Not Your White Jesus

The following is an excerpt from the book, Not Your White Jesus.

Jesus is not a white guy. I hate to break it to you, but all those pictures you grew up seeing on the walls of your church or in your grandma’s dining room showcasing the fair-skinned, blue-eyed, handsome, white Jesus are fabrications. They lied to you. Jesus isn’t American; he’s not even campaigning for America’s greatness!

There’s more. He actually doesn’t care more about Americans than any other humans in the entire world (including Muslims and Communists). I’m serious—I checked the entire Bible and couldn’t find one sentence pertaining to America being the most amazing nation ever in existence. I know, I was shocked too.

Blatant sarcasm aside, if you are like me, raised in a typical white American Christian home going to church every Sunday as a child, you know what I am talking about. If you didn’t grow up in this fabricated, cookie-cutter context, but you grew up virtually anywhere in the United States, chances are you know what I’m talking about. If you grew up in a completely different culture and country but you have seen Americans on TV, chances are you still know what I’m talking about.

As a kid, I never differentiated Jesus from the Christianity I saw; to me they seemed one and the same. Christianity is a religion and I’ve always felt some aversion toward religion. No matter how hard I tried, I never felt I belonged inside the walls of a church building. Though I was raised in an evangelical church, I felt like an observing outcast wondering why I heard talk of loving others but felt the weight of judgment and exclusivity. It wasn’t all bad; I had some fun social times in youth groups, mostly meeting cute boys. I even believed the ABCs I grew up hearing in order to save my soul from eternal hellfire: A: Admit that you are a sinner in need of grace. B: Believe that God sent Jesus to die a bloody death for our sins. C: Confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior. When I was about four years old, I vividly remember sitting on an oversized maroon suede chair in my living room and essentially yelling at Jesus to get into my heart over and over again because I couldn’t be sure if he was in there or not and I was terrified because—you know—the hellfire pit and gnashing of teeth and what not.

That was pretty much the extent of my involvement while growing up in the world of white Christianity. The American Church always felt like a place to be hurt—not a place for the hurting. From as far back as I can remember—a few real, spiritual moments in youth group aside—I always felt there was something more to this whole thing we call life, some sort of purpose that actually held meaning in this world. However, I definitely wasn’t seeing that purpose—that radical, world-changing call—in church. I wasn’t seeing Jesus. In the midst of Christianity, I somehow completely missed the ways of Jesus and I don’t think that I am unique in this.

The truth is, growing up in this supposed “Christian nation,” it took me a quarter of a century to figure out who Jesus actually is. We tend to be a self-serving, money-driven, achievement-based, all-too-fearful nation, and there is a large section of the American Church that has followed right along, loud and proud, worshiping a made-up character I call White-Jesus.

To be perfectly clear, I’m not trying to debate Jesus’ literal skin color. Jesus was born in Palestine, so it is safe to assume his skin was some shade of brown, but the White-Jesus ideology is much more than just mistakenly picturing Jesus as a Caucasian American. White-Jesus is the symbolic representation of a white-washed, Americanized Jesus that not all, but much of the American Church seems to follow. White-Jesus represents the conservative ideology that is controlled by white guys and dominates the American Church. It is an ideology that we see spread throughout the religion of Christianity, but it is also an ideology that is prevalent in our nation’s politics.

White-Jesus Christianity stands firmly against health care for the vulnerable but is all about tax breaks for big business and spending millions and millions on its president’s lavish “needs.” White-Jesus Christianity is a crusader for the right to birth while blatantly disregarding a right to life as it writes off children slaughtered around the globe in American drone strikes as “collateral damage.” White-Jesus Christianity strongly advocates for the deportation of immigrants who are simply trying to provide a life for their families and it refuses refuge to the most vulnerable―giving them an essential death sentence—but increases in military funds are totally cool.

The White-Jesus ideology of American Christianity has largely failed when it comes to preaching and practicing the message of Jesus and collectively gets it wrong far more than right. Because of White-Jesus ideology, the term “American Christian” invokes thoughts of the vastly oppressive and even hateful philosophy that is imbedded not only in our culture, but in our political sphere, having an effect on the world as a whole. The severity of our situation should be blatantly obvious in the fact that American White-Jesus Christians have managed to bring to power a bigoted-misogynistic-racist sexual predator as the “leader” of this nation.

There are, for sure, many amazing Christians in the U.S. who are truly trying to follow Jesus to the depths of their soul. However, the version of Christianity dominating the U.S. religious landscape has failed to fulfill its basic self-proclaimed purpose. It has white-washed Jesus, dressing him in a $3,000 suit (made by workers earning pennies), with an American flag tie and boots made of alligator skin as he campaigns for capitalism and gun rights. That’s often what we see in the major leaders of White-Jesus American churches, at least.

The thing is, it only takes a few minutes to flip through the pages of the Gospels to see how the person of Jesus has been distorted. The true message of this brown-skinned, Palestinian Jew is, in reality, the exact opposite of what is largely portrayed by the masses who follow White-Jesus American Christianity. The Jesus of the Gospels was actually a total badass in a countercultural, all-inclusive, anti-materialistic, radically loving kind of way. He was born to a young, teenage mother, fled as a refugee from an oppressive king, and amazed the most educated teachers when he was just a kid. People called him the Son of God, and yet he hung out with those that most people wouldn’t even give a second look and was only really harsh on the self-righteous religious people.

When I finally discovered the Jesus of the Gospels, and read his words, often printed in red letters, I found a love that changes everything, a love that can transform our world. Not in that awkward, “religiousy” way, but in a life-changing, joy-bringing, compassionate, humbling, almost poetic way. Jesus represents love—not Christianity.

Can you imagine what the world would look like if the thousands of Christian churches in this nation actually lived like Jesus? Generous with their funds, maybe housing the poor instead of spending millions of dollars on brand new fancy buildings? According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, around 21 percent of children in the U.S. live below the federal poverty line. That’s close to 15 million children living below the poverty level—the second highest rate of child poverty of any developed nation.  That is appalling in itself, but in a nation that claims to follow the ways of a man who lived his entire life serving the poor, it is straight up shameful. What the actual hell, American Christianity? While mega churches produce multi-millionaire pastors, millions of children in their backyard can’t afford to eat. Jesus never told anyone to take all their money and build bigger church buildings; he did, however, instruct people to give their money to the poor. How big of an impact would it make if we actually spent way less on buildings and gave way more to the poor?

The most important command Jesus specifically gave was to love your neighbor—this command was put on the same level as loving God—kind of a big deal. And what does loving your neighbor—the Great Commandment of Jesus—actually look like according to J-man himself? Jesus answered that exact question with the story of the Good Samaritan, so what if we looked at that story in the context of our world today? In modern-day terms, it would look something like finding a beat-up, half-dead ISIS leader on the side of the road, stopping, taking him in, bandaging his wounds, and spending your own money to have him cared for. Knowing he is your biggest enemy and showing him love anyway. That’s a self-sacrificial kind of love.

Click here for the full copy of Not Your White Jesus.

Sheri Rosendahl2 Comments