Welcome to the age of neo-racism where skin color is an obsession.

Eric Metaxas recently created a twitter storm when he tweeted that Jesus was white.  The social media mob wanted to lynch him at high noon.  Most argued that Jesus was a Palestinian who was closer to black. Maybe,  Mr. Metaxas simply wanted to stir up a hornet’s nest.  If he meant what he wrote, he was as nonsensical as the responses he generated.  Is it possible that our “cancel culture” obsession with color is in danger of turning as racist as Jim Crow segregation?  

The Foolishness of Coloring Jesus

     For starters, Jesus was not a Palestinian.  The very term was unknown until a century after He walked this earth.  When the Jews revolted in 132 AD, Roman Emperor Hadrian punished them by renaming their land after their ancient enemies, the Philistines: Palaestina.  Yet, in the intervening centuries, no one referred to its inhabitants as Palestinians until the British renamed the area Palestine after World War One.  Most so-called Palestinians are a genetic mix of Jew, Arab, Greek, Roman, Persian, Byzantine, African, European Crusaders and colonists, Muslim invaders, and Ottoman Turks. We have no idea whether Jesus, or any of his contemporaries, looked anything like today’s Palestinians. 

     Furthermore, we cannot know what the Jews of his day looked like.  Today’s Israelis are all the hues of the DNA rainbow, from blonde, blue-eyed European Jews to Ethiopian descendants of Abraham. The same was true in Jesus’ day.  No people have been dispersed among nations more than Jews.  Along the way, the ancestors of first century Israelis intermarried with Egyptians, Canaanites, Ethiopians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, and a plethora of other goyim.  No one knows exactly what Jesus looked like.  The Bible doesn’t say and neither do ancient records.  This much is sure: we have no photos or selfie shots of our Lord.  

Jesus’ Identity is Not Set by His Skin Color

     The twitter mob that went after Mr. Metaxas’ ill-advised tweet engaged in wasted energy.  Jesus never saw his identity in his color.  From eternity past, he was One with God the Father, an infinite, eternal, and unchangeable Spirit.  When he took on flesh, becoming a two-celled zygote in a Hebrew virgin’s womb, he had his mother’s DNA and most likely looked like her.  Had he been born in Africa, he would have looked like the people in his African village.  If his incarnation had taken place in Norway, he might have been blonde and blue-eyed.  The color of his skin was unimportant.  What he accomplished was awesome.

      What’s most critical, is that he loves and identifies with people of every ethnicity, nationality, color, gender, status, and time period.  It’s okay if Renaissance Northern Europeans painted his physical image to look like themselves.  There’s nothing wrong with Coptic Ethiopians  adorning their icons with a brown Jesus or African-American baptistries showing a black Jesus coming out of the Jordan River.  No harm, no foul.  However, it is most important that we conform to His image rather than trying to conform Him to our likeness—especially when it comes to something as trivial as our skin color.  

Scientific Fact:  There Are no Real Whites or Real Blacks 

     I have never seen either.  You may be fair-skinned.  But, put your hand on a piece of white paper, and you will see that you are not white.  If you are an African-American, put your hand on a black piece of paper and you will discover that you are not black.  We are all somewhere on the color continuum between black and white.  Can you pinpoint the line where you go from being white to black or vice versa?  At best, it is a totally arbitrary point. The truth is:  we are all people of color—all of us lighter or darker than others.  Biologically, race is only skin deep.  The very idea of race doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny.  Genetic differences between the blackest blacks or whitest whites are so miniscule that they render racism irrelevant, illogical and insane.  

The Content of Our Character, not the Color of Our Skin

    In his most famous speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.”  He spoke during apartheid in America when white lives mattered most.  Sadly, today we have gone to the other end of the color continuum—Black Lives Matter.  And, indeed they do.  But we must be careful not to move away from MLK’s dream that character, not color, defines our identity.  My friend, Mr. Metaxas, didn’t help anyone when he identified Jesus as white rather than the Savior of all God’s children. Those who argued for a Palestinian or black Jesus were just as wrong.  

 All Are Precious in His Sight

     I recently read a Facebook post where an African-American friend displayed a video of an urban street dance group performing at a BLM rally.  She wrote, “I’ve never been prouder to be black.  Black people are so much more special.”   What if I had posted a video of a Scottish bagpipe band, with a similar comment:  “I’ve never been prouder to be white.  White people are so much more special.”  I suspect Facebook would have taken down my post.  And well they should have.  

     I pray that Dr. King’s dream will still come true.  Maybe we should dust off that old children’s chorus from Sunday School:  “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.  Red and yellow, black and white—they are precious in his sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world.”  We have a long way to go before color no longer defines  us, corrupts our institutions or keeps folks from being all that God created them to be.  But, in trying to correct past color divides, let’s not create new ones.  

Dr. Bob Petterson
Legacy Imperative