On Monday, Black Lives Matter leader and former Bernie Sanders surrogate Shaun King called for the demolition or removal of all statues, murals, and stained glass windows of “white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends,” i.e. the Twelve Apostles. He said religious imagery was a symbol of “white supremacy” and oppression.
“Yes, I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down. They are a form of white supremacy. Always have been. In the Bible, when the family of Jesus wanted to hide, and blend in, guess where they went? EGYPT! Not Denmark. Tear them down,” King tweeted.
“Yes. All murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends should also come down. They are a gross form white supremacy. Created as tools of oppression. Racist propaganda. They should all come down,” the leftist added.
All murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends should also come down.
They are a gross form white supremacy.
Created as tools of oppression.
They should all come down.
— Shaun King (@shaunking) June 22, 2020
King’s comments came after CPAC leader Matt Schlapp warned that, in the Cancel Culture iconoclasm of the Black Lives Matter/1619 riots, “statues of Jesus are next.” Some activists made it a “separation of church and state issue,” saying they would topple government-funded Jesus statues. King took it one step further in branding Jesus statues “white supremacy.”
Mobs had already toppled statues of Confederates, then Christopher Columbus, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson; then Ulysses S. Grant (who helped defeat the Confederacy and ending slavery in the U.S.), Francis Scott Key (writer of “The Star-Spangled Banner”), St. Junipero Serra (the leader of Spanish missions in California), and Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote and a former slave); and then Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement, and the Robert Gould Shaw 54th Regiment monument, which celebrates the first all-volunteer black regiment of the Union Army during the Civil War.
The targeting of religious art and iconography seemed to follow in the progression. If mobs will vandalize the statue of black Union soldiers, what would prevent them from tearing down statues and stained glass windows of Jesus? Now, Shaun King has given them a racial reason to do so.
Yet King is utterly, inexcusably wrong about Jesus being a symbol of “white supremacy.” Jesus firmly condemned racism, crossing racial barriers to make the Good Samaritan the hero of one of His parables and speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well. His disciples would teach that “there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus.”
When white Europeans and Americans adopted their pseudoscientific racism — what King rightly condemns as “white supremacy” — they rejected the center of Christianity, which teaches that Jesus died to offer salvation to people of all nations, all classes, all races. European racism developed in part as an excuse to oppress black people and native Americans — oppression that many Christians condemned from the start.
Yet the “white” depiction of Jesus dates back further than any European pseudoscientific racism. What King describes as a horrific tool of “white supremacy” emerged about 1,000 years before the first tremors of “white supremacy.”
In 2018, a Christian origins professor argued that the most common portrayal of Jesus — a thin white man with a long beard, flowing locks, and a long robe — is based not on the carpenter from Nazareth but on paintings of the pagan gods Zeus and Apollo.
“That image can probably be traced back to the Byzantine period when artists had to make choices on how to represent the ‘son of God,'” Joan Taylor, a professor of Christian origins and Second Temple Judaism at King’s College London, wrote in her new book What Did Jesus Look Like? “And they were probably inspired by existing godly figures like Zeus and Apollo.”
The Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai in Egypt boasts the magnificent “Christ the Pantocrator” painting, dating back to the 500s or 600s A.D. Most of the earliest surviving art depicting Jesus does not suggest a specific skin color, but what Shaun King would condemn as a “white Jesus” dates back at least as far as the 600s A.D., a time long before any “white supremacy” when people of different skin colors interacted frequently in the Mediterranean world.
Shaun King’s decision to contrast Egypt and Denmark proves rather interesting. Yes, Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt to escape King Herod’s murder of babies after Jesus’ birth, but that does not suggest that Jesus had dark skin. Egypt and Judea were both part of the Roman Empire at the time, while Denmark most certainly was not. The Holy Family fled for refuge to a close geographic area, not to a place where they would necessarily “blend in.”
Modern scholars are divided on the race of Egyptians, with many insisting they were “white” or pale-skinned and others insisting they had darker skin. Many peoples in the Mediterranean world had olive skin as well.
Just as the four Gospels do not focus on Jesus’s race, so ancient texts are not clear as to the skin color of Egyptians. Even if Egyptians were jet black, that would not prove that Jesus’s family sought refuge there for reasons of skin color. They did not intend to “blend in,” they intended to save their baby boy from death at the hands of a tyrant in Judea.
Shaun King’s argument is absurd, but it illustrates the destructive mob logic of the 1619 riots. This mob will justify destroying any statue or public monument in the name of equality, even if that monument celebrates the sacrifice of black Union soldiers who fought against slavery.
Shaun King encouraged roving bands of rioters to target churches, smashing stained-glass windows and altarpieces in the Black Lives Matter crusade. He would have black Americans condemn Jesus art dating back to the 600s A.D. as a symbol of the “white supremacy” that oppressed black Americans in the 1700s-1900s.
The truth and the real meaning behind such statues don’t matter to these crazed rioters. Black Lives Matter! Burn it all down.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.