Jules Gomes reports for ChurchMilitant.com — The archbishop of Canterbury’s recent polemic against a “white Jesus” sparked a fresh wave of anger as academics and celebrities of varied ethnicities accused Justin Welby of “white paternalism” and “abject ignorance of Church history.”
Interviewed in the context of a raging debate provoked by American writer and leading Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist Shaun King (who called statues of a “white European” Jesus “a form of white supremacy”), Welby was asked if the Church had to rethink the white image of Jesus.
“Yes of course it does, this sense that God was white … You go into churches [around the world] and you don’t see a white Jesus,” the archbishop replied. “You see a black Jesus, a Chinese Jesus, a Middle Eastern Jesus — which is of course the most accurate — you see a Fijian Jesus.”
Historian Robert Spencer of Middle Eastern origin blasted Welby’s “white Jesus” remarks as demonstrating “abject ignorance of the Church’s history.”
“Byzantine tradition has it that the first icon was painted by St. Luke, who, of course, knew Jesus and His Mother personally,” Spencer, Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, told Church Militant.
“Byzantine icons of Jesus generally resemble one another, because, tradition has it, the first of them were created by people who had seen Jesus and knew what He looked like.”
“That’s why they also all depict a Mediterranean man, who in today’s reductive categories, would be classified as ‘white,’ albeit not ‘white’ like a Scandinavian,” Spencer explained.
It is incredibly insensitive to Catholic ears at least for Welby even to speak of iconoclasm with approval.Tweet
The author of the acclaimed The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process continued:
Those who object to a “white Jesus” are objecting to Western art that is ultimately derived from this Byzantine iconography. The objectors no doubt have no idea how old the tradition of a “white Jesus” is, and if they object to it in principle, they are either ignorant of the details of the Incarnation itself, or are passing a negative judgment upon the God-Man’s choice of an earthly dwelling.
Four days after Shaun King (who is white but pretends to be bi-racial) demanded that “all murals and stained-glass windows of white Jesus and his European mother and their white friends should also come down,” Welby chorused his agreement.
“I mean, the church, goodness me, you know, you just go around Canterbury Cathedral, there’s monuments everywhere, or Westminster Abbey, and we’re looking at all that, and some will have to come down,” Canterbury’s archbishop insisted.
Pressed on whether he was saying statues will be torn down in the cathedral, Welby appeared to backtrack: “No I didn’t say that. I very carefully didn’t say that.”
“We’re going to be looking very carefully and putting them in context and seeing if they all should be there,” he clarified, also commenting: “We can only do that if we’ve got justice, which means the statue needs to be put in context. Some will have to come down.”
As Welby faced a barrage of abuse on Twitter for his white paternalism and posturing before the BLM mobs, eminent Jewish poet and composer David Solway derided the archbishop’s participation “in the Theatre of the Absurd that passes today for Western civilization.”
“Now, Jesus was not born in Ethiopia or China but in the Middle East, which makes him in his earthly manifestation of Caucasian descent,” Solway, who is Jewish, told Church Militant.
“As for skin color, this is another question. Born of those living for millennia in the Fertile Crescent, he may have been, not black, but cinnamon with a hint of sienna, or perhaps a mix of hazel, sepia and umber,” the author of Notes from a Derelict Culture teased.
“Some may conceive of his native hue as a kind of terra cotta varnished with a patina of bister. Some might even argue for something between tan and smokey topaz. It’s hard to say,” he continued, adding, tongue-in-cheek:
Myself, I would imagine Jesus as desert sand verging on ecru, though in his more celestial moments, most likely somewhat ashen with a striking tinge of the spectral. The entire debate strikes me as uselessly iconolatric, but hey, since white is a combination of all the colours in the spectrum, why not go with that?
Meanwhile, Catholics are slamming Welby for providing ammunition to iconoclastic BLM mobs who have already desecrated a number of Catholic monuments, including two statues of St. Junipero Serra and an icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa (also known as the Black Madonna).
“It is incredibly insensitive to Catholic ears, at least, for Dr. Welby even to speak of iconoclasm with approval. Does he not realize the centuries of pain and suffering iconoclasm has caused, and how impoverished we all are because of it? Has he no sensitivity?” tweeted Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, moral theologian and columnist for Catholic Herald.
“Of course, real cultural sensitivity might have cautioned the archbishop of a church which broke up much of the statuary and art inherited from the Middle Ages against mentioning that subject,” a Catholic convert observed.
Catholic author of bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism, John Zmirak, told Church Militant: “I’m tempted here to make another quip about another generation of Anglican vandals destroying Catholic buildings.”
“But that wouldn’t be fair. Subsequent generations of Anglicans did add artwork and architecture to England’s heritage, which this feckless generation might gut,” Zmirak, a scholar of the English Renaissance, said.
“The only genuine moral problem we find in representations of Christ is how distinct He usually is from other Jews in the artwork. Apart from the Apostles, Jews too often are painted to look grotesque, matching old stereotypes,” Zmirak explained. “We shouldn’t go in and wreck masterpieces to change that, but we should talk and teach about it.”
Zmirak cites Dr. Bernard Starr’s book Jesus, Jews, and Anti-Semitism in Art: How Renaissance Art Erased Jesus’ Jewish Identity & How Today’s Artists Are Restoring It and his colleague, biblical scholar Dr. Michael Brown’s article in The Stream.
Starr identifies medieval and renaissance paintings of Jesus, portraying him as a handsome, fair-skinned, Gentile European, surrounded by hook-nosed, devilishly-ugly, Jewish teachers.
Following Welby’s controversial remarks, Nelson Mandela’s widow Graca Machel pleaded with BLM activists not to tear down statues because they serve as grave reminders of past atrocities
“I believe even it might be much more positive to keep them because you are going to tell generations to come ‘this is how it started and this is how it should never be,'” said the widow of the former South African president.
Well-known black British politician David Kurten added his voice against Welby’s comments, telling Church Militant, “It is ridiculous for the head of the Church of England to be joining the cultural Marxist rampage against British history and culture, of which Christianity is a central part.”
“Rather than virtue-signaling his ‘Black Lives Matter’ credentials by suggesting canceling depictions of Jesus which are white, he could try teaching people about Christianity for once, which would be far more beneficial,” Kurten, a member of the London Assembly and candidate for Mayor of London, emphasized.
“The Puritan … violent and radical iconoclasm … of the 1640s was as notorious in its own time as it remains today,” and encompassed “a good deal of official as well as unofficial iconoclasm,” wrote historian Julie Spraggon in Puritan Iconoclasm during the English Civil War.”
According to Spraggon, “This was especially true in England, where the Reformation was imposed from above, with official image-breaking used to establish religious change under Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth” between the mid-16th and mid-17th century, marking a shift within English Protestantism from iconoclasm to iconophobia.
Pope Gregory the Great sent St. Augustine as a missionary to England in A.D. 597. Augustine established his seat within the Roman city of Canterbury and built England’s first cathedral there. In 1538, Henry VIII destroyed St. Thomas Becket’s shrine in the cathedral and, in 1540, dissolved the Benedictine monastery there by royal command.