Thursday, August 2, 2018

Just Finished Reading - The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America

What Jesus looked like is a question that almost everyone has pondered at one time or another. In The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, authors Blum and Harvey take a close look at how the son of God has appeared in imagery and how those depictions have been used and changed from colonial times to the present. 

By examining an array of sources, including material culture, and from the perspectives of different groups of African Americans, Native Americans, and whites, it is clear that over time that the image of Christ that became most envisioned was that of a white Jesus. Obviously this required ignoring Christ's Middle Eastern Jewish heritage. 

Puritans and some other colonial Americans often attempted to exclude and even destroyed pictures of Jesus from their worship, preferring to symbolize Christ with light rather than with a flesh and blood image. Early American whites developed a white Christ to fit their world view and attempted to share their image with the enslaved of African descent and the "sons of the forest," Native Americans, with a measure of success. With emancipation and westward expansion, conflicting views of Christ's image came forward. Native American were confused that whites idolized Jesus with long hair, yet required Indians to cut theirs to be "civilized." The Christ of many African Americans, who was a loving and forgiving figure became a vengeful and hateful figure when used by white supremacists like the KKK. The authors explain that the 1941 image "Head of Christ" by Walter Sallman is one that has dominated American's imagination in the 20th and 21st century. The influence of this particular image is enduring and became almost ubiquitous in protestant churches and in secular circles as well. 

During the evolution of the Civil Rights Movement and with the rise of liberation theology, for many African Americans Jesus transformed from white to black and was depicted as such as a way of relating to the struggles endured during slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow era America. The authors brings the story on into the present and explain how Jesus has been viewed in the digital age and in popular culture. 

I appreciated that the authors included photographs of some of the imagery they examine. And by covering this topic over the span of centuries, it helps us see more clearly this fascinating change over time. I recommend it highly.

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