Flat White

What colour is your Jesus?

31 March 2018

1:34 PM

31 March 2018

1:34 PM

It’s that time of the year again (Christmas or Easter) for someone out there to come out and say something provocative about Jesus in order to get the maximum media exposure.

“Jesus didn’t really exist” is a bit old and busted; it seems to come up virtually every year. The “queer Jesus” story popped up just in time for Easter this year but it’s based on some old material, so it doesn’t really count (“Dr Tat-siong Benny Liew, chair of New Testament Studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, said Jesus was a ‘drag king’ who had ‘queer desires.’ He also claims the Last Supper was a ‘literary striptease’ and that Jesus was not a man, but gender fluid.” This is, coincidentally, the same college, which is now dumping its Crusader sports mascot lest it offends people).

Instead, we’ll have to settle on a new favourite in our age of identity politics: “Jesus wasn’t white: he was a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew. Here’s why that matters” (courtesy of The Conversation, that home for backward children known as News.com.au and, of course, plugged heavily by the ABC).

You can, of course, guess “why that matters”, but just in case:

If we can recognise the importance of ethnically and physically diverse role models in our media, why can’t we do the same for faith? Why do we continue to allow images of a whitened Jesus to dominate?…

[White Jesus] allows the mainstream Christian community to separate their devotion to Jesus from compassionate regard for those who look different.

I would even go so far as to say it creates a cognitive disconnect, where one can feel deep affection for Jesus but little empathy for a Middle Eastern person. It likewise has implications for the theological claim that humans are made in God’s image. If God is always imaged as white, then the default human becomes white and such thinking reinforces racism.

Historically, the whitewashing of Jesus contributed to Christians being some of the worst perpetrators of anti-Semitism and it continues to manifest in the “othering” of non-Anglo-Saxon Australians.

This Easter, I can’t help but wonder, what would the Christian church and society look like if we just remembered that Jesus was brown? If we were confronted with the reality that the body hung on the cross was a brown body: one broken, tortured and publicly executed by an oppressive regime.

How might it change our attitudes if we could see that the unjust imprisonment, abuse, and execution of the historical Jesus has more in common with the experience of indigenous Australians or asylum seekers than it does with those who hold power in the church and usually represent Christ?

To summarise: white Jesus is racist and perpetuates racism.

Or, as the good book says, “Jesus wept”.

Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk where this piece also appears.

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