although some say Jesus was a ma-mzer, the result of a pre-marital relationship between Mary and a Roman soldier.

    http:// http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

    Jesus was not born in Bethlehem at least the one we are familiar with and there were no pretty wingie thingies singing from on high, no slaughter of the innocents by Herod, no visiting wise men and no escape to Egypt.

    "John P. Meier – Professor at Notre Dame

    Meier [Marginal Jew I,216-219] notes that the "affirmation of Jesus' descent from David might easily be placed alongside his birth at Bethlehem as a theologoumenon (a theological insight narrated as a historical event) if it were not for the fact that numerous and diverse streams of NT tradition also affirm Jesus' Davidic lineage."

    "Meier suggests that the belief that Jesus was "son of David" may have been held by Jesus' followers prior to his death, with his resurrection then being understood as a form of enthronement. However, he notes that such messianic views, whatever their provenance, cannot prove Jesus was "literally, biologically of Davidic stock."

    Mark's gospel, the most historical of the four gospels, does not even mention the event.

    And from Professor Gerd Ludemann in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 269-272, "The historical yield of the Lukan infancy narrative in respect to the birth of Jesus is virtually nil (ditto for Matt. 1: 18-25, Matt. 2. 1-23)"


    Conclusion: the holyday of Christmas is historically a non-event. Ditto for the Feast of the Magi and the solemnity of Mary aka New Years day.

    December 17, 2013 at 12:25 am |
  7. Brian Looney

    I'm so happy we can tackle REAL issues like this. Now, let's take it up a notch. Who would win? Mighty Mouse or Superman.

    December 16, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
  8. Jeremy Ryan Banks

    Listen here we are in a world of turmoil with fighting over what color Jesus and Santa is. You have a African American reporter who is reporting this and goes to the black Santa and says "where is the brother"? Explain that then? I'm a Caucasian male who voted for Obama. I'm not a racist, but do wish Obama's term was already up?

    December 16, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  9. RighteousRuler

    Jesus is God is Spirit. eyes like fire, few people get it right. go to the holy scriptures: "His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters." (Rev.1)

    December 16, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • Reality # 2

      "Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation "the insanest of all books".[30] Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he "considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams." [31]

      Martin Luther "found it an offensive piece of work" and John Calvin "had grave doubts about its value."[32]

      December 17, 2013 at 12:20 am |
    • Ben

      That's the Rambo Jesus; the one who's gonna conquer the world, end democracy everywhere, and bring everyone under his heel.

      Most Christians find him a little off-putting to use as the poster boy when trying to sell their religion to others. For that, they roll out the "Jesus meek and mild" alter ego. Blond haired, blue-eyed, smiling white guy that children can flock to. The other guy is his Mr. Hyde, and I don't think too many children would want to move towards him.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  10. 7

    Everyone is welcome to visit ...


    December 16, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
  11. Child of God

    About a year ago I started reading the Bible and it changed my life. I study everyday and see prophecies fulfilled in the news everyday. After starting as a sceptic, I have found truth and peace in Jesus and have done much research from even non biblical sources. Did you know that the non believers during the time of Jesus actually made up lies to explain away the obvious power He had? They claimed when he went to Egypt he practiced sorcery and magic and that's how he was able to heal so many. They couldn't deny his miracles they witnessed so they had to explain it away! Back then they didn't have a leg to stand on when it came to Jesus because they had all the proof in front of them whereas you all claim the writers just copied everything from the Old Testament.

    December 16, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
    • KellyP

      I started as a Christian, actually read all of the Bible, became skeptical until I understood what I had read, and have been an atheist ever since.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • fintastic

      "he practiced sorcery and magic and that's how he was able to heal so many."

      Just listen to yourself...... so sad when adults believe this nonsense.

      December 17, 2013 at 10:06 am |
      • Ernest T Bass

        "miracles" same thing.....

        December 17, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • Ernest T Bass

      You should really change your handle to "child of mythology"

      December 17, 2013 at 10:07 am |
  12. One day

    I hope, people won't notice race at all, but it will take a while.

    December 16, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  13. OO OO

    god is love
    god is good

    December 16, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Roger that

      The Bible disagrees with that statement.

      December 16, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
      • Child of God

        No Jesus said no one was good except God. He wanted them only call him good if they believed He was indeed God.

        December 16, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
        • Roger that

          Just because someone says it, doesn't make it so. Anyone that kills innocent children, is anything but good.

          December 17, 2013 at 3:24 am |
        • lol??

          Roger dodger, SCOTUS said it and made it so.

          December 17, 2013 at 5:31 am |
        • truthprevails1

          COG: You have no clue outside of the bible as to what jesus apparently said. Nothing was written about him until decades after he died and anyone with a partially working brain knows that stories get embellished over the years.
          Now I'm suspecting you're about 15 and really are quite clueless but there are books that are written in the 21st century that show the fallacies of your faith and debunk your bible, some of these books are called science books.

          December 17, 2013 at 6:21 am |
        • KellyP

          17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

          18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]”

          20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

          21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

          22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

          Mark 10:17-22

          In context, isn't Jesus making a point here that nobody is good "enough" to make it into heaven, but that keeping certain commandments (and notice that he didn't include any of the God-centered ones) and giving all that you have to charity were the key? Where do you get the idea that this has anything at all to do with some random fringe follower not recognizing him as God, when it is plainly a lesson in how the love of riches bars people's way into heaven?

          December 17, 2013 at 10:11 am |
        • JR

          When did the SCOTUS ever rule killing children is okay, lol?? Because a child, by definition, is someone who has been already born. So stop killing children, hmmm?

          December 17, 2013 at 10:38 am |
        • Roger that


          True. That is usually my first thought. My point here is that actions speak louder than words.

          December 17, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  14. OO OO

    god is love

    December 16, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Sue

      "love" can't create a universe all by itself, and "love" isn't interested in answering anyone's prayers, or if the person anyone actually loves happens to have the same private parts that they do.

      December 16, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
      • lol??

        You had privacy in yer closet. Now you support the NSA. The Servants LUV you.

        December 17, 2013 at 5:29 am |
  15. Lana


    December 16, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • Velandra

      OK, so this is really just a cover (not horrible) by someone calling themselves Meet Your Maker on YouTube.

      December 16, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
  16. Snow

    I guess they believe some people missed the memo that said "GOD IS WHITE", when they keep spewing that his son is white, coz, you know.. Genitics and all!!.

    December 16, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  17. DecoMama

    The whole thing is ridiculous because most likely Jesus was black or extremely dark skinned – look at where and when he lived! And Santa was a construct of Europeans, so most likely he looks white. Does that mean Santa can't be black, asian or native american – no, of course not. Does that mean the Jesus can't be protrayed as white? Of course not. People construct an appearance for their icons that they are comfortable with. These are representations of what people think, not actual pictures of reality.

    December 16, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • no one cares

      It's ridiculous because we know Santa isn't real...and jesus – if he even was real – was just an itinerant apocalyptic preacher. One of hundreds during that time. Not 'divine', and now just dead.

      Jesus is santa claus for grownups.

      December 16, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  18. Peta

    Both Jesus and Santa Claus are figments of your imagination created by crafty men over the centuries that wanted to control the masses and get something for nothing from the gullable, ignorant masses.. Santa is Jesus for children, and Jesus is santa for adults. Period.

    December 16, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • Christopher

      " Santa is Jesus for children, and Jesus is santa for adults."

      Nicely said!

      December 16, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • RighteousRuler

      scorners delight in scorning and fools hate knowledge

      December 16, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • lol??


      December 16, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
  19. Peta

    Jesus and Santa Claus can be the color of the one wondering about color because no one knows what color their were or if they ever existed.

    December 16, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156
About this blog

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.