The White, European Jesus of Western Imagination is FictionHistorians in the News
tags: conservatism, racism, Christianity
Evangelical writer and radio host Eric Metaxas is one of those figures on the right who has been miniaturized by his association with President Trump. The author of a flawed but serious biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is more recently the co-author of the children’s book “Donald Builds the Wall!” From Dietrich to Donald is a fall of biblical proportions.
Now Metaxas has stirred controversy with a tweet contending (or assuming) that Jesus was White. His claim was made in reaction to news that the United Methodist Church is partnering with Robin DiAngelo, the author of “White Fragility,” to produce a video series on “Deconstructing White Privilege.” Metaxas’s response read in full: “Jesus was white. Did he have ‘white privilege’ even though he was entirely without sin? Is the United Methodist Church covering that? I think it could be important.”
Metaxas has subsequently attempted to place his claim about Jesus’ ethnicity into context. But there is no context in which this statement makes historical or theological sense. In attempting to debunk the idea of white privilege, Metaxas employed a traditional affirmation of white supremacy.
There are admittedly no physical descriptions of Jesus in the Gospels. Traditions about his appearance, including the beard, arose more than a century after his death. But there is no doubt that he was a Jew from what we now know as the Middle East. The white, European Jesus of Western imagination is a fiction produced by those who could not imagine human perfection in any other form. “Whites simply couldn’t conceive of owing their salvation to a representative of what they considered an inferior race,” Robert P. Jones, chief executive of PRRI and the author of “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity” emailed me. “And a nonwhite Jesus would render impossible the intimate relationalism necessary for the evangelical paradigm to function: no proper white Christian would let a brown man come into their hearts or submit themselves to be a disciple of a swarthy Semite.”
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