7 Ways White Jesus Perpetuates White Supremacy

For many people, the image of Christ as a white man is normal. Portraits by the famous artist, Warren Sallman, hang in many churches and households instilling the image of the white Jesus in the minds of many church members. When a Google search is conducted to find images of Christ, stock photos and webpages fill the search results with images of a whitewashed Christ that, again, perpetuates how we see the Savior of our world.

Jesus’ depiction as a white man is not only false, but it is a sin. These false artistic depictions perpetuate, intentionally, the oppressive violence and power hungry motives of white supremacy. Here are just 7 Ways White Jesus Perpetuates White Supremacy:

  1. White Jesus whitewashes the Brown Jesus. The whiteness of the falsely created white Jesus erases the Brownness of the actual Christ who dwelt among humanity. The humanity of Christ was lived out as a brown person with a certain culture and a certain time and space. As we believe in the incarnation, we must believe in the entirety of Jesus’ of humanity: Jesus’ brownness.
  2. Whiteness is directly associated with the Divine. When applying whiteness to Christology, the black liberationist theologian James H. Cone points out that white theology has merely ignored black bodies (and other people of color) and has allowed itself to “determine the meaning of Jesus.” [1] Society has painted a picture of the ideal body and churches (white ones) have painted their own portraits of Jesus “making Jesus into our own images.”[2] Cone claimed the Black Christ “has to do with what Jesus was” – The Oppressed One that hung on the cross. In fact, whiteness is the direct opposite of the Divine.
  3. Creates a false reality and a false Christianity. White supremacy is in the business of creating false realities and constructing false concepts. The white Jesus has constructed a false religion as well as created multiple idols. As people of faith, we are called to call out those falsehoods and melt down the idols of white supremacy.
  4. White characteristics are made superior. When the image of Christ, God among us, is shown with blue eyes, pale skin, blonde hair, this elevates white characteristics to the level of divine. This happens in modern advertisements, marketing campaigns, and beauty shots. White characteristics are centralized and shown as the example of superior beauty.
  5. Physique and perfection of the body are equated with Divinity. Among the white characteristics of the white Christ is the perfect and chiseled body that resembles Greek and Roman artistic expressions of men. This depiction is so much more because it tells us that this is what God sees as beautiful and holy. It directly attributes to white dominated society’s ideal of what a body should look like and causes tremendous trauma for those who do not fit this mold.
  6. Hyper-masculinity is centralized. The white Jesus’ physique may also create a narrative of a hyper-masculine Jesus. Yes, Jesus is identified as a male throughout scripture. But, white Jesus has monopolized how we see Christ in other images which is the work of white supremacy. Artists such as David Hayward have opened up how we may see Christ as a softer, fuller figured, trans-gendered, brown or black human.
  7. Limits how we see and experience God. Christ was Emmanuel, God with us. The white Jesus limits, falsifies that message, and obstructs how we see and experience God. Jesus was the microcosm of the Oppressed Ones – the poor, the black and brown people who are being murdered by police, the people who are suffering from COVID-19 disproportionally, the people who are fat-shamed, our trans and queer siblings, the ones who do not fit society’s molds. Jesus was not white and thank God for that because in Jesus’ Brown body comes a God that sides with the marginalized and the hurting.

So, next time you see a picture of white Jesus, think about the long lasting impacts this image has made and think about the many people it has oppressed…then change it.

[1] James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis, 1995), 113. 

[2] Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 113. 

7 Ways White Jesus Perpetuates White Supremacy is a JustList created by the Unbound Team.

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