It’s wrong to worship ‘white Jesus’

Jesus, Christians believe, is God-with-us.  Thus, when someone insists Jesus was “white,” the theological implication is that God is white. In fact, doesn’t … Continued

Jesus, Christians believe, is God-with-us.  Thus, when someone insists Jesus was “white,” the theological implication is that God is white.

In fact, doesn’t God, in our cultural stereotype, look a lot like Santa? Old white man with a long white beard?

A great illustration of this point happened on Wednesday night when Megyn Kelly declared on her Fox News showthat both Santa Claus and Jesus were white.

Jesus and Santa are enormously powerful images for Americans and it is not surprising, as the U.S. is becoming ever more racially diverse, that there would be a visible contest over whether Jesusand Santa are white.

This is the frontline of our struggles over what it means to be an American and a person of faith today. Racial prejudice has actually increased since the election of Barack Obama, as an AP News Poll taken earlier this fall shows.  This is due, I believe, to an increase in racially polarizing rhetoric since President Obama’s election, and it is both culturally and religiously harmful.

Kelly’s comments were elicited by a piece in Slate, “Santa Claus Should Not Be A White Man Any More,” by Alisha Harris.  Harris writes movingly about the dominant culture white Santa and its effect on her as a kid.

But Alisha Harris’s childhood experience should be disregarded, according to Kelly, because it is contradictory to dominant cultural and religious norms. “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change, you know?” she added. “I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure, that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa — I just want the kids watching to know that.”

Santa, of course, is a fictional character based on the 4th century Saint Nikolaos of Myra who lived in what is now Turkey.

Jesus, however, was an historical figure and he was not “white.”

Jesus was a Jew born in ancient Israel. In 2001, for a BBC series called the “Son of God,” the makers of the show “employed modern forensic techniques to create a model of Christ’s face based on the skull of a 1st century Jewish man.” Their Jesus looks nothing like the delicate featured, European-style Jesus of Renaissance painters. And he has dark skin.

But what is especially crucial in this analysis of the role of religion as an anchor for racism is the title of the BBC Series, that is, “Son of God.” When you say the “Son of God,” that is, Jesus,  is white, you are implying, theologically speaking, that God iswhite.  Racism doesn’t just happen; it is socially and religiously created and maintained, and the image of God as white is crucial to attempts to maintain racial prejudice and division.

That God is too small for this America and has been, actually, for a long time.

Theologian James Cone put it best, when he wrote, in his chapter “God is Black,” for the textbook in theology I edited, Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside“I also believe that ‘God is mother,’ ‘rice,’ ‘red,’ and a host of other things that give life to those whom society condemns to death.”

James Cone reminds us, as does Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Pope Francis, often does as well, “the universality of God is found in the particularity of the suffering poor.”

God-with-us is God with the poor, the marginalized, the suffering.  Those folks come in all races and ages, but one thing they have in common is that our dominant culture despises and rejects them. But God does not.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • fly on a wall

    jesus is white…read the bible..adam was first white man and adma means to literally show red in the face..read song of solomon chapter 5

    david had red hair…

Read More Articles

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

shutterstock_186566975
Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

shutterstock_186090179
How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

pews
Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

2337221655_c1671d2e5e_b
Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

bible
Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

csl_wall_paper
What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.