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.