Book Review: The Color Of Christ: The Son Of God and the Saga of Race In America by Edward J.

Blum and Paul Harvey. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 2012. I would like to thank Edward Blum for reading this blog, and for sending me a review copy of this book in response to this post […] First off, I would like to begin with a brief summary of the book without too many spoilers because I would rather you, the audience to buy this work for yourselves. I shall conclude this review with complementary theological proposal that is perhaps underlying in The Color of Christ. Summary The journey and creation of the white American Christ of Nordic descent is a long and contested one to be sure. The apex of this racial contest was at its peak at the height of the Civil War. According to Harvey and Blum, “Southern whites before the Civil War tried to sanctify slavery and Christianize slaves by presenting Jesus as a servant. The plan backfired[.]” (page 9) But I have to ask myself if their plan “backfired”; did Confederate Christianity really fail and die off? I would answer in the negative, and that Confederate Christianity is still alive and well, and very influential [Confederate History Month] and [PaleoConfederate evangelical Doug Wilson] Even today, as Harvey and Blum rightly argue, we are worried more about [shipping Jesus as a married man] rather than admitting the racial hierarchies that folks like Dan Brown and Mel Gibson hide in plain sight (page 13). Over the past two centuries, the body of Jesus has become sexualized. Folks like even Mark Driscoll today reflect what Blum and Harvey note, that Jesus’ Jewish body is seen as a sex object where he embodies the ideal masculinity (16). I should know, I own one of those The Lord’s Gym shirts. Originally, Jesus was not the number one religious icon in the colonies. That distinction belonged to the Devil (usually painted as a black man) because the Puritans saw Christ as pure light, and theologically, it was wrong to paint a picture of him (Protestant iconoclasm). The Puritans made up for it with their obsession with what the Devil was up to in the world (28). Demonology supplanted Christology, and this added to the new racialized gaze of the Puritans, over and against the First Nations people they encountered begot the story of U.S. American Christianity. Of course the Native Americans’ response to Christianity, both the Puritan and Catholic versions, was to focus on God’s goodness, Christology, and make Jesus Red. According to Harvey and Blum, the Jesuits sought to make Jesus more “palpable” to the Native Americans by not focusing of the “supernatural” elements of the Bible (34). Without Jesus’ miracles for the poor, and given his exclusion in Puritan religion, there is no Christus Victor, only penal substitution, a very low Christology, and the victory of white supremacy. Puritans after first did not bother sharing the Gospel with the West Africans or Indians (was it because persons of color were not seen as part of the elect?) Again, as we see over and over again, this book on the history of the white images of Christ has many theological implications. The monoligual/monocultural religion of the precious Puritans (47) did not promote the postPentecost/Multilingual faith set forth by the Early Church.

Meanwhile, early black Christians (prior to the Civil War) remained in search for an impartial Savior to see them free. The advancement of Jesus, from his crib to his Resurrection as blinding light had the reverse effect of making persons in the United States desire to see representations of his body. What is prohibited becomes sought-after and transgressive. The founding of the nation was essentially Christless in that Christ is not named in the Constitution (or Articles of Confederation for that matter, but there were a few Christians who supported its start. But Christ remained marginal in terms of imagery, for George Washington’s picture was far more popular back then (74). The holy whiteness of Jesus was on an uptick with the rise of Mormonism, racially coded in white masculinity as well as the resurgence of a falsified picture of a white Roman Christ Jesus based on a forged document called the Publius Lentulus letter (82). The enslaved Africans were trying to fight racist churchianity through the religion of Jesus, the Golden Rule (what I call impartial morality) with folks like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. (87,109) Lost Cause white Christology won the day even after the Confederacy lost, with the film “Birth Of A Nation” which President (Democrat) Woodrow Wilson watched with glee in the White House. Paintings of white Jesus evolved into films about white Jesus, from The Nazarene and The King of Kings to The Passion of the Christ and Left Behind , a vast majority of American Christians believed in the White Jesus, including Civil Rights leader Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Which leads me to ask, why the faithfulness to white Jesus, even among black? Part of it has to do with embedded religions and internalized racism (the cynical part of me says) but the hopeful part of me says that there was also this undying hope for racial reconciliation, which required whites to adopt the impartial Christianity of the Negro church, a religious community informed by the Golden Rule. Thus, the tendency towards believing in a white Jesus could have something to do with the Negro church wanting to forgive whites, to transcend their experience of legal racial segregation. Overall, I would highly recommend this book to both church and academic audiences. A Brief Theological Proposal I believe the problem with the racializing of Jesus’ body has to do with the elimination of his Jewishness by U.S. American Christianity. If the colonies were to succeed, they had to supplant the historical Israel from the Bible as the new Israel (rather than the church, we have a pseudoChristian society that supersedes Judaism). The Puritans were only half-right when they recognized Jesus as pure light. Jesus as human, God enfleshed was the light for the Gentiles (John 1), indeed, but as Son of God, the God of the First Testament, Jesus is begotten by YHWH who hides in the clouds as the Holy One of Israel. The language of this hiddenness of God has been somewhat lost. Martin Luther talked about Deus Asconditus, or the active hiding of God whereby God chooses to be found. But more importantly, further back with Clement of Alexandria, God hiding among the clouds was an image that came from Judaism and the story of Moses. This hiddenness of God, or what I have hesistantly started to call, the darkness of God is all through the Hebrew Bible, especially Exodus and Lamentations. Darkness not in that there is any evil in the divine, but that there is mystery and transcendence that causes us to tremble at YHWH’s movement towards justice in the here and now. Theologically, divine movement in the Incarnation can be seen with the Son of Man imagery in New Testament texts such as the Gospel of Mark. While the contemporary worship song, “How Great Is Our God” contains the lyrics

‘He wraps himself in Light,’ perhaps Christianity needs to recover the hiddenness of YHWH. I think this theological move can turn us away from images of the white Christ transcendent only in terms of establishing a racial hierarchy, and towards the mystery of the Incarnation, our greatest weapon against racism.

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