Jesus and race
Armstrong Williams | 1/9/2014, 1:02 p.m.
What we do know is that every culture and ethnicity adapts the image of Jesus to fit its congregation. This tradition goes back to Paul himself adapting Jesus’ message to the gentiles, seeing more possibility in converting Romans than convincing the Jews of Jesus Messianism. Unsurprisingly, early Christian art found in Roman catacombs shows Jesus and other biblical figures as very Roman-looking.
Proponents of either Black or white Jesus may be shocked to travel to China and learn that many Chinese Christians believe God and Jesus to be Chinese. However, such assimilation is the norm. Many times, the crusade to claim Jesus, as well as other historical figures, as one race or another is not concerned with unveiling the truth. It is usually about power, real or imagined.
By “proving” Jesus is one skin color or another, many people believe it discredits the history of another race while empowering their own. If Jesus was white, then God is white and favors Caucasians. On the other hand, proving he was Black serves to affirm Black aesthetics, culture and history. Furthermore, “authenticating” Jesus’ heritage can insinuate that one group is oppressing the truth in order to subvert history and a race of peoples.
We can point to historical examples of groups twisting Jesus’ heritage. In the 20th century alone, we saw the Ku Klux Klan co-opt Jesus for religious justifications to oppress and lynch Blacks. Nazi Germany actively pushed the idea of the Aryan Jesus, fabricating scholarship about Aryan colonies in Judea and such, in a direct attempt to de-Jewify Jesus.
Every insistence that Jesus is actually such-and-such ethnicity only serves to demean Christianity, obfuscate Jesus’ message and create hate and bitterness. The fact of the matter is, we cannot definitively state the skin color or facial features of one particular person who was never described nor sat for a portrait or sculpture 2,000 years ago. No firsthand reports of Jesus appear in the Bible; groups must rely on the visions of prophets, not descriptions in the Gospels, to bolster their claims. In fact, racial descriptions and depictions of Jesus did not begin to appear until centuries after his death.
The key to understanding the irrelevance of Jesus’ race is right in front of us. If the writers of the Gospels found it unimportant to tell you exactly what Jesus looked like, then perhaps it does not matter. What do the Gospels tell us? They tell us of the ministry of Jesus. They tell us that his message is to love all—friends, family and even your enemies—to be forgiving; to act genuinely; and that God is not the wrathful, vengeful and jealous God of the Old Testament, but a loving and kind father.
These ideas are universal. They know no color, creed or race. Even if someone is Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist, you will find that they all agree that the principles of Jesus are righteous. If cultures are at odds with each other, they can agree on the importance of Jesus’ message. Why do Christians feel the need to go to war with each other over something that has no bearing on our salvation?
Maybe the key is to let go of our individual mental images of Jesus and accept all interpretations of his race. I do not need to prove to another Christian that Jesus was Brown, yellow, Black or white. If they feel it is that important to their understanding of Christ, then let them have their image if it helps them to internalize his message.
It is the love and honesty that Jesus preached that we must herald and strive to uphold. To get caught up in futile discussions of an unknowable and trivial tangent only serves to belittle ourselves and our brothers and sisters. The only race that Jesus belongs to that matters is the human race.
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