We are inundated with images of Christianity all the time. One of the most iconic of these images at Christmas time is the Nativity. We see the nativity acted out in our churches, set up next to our Christmas trees, on our front lawns and even on our town squares. It is rare to find one of these nativity scenes where Jesus, Mary, Joseph, 2 of the three kings and the shepherd are not white. Scholars tend to agree that Jesus was light brown or copper in skin tone. In an interview with the Washington Post, Reza Aslan, scholar of religious studies at the University of California, said, “Well, what we know about him is that he was Galilean. As a Galilean, he would have been what is referred to as a Palestinian Jew. He would look the way that the average Palestinian would look today. So that would mean dark features, hairy, probably a longer nose, black hair.”
So why do we represent Jesus and most of the rest of the figures in the nativity as white? Aslan goes on to say, “The foundational metaphor for God in Christianity is man. What is God? Christianity tells you God is man, and so man is the metaphor for what God is in Christianity.” So, “if you are a white, middle-class suburbanite, then so is your Jesus.” The beauty of this is that Jesus can have meaning for you in whatever way you picture humanity. The danger is that if your picture of humanity encompasses only one image then many get left out. Why is our image of Jesus so often white? What does this say about us as Christians, Episcopalians and members of our local congregations? Who are we inviting? Who are we excluding?
Julien Goulet, Assistant for Communications and Administration, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania