Monday, January 24, 2005

white Jesus

It has always bothered me that Jesus in the Sunday school pictures is white. Did they miss the part where it says he was born a Hebrew? Somehow I doubt he had blue eyes. There is a 10 000 Villages store not far from here that sells all manner of nativiy sceens -- African Jesus, Indian Jesus, Latin Jesus, even a curiously moving faceless Jesus. They're fantastic. Today I came across a site presenting "The Life of Jesus Christ: An African Interpretation by the Mafa People in Cameroun" and once again I'm taken by the beauty of a completely different view of a very old story. Who's to say that a black Jesus tending the sheep on the serengeti is any less valid than a white, blue eyed Jesus with little white children gathered at his feet?

They're amazing paintings. See for yourself:

I wonder if Jesus sees us in colour when He looks at us? Maybe all He sees is what we were supposed to be, what we are promised we will become again -- a reflection of Himself, made in His own image.


kelly said...

i have often thought of this too. how is a hebrew a fair-skinned, light brown hair and blue-eyed caucasian? are we "creating" Him to be who WE want Him to be? does this present any racial possibilities - can we not accept that He was born a Hebrew, and probably did not look like all of the pictures we have painted? very interesting blog, loon :)

westcoastloon said...

Hey kbe, I heard a speaker say one time that we are often guilty of creating God in OUR own image. I think that there’s a lot of truth in that.


Jan H. Boer said...

As proprietor of I appreciate the recommendation of the Mafa reproductive art work. They are beautiful indeed and hence I am proud to be associated with it and help in its distribution. Having lived in West Africa for 30 years, I can vouch for their authenticity in addition to their beauty.

However, if the Mafa materials are legitimate as a way of interpreting Christ in a specific culture, then so are all those expressions of the white Christ. Those are equally legitimate interpretations of Christ for white cultures. Too many people react negatively to a basically valid attempt to interpret Christ if He is portrayed as white. This is an unhealthy reaction, probably mostly driven by guilty conscience for white racism. White racism cannot be denied, but attempts to interpret Christ for white cultures are legitimate. One could equally condemn the Mafa art because Blacks are equally racist.

As to whether we are creating a Christ in our image, whether black or white, that is not the issue. The issue is to make Him legible to different cultures. These are art works, not photographic representations. They represent meaning expressed in the various cultures.

Jan H. Boer
Vancouver, Canada
Author of Studies in Christian-Muslim Relations