HuffPo News Flash: Mormons Don't Think Jesus was Black

Finding racism in ridiculous places: It isn’t just for MSNBC anymore. The Huffington Post has performed a neat trick, exercising its own religious bigotry by accusing someone else of racism. The result is a breathtakingly inane article. (The crusade to re-elect Obama has spurred his media acolytes to heroic exertions, hasn’t it?)

Writing in HuffPo on Sept. 9, Paul Harvey and Edward J. Blum broke incredible news: Mormon iconography commonly includes a statue of a white Jesus! And that white statue first appeared in Salt Lake City in 1966, “the middle of the Civil Rights movement.”

The image, called Christus, is “based upon an old Danish statue from 1821,” according to Harvey and Blum. “He became even more poignant of a symbol after 1978, the year Mormon leadership lifted its bans on people of color from the priesthood.” Poignancy must be in the eye of the beholder.

The kicker here is that Harvey and Blum claim to be exploring why Christus hasn’t caused a “cultural firestorm” the way “Jeremiah Wright’s sermons about a black Jesus killed by white Romans” did in 2008. Wright’s black Christ“nearly derailed his former parishioner Barack Obama's candidacy.”

This is laughable on two counts. First, if the Wright revelations ever posed a danger to Obama’s campaign, it had nothing to do with the media. Second, what bothered those who actually knew about Rev. Wright were statements like “God damn America,” and the one about 9-11 being “America’s chickens coming home to roost.” Wright’s radical Anti-Americanism was troubling, not his ideas about Christ’s race.

So why aren’t Americans scandalized by the LDS Jesus? Again, Messrs Harvey and Blum brought this stunning revelation: we’re used to it.“Simply put: the black Jesus of American history historically has been threatening, while white Jesus imagery, at least since about the 1830s, has been so normative and dominant that it is assumed to be accurate,” wrote the authors, and thank goodness they put it simply. A concept that complex is tough to get one’s arms around.

Let’s see. Yes, the Christ on the cross in Catholic churches is whitish. And, sure, Hollywood seems to turn to white actors when portraying the Nazarene. And Greek icons make Him look, well, Greek. He’s black in some Ethiopian Christian depictions.

Since there are no photographs or contemporary descriptions of Christ, each culture imposes its own physical ideas onto Him, and in representations He ends up looking like a member of that culture.

Salt Lake City is only about 2.5 percent African-American today. And it’s not exactly synonymous with the racial turmoil of the Civil Rights era. Chances are, a Jesus statue erected there in 1956 or 1976 would be just as white as Christus.

“Even in the age of multiculturalism and a plethora of challenges to the historic iconography of the American Jesus, the white Jesus remains the norm, unnoticed and uncontroversial,” Harvey and Blum wrote. And it raises a question: If it’s uncontroversial, why write about it, except to slime Mormons and help your guy keep his office?

Matthew Philbin
Matthew Philbin
Matt Philbin is Managing Editor of MRC Culture