Saying Goodbye to White Jesus

the distance with his head and body covered in a light-colored cloth. This picture is matted with tan and in a thick black frame. The frame is against a grey background.

After much thought and consideration, my husband and I decided to remove the pictures of Jesus throughout our home a few weeks ago. We decided that the historical inaccuracy and racialized message that it sends is not what we want to represent in our home. The Mormon White Jesus no longer captures what our family believes.

Unfortunately, this intellectual realization of the harmful effects that this art and worship of art has had on people of color, including myself, did not shield my heart from the sadness and loss I felt as I removed the pictures from our walls.

There is one picture I loved so much. It is a typical Greg Olsen piece that lacks complexity, depth, and imagination. I really loved it. I would stare at that picture and draw it over and over.

That picture represented so much of Mormonism to me. As a youth, it was the sort of picture I wanted in my home to demonstrate to the world my willful conspicuous consumption of Mormonism. The type of Jesus photo you have hanging in your home indicates to other Mormons that you are one of them; it signals that you are in the group. Despite technically being part of the group, I wanted so desperately for people to know that I was really in the group.

That Jesus made it known that I belonged. At least, it seemed to indicate that I did.

But I don’t think I ever did belong. That is part of the sadness I experienced saying goodbye to white Jesus as I took the photos down. That is really what hurt the most.  It was the recognition that a part of me (not just the feminist part) would never belong despite my willingness and yearning.

Our history of the Priesthood and Temple Ban, the prevailing teachings of a curse that changes skin color and the strictly Caucasian features of the Mormon Jesus perpetuated in Deseret Book art seems to preserve a very specific and unambiguous concept of redemption. This Jesus, with Nordic features, easily played by any Utahn male willing to temporarily suffer the scorn of his peers by growing a blondish-brown beard, keeps this message of exclusion and race-based salvation alive.

Despite all the reasons I have to let go of white Jesus, the loss has been tangible. (Granted, this may be because I have yet to fill the spaces that those photos left on my wall, so it is in fact a very tangible space.) This loss also feels like growth. It is the acknowledgement and physical action that is an outward manifestation of the internal changes that I have made and am making. I felt this distinctly as my husband and I watched General Conference this last weekend. Realizing that the Church was still absent the racial diversity so many had hoped for in the upper echelons of the Church, I looked to that tangible empty space on my wall where Jesus used to hang and felt peace and knew that I had made the right choice by saying goodbye.

10 responses to “Saying Goodbye to White Jesus

  1. Exodus 20:4, Deuteronomy 5:8-9, Deuteronomy 4:16 & 23, Acts 17:27-29, Colossians 2:18, Romans 1:20-23

    I always wondered why certain non-Christian religions taught that having images of God was sinful. I was certain that the Mormon prophets had received revelation to the contrary with valid reason why it was ok. I searched for something- ANYTHING in our LDS doctrine that explained why there are so many images of this man everywhere, even in our temples. I found no excuse except “Mormon cultural tradition” which as we all know is NOT always synonymous with LDS doctrine. I asked the Lord and He said that the ancient texts were correct. That there are specific ways that He wants us to remember Him and man-made images is NOT one of them. He is to be remembered when we take the sacrament, He’s to be seen in our fellowman, according to the BOM all things in nature testify of Christ. Why must there be something made with OUR hands?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you. This is another reason why we decided to take down the photos. The emphasis on establishing picture of Jesus that is supposed to be a literal representation starts to border on idolatry.

      I find it interesting that it specifically states in Handbook 2 that there aren’t supposed to be any photos of Christ in the main Chapel area.

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  2. I’m sorry. Do you think you’ll get some more realistic artwork of Christ to put up?

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    • Actually, my husband and I have decided to go with art that does not actually depict Jesus. We are going to buy a piece of art that shows the empty tomb instead. We feel like this does a better job of communicating what Jesus represents. It is not his image that has value and meaning.

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  3. I will take your White Mormon Jesus pictures off your hands, if you don’t want them anymore.

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  4. Our hopes and destinies are shaped by our perceptions of what is worthiness. If we are like deity then I must look like that which is divine. I have made a concerted effort to understand that deity looks like all of us. God is just not African, or Asian, or Mayan, or Azteca, or European or Aboriginal; God is all of those. And, I have learned to respect that.

    My wife and I have consciously decided on a collection of different ethnic and artistic renderings of Christ to remind us that Christ is who and what he is to a multiplicity of people, but one human family.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Get some art of a black Jesus. I love that James Taylor Christmas song.

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  6. For some reason when I think of Christ, I don’t think of him as any color or race. He should be I. Our hearts and not on our walls.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. For blacks as well as whites — as for all people — Mormonism only makes sense if one first accepts that Jesus, the 1st century itinerant Jewish preacher from Nazareth, was actually “the Christ,” and that the Christian Bible is both reliable history and the word of a god God.

    Why do we believe that? How do we come to believe? Regardless of the color of Jesus?

    Did any of us enter into that belief based on the conclusions of honest, serious, informed, critical study of the Bible? Did any of our church leaders? Did any GA in the history of the Mormon church? Did any of the Mormon intellectuals or apologists at BYU-Neal Maxwell. Or any Mormon scholar on mormonscholarstestify.org? Why, really, do we believe it? Should we be as honest and critical about that belief as we are about the color of Jesus’ skin or the image we put on our walls?

    Clearly the blue-eyed Nordic Jesus does not hold up to honest scrutiny, nor does the brown-eyed North American caucasian.

    But does Jesus as “the Christ” fare any better with honest scrutiny of the Bible? With critical reading of the text, and with informed comparison of how the New Testament reads and applies the Old Testament compared to what the latter actually says and means in full context?

    Getting Jesus right means a lot more than just getting his skin color right.

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  8. When I lived in Seville / Spain, I sometimes sat down for a while in the Chapel of Jesús del Gran Poder. (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/Gran_poder_2013_002.jpg )
    Idolatry, yes. But a different way of depicting Jesus.

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