THE BLOG
12/16/2013 04:43 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2014

The Problem With Jesus Being White

Much has has been made about the recent Fox News segment in which host Megyn Kelly took issue with a piece written by Aisha Harris for Slate.com titled: "Santa Claus should not be a White Man Anymore."

Kelly stated that both Santa Claus and Jesus were white.

I do not profess to understand what warrants significance in the 24-hour cable news cycle. It would certainly seem that the percentage of melanin or lack thereof in the fictional character known as Santa Claus qualifies.

I'm equally uncertain of the significance of this kerfuffle posed by either side. I don't think that believing that Santa is white makes Kelly a racist.

I did take note that Kelly held the same position for Jesus. It was an offhand remark that warrants further examination.

In the Christian context, the belief in Jesus translates to God is with us -- see John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." To follow Kelly's line of thinking, wouldn't God also be white?

The notion that Jesus is white is problematic on two fronts.

First, historically it is simply not true. I am unaware of any respected historian or anthropologist who places Jesus' birth in any region known today as Europe. Second, and perhaps most important, the revelation that Jesus was white would be news to Jesus himself.

By definition, white is a social construct, not an ethnicity. It is a classification, at least in America, originated by the powerful denoting some form of privilege, which tragically led to methods of oppression. The belief that Jesus was white is an attempt to place him in the box of "Constantine Christianity."

The historical Jesus was part of an oppressed group, under the occupation of the Roman Empire. Several centuries after his death, his oppressors simply used his name to further their conquests, which ran in stark contrast to Jesus' documented concern for the least of these.

Early Christianity was a rebellious underground movement until Roman Emperor Constantine made it his religious practice in A.D. 312.

Constantine's conversion was based on what he viewed as a victorious sign from God prior to going into battle. His successor, Theodosius I, made it the official religion of Rome in A.D. 380. These events did more for the spread of Christianity than any proselytizing efforts conducted by the Apostle Paul.

But it was a religion that was subservient to the Roman Empire, bearing little resemblance to the radical teachings of Jesus. It has been this brand of Christianity, which has its roots in the Roman Empire that has historically sided with some of the worst atrocities in human history.
This is a brand of "Christianity" that offered biblical support for slavery, Jim Crow segregation, the Holocaust, and Apartheid. It stood proudly in so-called moral opposition to women's suffrage, and most recently marriage equality.

It is an idolatrous ethos that suggests Jesus sides with the empire. It opts for the false notions of pigmentation based on paintings that began depicting Jesus as white some 500 years after his death, instead of embracing his arduous teachings of inconvenient love.

Inconvenient love is understood as a creative, redemptive good will for all. It is a love that is not dependent on liking the individual or agreeing with the position taken, but possesses an overriding commitment to affirm the humanity of all. It is much easier and less time consuming to offer a theological rule than to see value in others, especially those who are different.

Inconvenient love is reflected in the parables of the Good Samaritan and prodigal child, and it is the ultimate lesson offered in the gospel narratives that chronicle Jesus' death on the cross.

The Ku Klux Klan had its greatest recruiting success, portraying itself as a "Christian" organization, peaking in the mid 1920s, claiming some 4-5 million male members. The notion of Jesus being white led to churches, particularly, but not exclusively, in the South to forbid blacks admittance.

Constantine Christianity explains how in the 21st century Jesus is portrayed as a champion of tax cuts, war, and the Second Amendment. He wants to eliminate social safety nets, and possesses little regard for the least of these in society.

Kelly's statement appears far more benign than what I have offered. But it has been benign ignorance that for several centuries has served as life support for Constantine Christianity.

Whoever needs Jesus to have a specific skin color misses the point. The color of Jesus' skin is irrelevant. It is the radical life he led, and the teachings that he left behind that matter.