Author Eric Metaxas is facing a lot of criticism for a comment he made on Twitter in which he posits that Jesus was white. Later, Metaxas attempted to clarify what he meant by saying he sees racial categories as being “silly” and “arbitrary.”
”Jesus was white. Did he have ‘white privilege’ even though he was entirely without sin?” Metaxas wrote.
What Prompted Metaxas to Say ‘Jesus was white’?
Like most things on Twitter, the story has played out in a rabbit hole of tweets and replies to tweets. This one started when Neil Shenvi, who is a theoretical chemist, member of the Summit Church in Raleigh Durham, North Carolina, and a critic of critical race theory, shared a video produced by the United Methodist Church (UMC).
The United Methodist Church has enlisted Robin DiAngelo to produce a series of videos on “Deconstructing White Privilege”.https://t.co/r39ktjso7I
— Neil Shenvi (@NeilShenvi) July 27, 2020
The video, published in 2018, features Dr. Robin DiAngelo giving a talk titled “Deconstructing White Privilege.” DiAngelo is a professor at the University of Washington, and she coined the term “white fragility” in 2011.
Given his position on critical race theory, Shenvi’s motive in sharing the video was likely to garner awareness for his view that the UMC is looking to secular academics to help shape its theology. However, it doesn’t appear Shenvi anticipated (or agreed with) Metaxas’ controversial comment on his tweet:
Jesus was white. Did he have “white privilege” even though he was entirely without sin? Is the United Methodist Church covering that? I think it could be important. https://t.co/lNv67Z7g5l
— Eric Metaxas (@ericmetaxas) July 27, 2020
Metaxas offered a little more explanation for his comment among the thousands of outraged replies he received:
yeah, see this is what I figured:https://t.co/MrVGn4UG4n
— Neil Shenvi (@NeilShenvi) July 28, 2020
Reactions Have Been Heated
Reactions to Metaxas’ comment have ranged from outrage to trying to set the author and scholar straight. This one from Alan Cross voices a concern many have for Metaxas’ comment, namely that it is anachronistic:
It doesn’t matter. I’m responding to Metaxas. Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew. We know that. Historically, “White” wasn’t a thing until around 1690 in Virginia and it was used to differentiate English and then Northern Europeans over/against Africans and indigenous peoples.
— Alan Cross (@AlanLCross) July 27, 2020
Some, like Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, have accused Metaxas of more than just anachronism:
People are actually arguing with Metaxas as if he’s simply uninformed. That’s not the case. He has chosen to frame Jesus as White despite all evidence because that is critical to the project of White supremacist Christianity.
— Dr. Chanequa (@drchanequa) July 28, 2020
Others have adopted a more humorous response, pointing out the audacity of what Metaxas is saying. Joseph Solomon expresses his confusion over the fact that Metaxas wrote a lengthy biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a minister who stood up against the white supremacist Nazi regime, yet didn’t seem to learn anything from his life or example:
are you the same Eric Metaxas that wrote the book about THIS guy?? asking for a friend… pic.twitter.com/oQ0yc3pBLv
— Joseph Solomon (@whatisjoedoing) July 28, 2020
Still others agreed with what Metaxas was ultimately trying to say (although even that seems to be a little mirky), but took issue with how he said it:
@ericmetaxas you’re not wrong…. But I wish you had led with that point instead of with “Jesus was white”… Now all my liberal friends won’t hear anything else you have to say
— Nick Harvey (@nickharveytrpt) July 28, 2020
A Little Context
The discussion prompted by Metaxas’ tweet is being shaped by the broader discussion our culture is currently grappling with. We are all, collectively, asking the questions: What is race? How does America reconcile with its racist past? How do we eliminate racism entirely from our culture?
In June, a similar debate ensued on Twitter around “white Jesus.” This one was prompted by a tweet from Shaun King and it launched the hashtag #cancelChristianity (which was not featured in King’s original tweet, by the way). As ChurchLeaders reported in June, this is how it started:
King said he thinks “statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down,” referring to the recent moves across the country to take down monuments to Confederate leaders. King says the fact that these icons portray Jesus as a white person are “a form of white supremacy.”
Additionally, King said “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.”
As you can imagine, a pretty heated debate ensued. And for some very confusing reason a few outspoken people took the sentiments against “white Jesus” as a threat against the American way of life and patriotism.
Metaxas Addresses His ‘Jesus Was White’ Comment
Since the tweet, Metaxas has gone on his Eric Metaxas Show and said his comment was an “ill-considered” tweet “where you kind of think you’re trying to be provocative or funny or start a conversation and everyone just goes insane.” Metaxas offers a defense against his critics who have accused him of sympathizing with white supremacists by saying he wrote a book (alluding to his book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer) about how Jesus was Jewish but the Nazis were trying to portray him as white.
He goes on to talk about the incident with his show co-hosts in a joking manner. Metaxas implies he didn’t mean for his words to be taken literally, as if he were stating a fact, rather in a hypothetical way in order to bring about discussion on white privilege.
You can watch that clip here: