How Christ Came to Be Represented as White​

What Does Christ Look Like?

We have all grown up with exposure to images of Christ. Many of the images come from art history and newer images are inspired by the images of Christ that an artist was surrounded by during their life. Others were painted using models or in some cases the artist themselves.

Artist Del Parson (left) , Del Parson's painting "Christ in Red Robe" (right)

We know where Jesus was born and we know when He was born. Historians and anthropologists tell us that Jesus Christ would have olive skin and dark hair and resemble what a typical Middle Eastern man would look like today. Why then has our world been flooded with a more Euro-centric/ white looking Christ?

Here are some articles that go into these details of why:

“Most modern historians – including some who do not follow religious precepts – agree that Jesus (or someone who comes to be known as Jesus) did in fact exist, positioning his birth in Bethlehem, a region about 10 km from Jerusalem. The Bible itself offers no clue as to his physical appearance, except to mention that he did not stand out from the crowd in any way.

“Considering that Jerusalem is situated in the Middle East, a man who did not physically stand out from his average population would follow more or less the same body pattern as the inhabitants of the region. In short, the software used by Uterwijk concluded that Jesus was a man with black skin tones and more conspicuous facial features, while modern representation (due in large part to the Roman expression of Jesus Christ) places him as a white man with straight hair.”

From Rafael Arbulu, as translated here.

Artist Bas Uterwijk's depiction of Christ using AI software

Why is it Important to Portray Christ as a Person of Color?

In our baptismal covenants that we renew weekly, we commit to mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and help to bear burdens that they may be light. Imagine being a person of color at church and only ever seeing Jesus represented as white when that’s not what he was. Imagine seeing all divinity and all authority figures as white. How would that make you feel?

We know that our Heavenly Father is not a respecter of persons and that we are all equal. When we erase the color from Christ, it sends a message that white = divinity and power. There is more artwork now at church that shows people of color, but when a person of color is represented as someone being saved by the Savior and the Savior himself is misrepresented as white then it reaffirms that bias that divinity and purity and authority are always white and places the person of color in the powerless position. Think of how reaffirming and empowering it is for a person of color to see the Savior in His role of Redeemer with power and authority as a person of color himself. We should not only restore the Savior’s image correctly as a person of color, but also show Him saving all people of all colors.

“For inasmuch as we have done it unto the least of these our brethren, we have done it unto Him.”  Inasmuch as we hear the least of these our brethren who are oppressed, we are hearing Him. And inasmuch as we do not hear the oppressed, we cannot hear Him. We invite all to hear Him by hearing the cries of the oppressed and following President Nelson’s counsel from the October 2020 general conference:

“I assure you that your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. Favor or disfavor with God is dependent upon your devotion to God and his commandments, and not the color of your skin…I grieve that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice. Today, I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice…I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children.”

Here are more references as to why it is so important to have representation in artwork at church:

Early Christian artwork depicting Christ and the woman who touched the hem of His clothing
Early artwork depicting Moses (typical look of men during this time in the Middle East)
Artist depiction of typical male from a man's skull who was a contemporary of Jesus
“With our all-inclusive doctrine, we can be an oasis of unity, and celebrate diversity. Unity and diversity are not opposites. We can achieve greater unity as we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity.”
Elder Quentin R. Cook