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Oh, for God’s sake, archbishop! Of course Jesus can be white


A FEW days ago, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was on Radio 4’s Today programme giving an interview that immediately made the newspaper headlines. 

In response to a question as to whether the way the Western Church portrays Jesus needs to be thought about again, he replied: ‘Yes, of course it does, this sense that God was white …’ and continued: ‘You go into churches (around the world) and you don’t see a white Jesus. You see a black Jesus, a Chinese Jesus, a Middle Eastern Jesus – which is, of course, the most accurate – you see a Fijian Jesus.’ 

Apart from the fact that, to be even more accurate, Jesus was Jewish, this statement does not seem to me very logical.

Surely the point is this: Christians believe that in taking on our humanity in the person of Jesus, God became one of us. It is therefore quite natural that people of different races and cultures portray Jesus as being like them, as identifying with them, as one of them. This makes Him real to them, intimately involved in their lives.

Strangely, the archbishop seems to think it is acceptable for black people, Chinese people, Middle Eastern people, Fijian people, etc, to represent Jesus as one of themselves, but somehow not OK for white Western European people. 

By extension, he would also seem to be invalidating a large part of the canon of Western art, all those nativity scenes and crucifixions, the works of Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and all the great European masters, many of whom depicted Jesus as being present in their historical period, their physical environment, even their style of clothing. 

The archbishop also said that statues in Canterbury Cathedral are going to be looked at ‘very carefully’ to see if they should be there, adding ominously that ‘some will have to come down’.  

Firstly, isn’t this very high-handed? Is he really authorised to destroy parts of the British national heritage of which he is only a steward and temporary custodian? 

Secondly, a degree of humility is surely in order, even for one so high as an archbishop. His intervention reflects a blind self-righteousness in the currently fashionable judging of our forebears. 

Had we been born in their time, in their circumstances, might we not have had their outlook, their mindset, for better and worse? Might we not have committed their sins? When future generations look back on us, might they not judge that we also had a dark side? To quote Psalm 130: ‘If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand?’ 

In jumping on the BLM bandwagon, the archbishop seems to have jettisoned his critical faculties, and he is definitely not theologically correct. 

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Simon Knight
Simon Knight
Simon Knight is a translator.

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