CNN anchor Don Lemon told Meghan McCain and The View that Americans need to stop teaching that Jesus was white. There's only a few problems with this: every culture depicts a Jesus that looks like them, from Japanese to Aborigines, to Ethiopians, to Swedes; and no one actually thinks that Jesus was a European-looking white guy.
"There is obviously no question," began McCain, "that white people have to shoulder the responsibility for bringing about an end to racism. But in your new book, you do offer advice for the black community as well. What is that advice, and why was it important for you to include that in your book?"
Lemon's big advice is that people need to stop teaching that Jesus was white. That this is his advice means that he thinks people are primarily teaching and believing that Jesus was white. They aren't.
Literally every culture on earth teaches the story of Jesus, with him and his family represented with the appearance of that culture. Japanese nativities show Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as Japanese. Aboriginal interpretations of the Christ story show him as Aboriginal. Ethiopians show Jesus and all the saints as Ethiopian, Guatemalan representations show him as Guatemalan, Native American depictions of Christ show him as Native American. And American representations of Christ, the nativity, and the saints are as numerously varied as the cultures of the US.
Even in art, black, American artist Romare Bearden from the Harlem Renaissance era, showed baby Jesus and his mother as black. Contemporary artist, Kehinde Wiley, one of the most notable American artists showing today, represents the mother and child in the classical form of the Madonna and child paintings as a black mother with her soccer-playing son. There are plenty of black Jesuses on crosses throughout churches and schools in the US, and many more where Jesus is shown on the cross as an emaciated, dying Arab man—which he was.
There are as many different representations of Christ as there are cultures on earth. The story of Christ is not about the identity of Jesus, but the identity of his believers–we see ourselves in Christ and we see Christ in us. His skin color, eye color, hair color, is our own. What we learn from the Gospels is that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is in us. The Holy Spirit gave the apostles the ability to speak all languages, to communicate to all people, and Jesus is nothing lesser than the light in all of us. Light has no color, and it warms all who stand within it.
Lemon said, "People ask me all the time, especially young mothers, young white mothers, they say what can I do? How can I fix this after George Floyd? I don't have the vocabulary to teach my kids. What can I do? I thought about that and offered some advice. That's what the book is about. It's one of the reasons I wrote the book. We have to start, as I said earlier in the show, we have to teach the true history of this country, the history that African-Americans brought to this country."
"We have to start being realistic about God and the Bible," he continued. "If you are a person of faith in this country, and we know America is built on faith and religious freedom, a good way of starting is to present the true identity of Jesus. That is a black or brown person, rather than someone who looks like a white hippy from Sweden or Norway. We should start with that and put that in your home, either a Black Jesus or Brown Jesus. Jesus looked more like a Muslim or someone who is dark, rather than a blonde-looking carpenter."
This is the second problem with his assumption: Just who does he think is teaching this? Having grown up Roman Catholic, having attended many churches, gone to Catholic school, studied my Bible, been entirely and 100 percent raised on a steady diet of American pop culture from the late 20th century through today, it never once occurred to me that Jesus, the man who walked the earth, was white. We know, as Christians, that Jesus was a Middle Eastern man with dark skin, undoubtedly sporting tight curls and a Semitic nose. We know, too, that the traditions of his family and his people were the traditions of the tribes of Israel, not the traditions of the fjords.
Lemon told The View, "When your children ask you who is this, say this is Jesus. Jesus does not look like the popular depiction we have in our churches and our homes, and we see all over the media. That is a good place to start. That's a good place that your kids will ask questions, and then you can go from there, and then we can—then we can come to a true reality about what America really is and then try to figure out how we fix this issue of racism in the country. It is a spell that must be broken."
But in reality, it is not a spell that must be broken, because it is simply not true. The origins of "Swedish Jesus" are all because Max von Sydow played Jesus in a 1965 film called The Greatest Story Ever Told. He was Swedish, and this was his film debut. He was an incredibly prolific and popular actor. He was in The Exorcist, Flash Gordon, and Dune, was in films directed by Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, and JJ Abrams. He's won Academy Awards and Emmy's. No one thinks he is Jesus.