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Off-hand remark by FOX host sparks debate on Jesus' race

Megyn Kelly, host of Fox News Channel's "The Kelly Files," rehearses for the debut of her new show, in New York, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.
Megyn Kelly, host of Fox News Channel's "The Kelly Files," rehearses for the debut of her new show, in New York, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.
Richard Drew, Associated Press

FOX News host Megyn Kelly says airing a piece last week that declared Santa was white was meant to be humorous. But when she decided to slip in her view that Jesus, too, was white, the joke was over.

Kelly was responding to Slate's Aisha Harris whose column Santa Should No Longer Be a White Man, but a penguin. Harris later wrote that her piece was a tongue-in-cheek criticism "that America continues to promote the harmful idea of whiteness-as-default."

So Kelly decided to take her own stab at humor to counter Harris' viewpoint, but it backfired with columnists and late-night talk show hosts taking her to task for declaring the jolly old elf was for a fact, white.

Kelly has held her ground, accusing her critics of engaging in "race baiting," according to Politico.

But the host of "The Kelly File" did back off her remarks that Jesus, too, was white.

"I also did say Jesus was white. As I've learned in the past two days, that is far from settled," she said.

Indeed, Jonathan Merritt wrote in the Atlantic that insisting Jesus was white is bad history and theology.

"The myth of a white Jesus is one with deep roots throughout Christian history. As early as the Middle Ages and particularly during the Renaissance, popular Western artists depicted Jesus as a white man, often with blue eyes and blondish hair," he wrote. "Perhaps fueled by some Biblical verses correlating lightness with purity and righteousness and darkness with sin and evil, these images sought to craft a sterile Son of God."

Religion scholar Reza Aslan told the Washington Post that the only hint of Jesus' mortal appearance was that he was Galilean.

"As a Galilean, he would have been what is referred to as a Palestinian Jew. He would look the way that the average Palestinian would look today," Aslan was quoted as saying.

But he explained that when Christians view Jesus as the Christ they depict him as one of them, be it white, African, Asian or Latino. "Megyn Kelly is right. Her Christ is white," Aslan said.

Theologian Susan Brooks Thistlewaite wrote in Washington Post of the danger in declaring Jesus as white."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," she wrote.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in 1957 that Jesus transcended race, according to a column earlier this year by historian Edward J. Blum in Aeon Magazine.

"The significance of Jesus lay, not in His color, but in His unique God-consciousness and His willingness to surrender His will to God’s will," King wrote in Ebony Magazine. "He was the Son of God, not because of His external biological make-up, but because of His internal spiritual commitment. He would have been no more significant if His skin had been black. He is no less significant because His skin was white."


Twitter: @deseretbrown