“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory…”
You’ve seen them everywhere: banners in Times Square, porcelain crosses in church buildings, Renaissance art, “The Passion of the Christ,” and hundreds of picture-books for children. Western culture has long been saturated with images and representations of Jesus as a white man.
These are strictly lies. Jesus was Palestinian. 100% Middle Eastern. Think Arabian peninsula, not Norwegian mountainside. And I insist that this flagrant falsehood is not trivial, as you might think. It is fundamentally opposed to the essential Christian message.
The gospel is the claim that God became a real human being with real flesh and blood who lived in a particular place and a particular time in history. Jesus is not a myth, a legend, a figurehead, or a pastiche of ideas. Either He was a Palestinian carpenter who died on a specific hill at the hands of the Roman empire in roughly 33 AD, or Christian faith means nothing.
Therefore, to display images of Him (if we must) in a way that contradicts historical fact is to essentially distort the message that Christians proclaim. It is to treat Jesus as an idea or conception, not a human being. This undermines the strictly historical foundations that we Christians claim for our faith in our savior. The only conceivable reason to display images of Jesus at all is to remind people of His personhood, His humanity, and His physical suffering and death for you and me.
True, Jesus lives right now, and in (a sense) lives in each of us as Christians. But we know and live in this truth, only because He first became flesh. Brown flesh. Not only so, but He came to overthrow racial boundaries and categories, to declare that salvation was for all peoples of all tribes and ethnicities. To persist in subtle racial imperialism is to scorn his availability to the entire world and to alienate non-Caucasians.
When we make Jesus out to be white, we are making him in the western Caucasian image. We are making him friendly and nice-looking, tame, aesthetically pleasing. We get Jesus on our terms. Nothing could be further from what He came to do. He came to offend and outrage our sensibilities, to overthrow our conceptions of how the world works and establish an upside-down kingdom that makes everyone uncomfortable. Everyone who met Jesus was either severely offended, terrified, or prostrate in worship. No one thought he looked nice. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Is 53:2)
For His sake and the world’s, can we please stop making self-indulgent, false images of Him?