The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America / Edition 1

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
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
"Brings the story of religion and race in American history to life. . . . The Color of Christ is a valuable contribution to our understanding of race and religion and would be of value to anyone interested in the topic of religion and race."--The Tidings

"We are indebted to Blum and Harvey for their effort to unearth and reveal this picture of American encounters with the images of Jesus. . . . This is an extremely powerful book. . . . A must read."--Ponderings on a Faith Journey Book of the Year 2012

"The Color of Christ reveals tremendous complexity, multiplicity and ambiguity to the rich intercultural and interracial relationships and conflicts that have continually changed American culture. Blum and Harvey's latest work deserves to be widely read so that we may yet know how our past endures in the present."--America Magazine

"A work that highlights Indian voices more effectively than almost any synthesizing work in the field."--Jennifer Graber. Journal of Southern Religion

"A tremendous resource for teachers seeking to educate students about the myriad movements in the U.S. that have taken Jesus' name and image, as well as general readers seeking a lively introduction to the topic."--Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, Journal of Southern Religion

"Blum and Harvey's book should be in the running for several awards, if nothing else for documenting a central dynamic in American religious experience. [It] serves as a good model for future research into messianism and American culture and politics."--Darren E. Grem, Journal of Southern Religion

"A detailed engagement with contentious subject matter. Religion, politics, and race are often taboo conversation topics, especially in mixed company. But this work is neither shy nor pretentious about bringing all three subjects into conversation."--Reggie L. Williams, Journal of Southern Religion

"Sweeping in scope. . . . A fascinating read for anyone interested in the power of sacred art to deform or transform society."--Sacred Art Pilgrim

"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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807835722
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 9/21/2012
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward J. Blum is author of Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism.

Paul Harvey is author of Freedom's Coming: Religious Cultures and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Introduction: The Holy Face of Race 7

Part I Born Across the Sea

1 When Christ Crossed the Atlantic 27

2 Revolutionary Visions in Colonial Confines 53

3 From Light to White in the Early Republic 76

Part II Crucified and Resurrected

4 Body Battles in Antebellum America 105

5 Christ in the Camps 120

6 Nordic and Nativist in an Age of Imperialism 141

Part III Ascended and Still Ascending

7 The Great Commission in the Great Depression 173

8 Civil Rights and the Coloring of Christ 205

9 A Deity in the Digital Age 234

Epilogue: Jesus Jokes 266

Acknowledgments 279

Notes 283

Index 327

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