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Bobbleheads and Backdrops: White Jesus Strikes Again...the Why and the What.

Lately online I have been pulling not so gently at the woven strands of a tale that has become one with the tapestry of our belief, blurring the sacred line where fact fades into legend. I’ve grappled with the enduring myth of white Jesus — an image conceived in the womb of white Protestant colonialism and suckled by the milk of white supremacy for the better part of 4 years now.

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And yes, I have a vendetta.

White Jesus tried to kill me first, I’m just returning the favor.

I remember when it first hit me that the Jesus I worshiped was created by people intent on my demise. That whiteness since it was predicated on anti-blackness, was only ever going to be poison. And that the poison of whiteness was particularly lethal when it animated the divine.

I was in Atlanta at the time.

The death of Trayvon pierced the nation like a cold blade, and it pierced my own heart with so much force it drove me out of Kansas City, MO.  I’d spent my twenties there praying, fasting, engaged in all manner of counterintuitive practices that I thought would hasten the Lord’s return.

I was on staff as an intercessory missionary at a place called IHOP-KC. My blackness at the time was elusive and not much more than a caricature. But when I saw Trayvon’s shoes sticking out from under the blanket they’d placed over his lifeless body, it was like I rose from the dead. I moved to Atlanta and tried to participate in the house of prayer there but the wound lay bare, unhealed even as the years rolled by.

I was there, ostensibly shepherding the young minds of college students, yet I was the one lost at sea. My days were a masquerade of competence, a performance delivered on the fumes of an evaporating faith. The only aspect of faith with any kind of glimmer left was communion. I’d loved it since I was young.

Still, even that sacred act of breaking bread had been reduced to a clandestine ritual, performed in the back of a near-empty church, where the elements sat waiting patiently every week for my soul to partake after the echoes of the last amen had faded.

God seemed to have violently slipped into silence just as Trayvon slipped from this world. Still, I partook of the bread and the wine. They were not just symbols of a distant divine sacrifice; they became a salve, a desperate attempt to anoint a heart ravaged by disillusionment and sorrow.

Soggy bread, sharp wine, and shots of Patrón mingled, I tried to coat the raw edges of my soul. Prayer had turned into an awkward dance with a stranger who once knew all my steps.

The silence of God echoed louder than any sermon, any chorus, any amen. And in that silence, I was confronted with the terror of a faith that had been stripped bare, left to grapple with the reality of pain and loss without the comforting veil of dogma and certainty. That’s the day it dawned on me. There is leaven in this bread, and the leaven is whiteness.

The Myth of White Jesus

In the silent echoes of sanctuaries, amidst the rustling of sacred pages and the whispered hallelujahs, there is a thread of narcissism and codependency, cloaked in the guise of holiness. Sayings like "I’m nothing without you" and "I don't deserve you" resonate not as benign phrases but as dogmas that seep into the consciousness of the eager, subtly perpetuating the lie of intrinsic deficiency in the minds of the sincere.

They conjure the visage of a Jesus who looks nothing like the man who once trod the earth, whose skin was kissed by the Middle Eastern sun, whose voice mingled with the Aramaic of his people. Instead, we are given a figure carved by the hands of a white-centric history, a Jesus who reinforces not the narrative of universal love, but the chronicle of an empire — an empire that has too often crushed those who do not mirror its pallid face.

Our hymns and spiritual songs, reverberate with the undertones of this myth. The language of grace and redemption, as moving as it is, bears the scars of a past where such grace seemed to extend only to those deemed worthy by virtue of their melanin or lack thereof. The redemptive story, intertwined with a history that justified chains and segregation, becomes bitter on the tongues of those who still feel the sting of oppression. Even now.

What do we do with this image of a white savior, fabricated by those who claimed dominion in his name? How do we reconcile the teachings of a prophet of love with the reality that his supposed followers often wielded his name as a weapon of subjugation?

Jesus Became White, He Wasn’t Born That Way

In the tapestry of faith, white has been the color of purity. The Bible, too, leans into this imagery with its white lamb of God and the Holy Spirit as a white dove.

With Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity, Jesus began to be depicted widely across the Roman Empire. The familiar image of Jesus as a white man with brown hair and a halo solidified in this era, a depiction that aligned with the ruling class's vision and Constantine's empire-building narratives.

Visions of Jesus throughout the Middle Ages bolstered this portrayal, adding personal encounters to the mix of scriptures and frescoes. These accounts, whether genuine spiritual experiences or the era's collective imagination, reinforced the image of a Christ who mirrored the European societies that worshiped him.

This portrayal wasn't just about spiritual conviction; it was strategic, especially during the Crusades. A white Christ became the emblem of a holy cause against a non-white "enemy."

Words like infidel, beast, savage come to mind.

The economics of art played its part, too. To sell their work, artists painted a Christ that fit the popular, accepted image—the one that churches would pay to display. Not unlike the money that buys the barreling of Jesus’ hometown of Bethlehem.

Contrary depictions of Jesus, those that might suggest he looked more like a man of the Middle East than Europe, were often dismissed or ignored. For the powers of the day, keeping Jesus white upheld a status quo that justified their dominance.

While historians can confidently assert Jesus was not white, the exact details of his appearance remain elusive. In the absence of certainty, the long-standing image persists. In Christianity's early days, persecuted believers used symbols to represent their faith and communicate in secret. These symbols were a silent testament to their beliefs, a way to connect without risking exposure. Over time, as Christianity became the state religion, the symbols evolved into sanctioned art, and the once-persecuted figure at the center was recast to reflect the rulers, not the ruled.

White Jesus Strikes Again Series

In the annals of history, it's often those with the mightiest pen who dictate the narrative. The white Jesus myth is a card in a house built on the sands of supremacy and a theology steeped in self-centered righteousness. This image serves as a linchpin for a worldview that elevates one group above all others, a narrative carefully curated by those in power to maintain the status quo.

To pull at this thread is to risk unraveling the very fabric of an empire that benefits the few at the cost of the many. It's a precarious fortress; to expose the roots of narcissism and white supremacy entwined around the mythic white Jesus is to shake the foundations of every enterprise erected in its name.

This is the crux of the resistance to the voices that challenge this narrative, the voices that speak of a Christ who stands in solidarity with the oppressed. They resist because to acknowledge the truth is to confront the specter of genocide and the legacy of domination, to admit to the skeletons that clutter their closets. Unleavening the Christ is more than an act of spiritual rediscovery; it is an act of defiance against a history written by conquerors, a declaration that we are all part of a shared humanity, deserving of a faith that uplifts, not subjugates.

I'm taking shots at the myth that once tried to kill me, because once I stopped being afraid and set boundaries with a narcissistic narrative about a Palestinian who wouldn’t recognize or sanction the atrocities happening in his name.

A narrative about someone whose birthplace in Bethlehem is being bombed by the empire that doesn’t want the real, rooted story to be told.

But it will be told.

We will tell it.

Regardless of the cost.

The white Jesus—an iconography steeped in white supremacy—does not possess the redemptive power that it claims. Instead, this figure, co-opted by systems of oppression, has been wielded like a weapon to justify theft, destruction, and death under the guise of salvation. It is a Jesus who colonizes under the pretense of saving, who marginalizes in the act of 'civilizing.' By challenging this distorted image, I am not desecrating a sacred relic but seeking to dethrone a false idol that has long been mistaken for a universal savior.

White Jesus cannot save; he is but a figurehead for ideologies that pillage spirit and flesh alike. This is why I speak, why I write, why I resist—not to ruin faith, but to reclaim it from the hands that have used it to bind rather than liberate, to oppress rather than emancipate. My pursuit is to reclaim the true face of Jesus and strip away the layers of a pernicious myth.

Asé as the ancestors used to say, and free Palestine…


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