‘The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America’

KAREN JUANITA CARRILLO | 1/4/2018, 6:22 p.m.
In their 2012 book, “The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America,” Edward ...

The first European colonists did not depict Christ as white, but over decades the forces of white supremacy gained sway in the United States and led to an understanding that it was who Christ had to be.

The authors tell how Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, described his encounter with a vision of Christ. Initially, Christ was a pillar of fire, a light or a brightness from the sun. But over the years, Smith rewrote his tale to explain that what he had seen was a person in the middle of a pillar of fire who had a “light complexion” and “blue eyes.” The first artistic portrayals of a white Christ, as in the painting “Ecce Homo” by William Page, representing the savior as someone with a mere human form were an affront to most people who saw it. It went against the Protestant teachings, which held that Christ was beyond representation in human form. But ultimately with the acceptance of white depictions of Christ, white people in the United States found it helped strengthen their positions in the roles they played in daily life.

The “Color of Christ” helps tell the story of how people of color in the United States have been able to reconcile their faith in Christ with their understandings of who they have been taught to believe Christ emotionally and physically was. The book shines a light on the many pathways that have created the politics behind Christianity in the United States, and it can help anyone trying to comprehend how people of color adapt to the Christianity they are given, and why they have found it necessary to change it.