Catholicism does not require Jesus to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed, says a New Zealand theologian, in response to a challenge by a US Black Lives Matter activist.
Fr Mervyn Duffy, SM, made the comment to NZ Catholic after the newspaper sent questions about recent statements by activist Shaun King.
Last month, Mr King said statues showing a light-skinned Jesus should be pulled down. He tweeted that they are “a form of white supremacy. . . always have been”.
The New York Post reported that he extended his demands to a include “all murals and stained-glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends”.
Mr King claimed such depictions are a gross form of white supremacy. “Created as tools of oppression. Racist propaganda. They should all come down.”
“If your religion requires Jesus to be a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus then your religion is not Christianity, but white supremacy.”
He also stated: “In the Bible, when the family of Jesus wanted to hide, and blend in, guess where they went? Egypt! Not Denmark.”
NZ Catholic sought comment from Fr Duffy, who is an Auckland-based theology lecturer at Te Kupenga – Catholic Theological College. The Marist theologian started his response by referring to a BBC reconstruction of what the “historical Jesus” may have looked like (the image is shown with this article).
“There are no pictures or descriptions of the appearance of Jesus from his own lifetime,” Fr Duffy noted.
“The Gospels are oddly uninterested in his physical characteristics – they don’t say whether he was tall or short, whether or not he had a beard, whether he was handsome or ugly. They are very concerned that their readers learn that he is the Son of God, and about his teachings, his sufferings, his death and Resurrection. They are not concerned about his skin colour.”
“Ever since then, Christians have depicted Jesus as belonging to their own culture and conforming to the standards of appearance of their time,” Fr Duffy said.
“During the time of the Roman Empire, Jesus was shown clean-shaven and wearing a toga. Ethiopian Christians depicted Jesus as black. Most European Christians painted Jesus as looking European. Rembrandt was criticised for a painting of Jesus that had him looking Jewish.
Referring to Shaun King’s comment about any religious requirement that Jesus be blonde-haired and blue-eyed, Fr Duffy said: “Catholicism does not require Jesus to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed.”
“There is a vast diversity of depictions of Christ within the Catholic church. Pope Paul VI, in 1975 in a document called Evangelii Nuntiandi wrote: ‘The Gospel, and therefore evangelisation, are certainly not identical with culture, and they are independent in regard to all cultures. Nevertheless, the kingdom which the Gospel proclaims is lived by people who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the kingdom cannot avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures.’
“We cannot, and should not, portray Jesus without skin,” Fr Duffy added.
“Our statues and paintings of him will look like one culture or another. The important thing, which Shaun King recognises, is that it is idolatry to confuse one type of likeness with the real Jesus.”
Also in response to Mr King’s comments, Bishop Donald Hyland of Madison, Wisconsin in the US, pointed out that, among Catholics, “every culture, country, ethnicity, and race has claimed Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary as their own. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St Juan Diego as a mestiza, African art depicts Jesus as Black, Asian depictions of the Blessed Mother, too, take on similarities of both bodily appearance and, often, cultural garb”.
Lifesitenews reported him asking, “In this context, are white representations of Christ and His Mother inherently signs of white supremacy? I think not. Because the Son of God became incarnate in our human flesh, does not all of humanity – every race, tribe, and tongue – have the spiritual ability to depict him through the particular lens of their own culture?”
Shaun King has reportedly received death threats after making the comments.