The Color of Christ

The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America

EDWARD J. BLUM
PAUL HARVEY
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807837375_blum
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  • Book Info
    The Color of Christ
    Book Description:

    How is it that in America the image of Jesus Christ has been used both to justify the atrocities of white supremacy and to inspire the righteousness of civil rights crusades? InThe Color of Christ, Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey weave a tapestry of American dreams and visions--from witch hunts to web pages, Harlem to Hollywood, slave cabins to South Park, Mormon revelations to Indian reservations--to show how Americans remade the Son of God visually time and again into a sacred symbol of their greatest aspirations, deepest terrors, and mightiest strivings for racial power and justice.The Color of Christuncovers how, in a country founded by Puritans who destroyed depictions of Jesus, Americans came to believe in the whiteness of Christ. Some envisioned a white Christ who would sanctify the exploitation of Native Americans and African Americans and bless imperial expansion. Many others gazed at a messiah, not necessarily white, who was willing and able to confront white supremacy. The color of Christ still symbolizes America's most combustible divisions, revealing the power and malleability of race and religion from colonial times to the presidency of Barack Obama.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0154-0
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[xii])
  3. PROLOGUE
    (pp. 1-6)

    In a world filled with images of Jesus, this one made headlines. He stood in a stained-glass window wearing a simple white robe and a dark tunic. He held a staff in his left hand and with the knuckles of his right tapped gently on a large brown door. Wavy auburn hair fell to his shoulders, while his feet were bare. When sunlight struck the glass just so, kindness radiated from his white face and warmth from his brown eyes. This was a comforting Jesus who forgave sinners, blessed bread for the hungry, and promised peace to the anxious. For...

  4. INTRODUCTION: THE HOLY FACE OF RACE
    (pp. 7-24)

    How is it that a Jewish prophet from the Roman era ran so explosively into the American obsession with race that his image has been used to justify the worst atrocities of white supremacy as well as inspire the most heroic of civil rights crusades?The Color of Christexplores the ways Americans gave physical forms to Jesus, where they placed them, and how they remade the Son of God visually time and again into a sacred symbol of their greatest aspirations, deepest terrors, lowest actions, highest expressions, and mightiest strivings for racial power and justice.The Color of Christ...

  5. PART I: BORN ACROSS THE SEA

    • CHAPTER ONE WHEN CHRIST CROSSED THE ATLANTIC
      (pp. 27-52)

      Tituba had seen more than most. An enslaved woman purchased in Barbados and perhaps originally from South America, she found herself in the middle of an uproar in the small colonial village of Salem, Massachusetts. Her owner, Samuel Parris, was born in England and ventured to the New World as a boy. After Harvard, he became a cantankerous Puritan minister who complained as much about his lack of firewood as he did about the sins of the world. In the early 1690s, he seemed obsessed with the devil. “There are devils as well as saints in Christ’s church,” Parris exclaimed...

    • CHAPTER TWO REVOLUTIONARY VISIONS IN COLONIAL CONFINES
      (pp. 53-75)

      Puritans despised Quakers. Their focus on the “inner light,” through which God’s spirit could speak to anyone at any time, seemed like theological and social chaos. In the early colonial period, preaching Quaker doctrines was tantamount to witchcraft. It was a good way to be banished from or executed in Puritan dominions. But the shape of the colonies changed rapidly in the eighteenth century. Religious groups of all sorts streamed across the Atlantic. There were Anglicans and Lutherans, Presbyterians and Moravians, Mennonites and Dunkers, and even some Catholics, Jews, and Muslims.¹ Quakers grew in number and respect. They became a...

    • CHAPTER THREE FROM LIGHT TO WHITE IN THE EARLY REPUBLIC
      (pp. 76-102)

      When it came time to codify his new revelation, Joseph Smith turned to a revolutionary innovation of the American Constitution: religious liberty. “[We] claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience,” he and the new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaimed in their 1842 articles of faith. “[We] allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” Americans of Smith’s era were following the first part but not the second half of this instruction. They robustly embraced the direction of their consciences but then tried...

  6. PART II: CRUCIFIED AND RESURRECTED

    • CHAPTER FOUR BODY BATTLES IN ANTEBELLUM AMERICA
      (pp. 105-119)

      William Apess was certain that Jesus was not white. The Son of God did not look like the visual images circulating throughout antebellum America, and Apess wanted white Americans to see this truth. To show them, he built a window: not a literal one, but an essay carved from theological insight, social commentary, and racial perspective. He titled it “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man” (1833) and published it in a book of sermons and essays. Apess was a Pequot, his mother had been a slave, and he lived in the Northeast near the epicenter of the new white...

    • CHAPTER FIVE CHRIST IN THE CAMPS
      (pp. 120-140)

      Abraham Lincoln had a lot to deal with. Even before he took the presidential oath of office in 1861, the nation had splintered apart. He entertained an endless line of job seekers while in the White House, and Mrs. Lincoln was often depressed and dressed in black (understandably, since their young son had died). The nation’s most popular general, George McClellan, constantly demanded more troops, yet he refused to attack with his superior numbers. And then there were the letters: hundreds and hundreds of them. Lincoln’s secretary estimated that he read fewer than one in fifty. But only one month...

    • CHAPTER SIX NORDIC AND NATIVIST IN AN AGE OF IMPERIALISM
      (pp. 141-170)

      Fifty years after he was assassinated, Abraham Lincoln was back in the White House and about to be shot again. It was 1915, and film director D. W. Griffith’s cinematic masterpieceBirth of a Nationwas being screened by Woodrow Wilson and his presidential staff. The film begins with Lincoln on screen as the South’s best friend, a magnanimous victor who longs for national unity. Booth’s bullet, though, unleashes a reign of racial terror in which black men and radical Republicans rule the defeated white South. The movie tells the gripping saga of how men who burn crosses and disguise...

  7. PART III: ASCENDED AND STILL ASCENDING

    • CHAPTER SEVEN THE GREAT COMMISSION IN THE GREAT DEPRESSION
      (pp. 173-204)

      Upton Sinclair was best known for his muckraking exposure of the Chicago meatpacking industry, but he wrote a lot more about Christ than he did about cattle. In perhaps his best novel,They Call Me Carpenter: A Tale of the Second Coming(1922), Sinclair conjured a tale of Jesus visiting Los Angeles at the beginning of the roaring twenties. The tale begins with a conversation about movies and Jesus. Three years after World War I, the narrator, Billy, and his friend Dr. Henner are on their way to watch a German-made film. They discuss the fate of the still-young film...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT CIVIL RIGHTS AND THE COLORING OF CHRIST
      (pp. 205-233)

      In 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. received a letter to his syndicated “Advice for Living” question- and- answer column that cut to the heart of concerns about racial identity and God’s work: “Why did God make Jesus white, when the majority of peoples in the world are non-white?” King answered with the essence of his political and religious philosophy. He denied that the color of one’s skin determined the content of one’s character, and for King there was no better example than Christ. “The color of Jesus’ skin is of little or no consequence,” King reassured his readers, because skin...

    • CHAPTER NINE A DEITY IN THE DIGITAL AGE
      (pp. 234-265)

      Before Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008, claims about the race of Jesus and the sanctity of the nation almost upset his campaign. For Obama, religion, race, and immigrant status made him a candidate unlike any previous one. His name was more Islamic than Christian; his phenotype was darker than prior presidents; some opponents spread rumors about his supposed birth outside the United States; and his pastor in Chicago sparked a firestorm with the words “God damn America,” which almost cost Obama the nomination.

      The media bombshell exploded in March at the height of the...

  8. EPILOGUE: JESUS JOKES
    (pp. 266-278)

    When Jesus and the devil fought the battle of Armageddon, it happened in the American West. The day starts simply when a new third-grade student named Damien arrives at South Park Elementary School in Colorado. Asked to tell the class about himself, Damien explains that he came from the “seventh layer of hell.” His teacher assumes Damien is speaking metaphorically and responds warmly, “Oooh, that’s exciting, my mother was from Alabama.” Damien really is from hell, though, and has come to announce the apocalypse. “Bring me Jesus!” Damien demands as he tears up the school’s cafeteria by using his superhuman...

  9. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 279-282)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 283-326)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 327-340)