‘At the center of the book is the story of white Jesus… how he rose to become a conflicted icon of white supremacy’
Kam Williams Special To The Skanner News
“How is it that a Jewish prophet from the Roman era ran so explosively into the American obsession with race that his image has been used to justify the worst atrocities of white supremacy as well as inspire the most heroic of civil rights crusaders? The Color of Christ explores the ways Americans gave physical forms to Jesus… and how they remade the Son of God… time and again into a sacred symbol of their greatest aspirations, deepest terrors, lowest actions, highest expressions, and mightiest strivings for racial power and justice.
The Color of Christ… by showing how Americans imagined and depicted Jesus Christ’s body, skin tone, eye color… and hairstyle, reveals a new face of the power and malleability of race in our history. At the center of the book is the story of white Jesus… how he rose to become a conflicted icon of white supremacy… and how he was able to endure all types of challenges to remain the dominant image of God’s human form in the nation and throughout the world.
— Excerpted from the Introduction (page 7)
What did Jesus look like? The only hint we get from the scriptures is contained in the book of Revelation which describes Christ as having woolly hair*. Otherwise, we know he was a Jew from an area of the world where most folks were brown-skinned a couple of millennia ago.
So, when Christianity crossed the Atlantic, there was not yet an ethnicity associated with Jesus, since “the writers of the Bible had their own obsessions, but race was not one of them.” This is the thesis of Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, co-authors of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.
In the book, the pair put forth the proposition that the religion only became racist after the American Revolution when “a white Jesus was first used to try to bring unity and purpose to the young nation.” They go on to argue that the promotion of the Son of God as Caucasian put a racial spin on both creation and redemption.
Consequently, “the white Jesus promised a white past, a white present, and a future of white glory.” Curiously, not only Europeans, but Africans and Indians would embrace the image of Jesus with “blondish hair that fell below his shoulders” and “blue eyes” that “gazed into the distance.”
Furthermore, Christianity provided plantation owners with a rationalization for slavery, as much as it offered their desperate chattel the faint hope of ever-elusive freedom. Those diametrically-opposed perspectives survived way past emancipation with both the Ku Klux Klan and the black civil rights activists relying on the notion that “God is on our side” to advance their conflicting causes.
Blum and Harvey conclude that “Jesus will probably remain white for most Americans,” because that version of Christ is “a symbol and a symptom of racial power yet to be put fully to death.” An insightful, historical opus delivering a sobering message about how we all might have been harmed by the generally-accepted image of the Messiah.
Our Scripture readings for this coming Sunday, July 29 are: 2 Kings 4: 42-44, Ephesians 4: 1-6, and the Gospel from John 6: 1-15. The theme is: God Provides.
In the first reading we get an immediate connection with our Gospel for the day, a message of sharing what little we have. Elisha, the prophet graciously received a gift of bread that was far too small an amount to feed the people gathered. Yet, Elisha trusted God and set the little he had before a 100 people and they all ate, were filled, and had some left over. Elisha understood how generous God is and that when we give all we have, God can provide all that is needed for everyone. The abundance of bread came after Elisha was willing to share the little he had!
In the Gospel of John 6: 1-15, we have a similar story of abundance out of almost nothing. This wonderful miracle depended on the generosity of a young man who presented his five loaves and two fish to the Apostles. The apostles almost laughed at this meager offering; how could this possibly feed this vast crowd? The young man becomes the catalyst for turning what is a little into an abundant feast for all.
Notice that in both stories generosity was the key. And what was a small insignificant gift is turned into a banquet. The hungry were fed because someone was willing to share even the little he had.
For us to repeat this wonderful miracle we don’t need a lot. We don’t have to wait to win the lottery to be generous. We start with what we have and we share. This can be money, time, or talent. What is important is that we see ourselves as the instrument for sharing God’s great gifts. What we have been given, we gladly share with others.
And for this miracle to happen, for us to have the grace to be generous, we need to see ourselves united with our brothers and sisters as one family. St. Paul preaches this from prison as he tells us “to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
For us who call ourselves Christians, we have a far way to go to make the words of Paul a reality. So many go hungry, die young, never realize their God-given potential because the rest of us do not share even the little we have. We must remember, “The hand of the Lord feeds us and answers all our needs.”
Please join us for worship on Sunday at 8:00 or 10:30 AM. We are at 4051 N. 25th Street, just north of Capitol Drive, in the heart of the city.