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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? In The 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 Christ uncovers 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.
Consider the visage of Jesus Christ. No simple task, as Blum (history, San Diego State Univ.; Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism) and Harvey (history, Univ. of Colorado; Freedom's Coming: Religious Cultures and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War Through the Civil Rights Era) demonstrate in their compelling study of the image of Jesus through American history, from the evangelism of early European colonists to the Obama presidency. The authors begin and end with one moment: the 1963 Birmingham Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, in which four girls were killed and the (white) face of Jesus was blown out of a stained glass window (later replaced by an image of a black Jesus). The Bible provides no physical description of Jesus, leaving believers and opinion makers to visualize him as they will. And they will, generally, visualize him as a tall, handsome, long-haired, bearded white man. This book explores the sociopolitical reasons for this, through many intriguing voices taken from scores of primary and secondary sources. VERDICT Dense, scholarly, and evenhanded, well paired with Stephen Prothero's American Jesus (which it references), this work will captivate readers of American religious and racial history.—Janet Ingraham Dwyer, State Lib. of Ohio, Columbus
From the Publisher
"An insightful, historical opus delivering a sobering message about how we all might have been harmed, physically, by the generally-accepted image of the Messiah."—Kam Williams
"[The Color of Christ is] an eye-opening look at how not just the image but also the idea of Christ has shifted within varying communities and schools of thought throughout American history."—Pop Matters
"A solid contribution to the conversation on religion and race in U.S. history. . . . The American Christian community remains trapped within a web of racial hierarchies, flawed theological assumptions and dangerous patriarchal precedents that continue to inform Christian doctrine and liturgy. The best way to treat an illness is to begin by discovering its root causes. The Color of Christ does just that."—Christian Century