Civil rights activist and social media personality Shaun King recently made headlines declaring that all statues and images of Jesus Christ that depict him as a white European male should be removed and torn down.
King, an individual who has dedicated his life to promoting social and systemic change, has been known to frequently call for reforms in various well-established structures. He is a proponent of the Black Lives Matter movement, a fighter for criminal justice reform, and the founder of the Real Justice political action committee. The Real Justice PAC supports the election of those described by the group as “reform-minded prosecutors” to county and municipal prosecutor positions nationwide.
A significant connection exists in King’s relations with the church in America and the Christian community. Following a year long stint as high school civics teacher after graduating from Morehouse College, King pastored Total Grace Christian Center in DeKalb County, Georgia. He went on to become deeply involved in the Christian faith, quickly founding his own church in Atlanta known as “Courageous Church” in 2008. Research did not find the King lists an ordination or seminary training from a larger religious body.
King stepped away from his pastoral position in 2012, claiming that the changes and transitions he was attempting at the church “Didn’t work”. Since stepping away, King has gone on record in interviews saying that he doesn’t “Have any plans at all on pastoring” in the future.
Recently, King has made it seem that he has not fully cut ties with the Church given the fact that he has made statements regarding how churches should go about portraying the imagery of Jesus Christ. In a set of viral Tweets this past week, King expressed his belief that “All murals and stained-glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends should also come down”. This proclamation comes in relation to the movement to tear down and remove statues that represent individuals in our nation’s history who owned slaves, represented the Confederacy in the Civil War, or participated in acts that are now seen a politically unfavorable light.
Yes, I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down.
They are a form of white supremacy.
Always have been.
In the Bible, when the family of Jesus wanted to hide, and blend in, guess where they went?
Tear them down.
— Shaun King (@shaunking) June 22, 2020
King believes that the images of a white Holy Family “Are a gross form of white supremacy. Created as tools of oppression. Racist propaganda.”
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.
They should all come down.
— Shaun King (@shaunking) June 22, 2020
Members of the Christian faith do not have historic physical descriptions or images of Jesus Christ. As technology advances, 3D models can assist in imagining Jesus based on what we know of working-class Semitic men of his time, but we will never know exactly what he looks like until we meet face to face.
This lack of imagery has led people throughout history to portray Jesus within their own cultural context. Churches in China portray Jesus with Asiatic features. The Ethiopian Church often represents Jesus with an Ethiopian appearance. Throughout history, churches and other institutions have portrayed Jesus as a reflection of the ethnicity of the local population.
King has not been alone in his belief Jesus’ representation must be reconsidered, especially in regard to Jesus being represented as a White man. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and principal leader of the Church of England, has voiced support for the movement to reconsider how Jesus is portrayed in the Church. In an interview with the BBC, Welby points out that if one visits Churches’ around the world, you will find “Jesus portrayed in as many ways as there are cultures, languages and understandings”.
However, King does have a point to a certain extent regarding the idea that white representations of Jesus have some historic ties to white supremacy. Images of Jesus as a white man were used by European slave traders when they attempted forced conversions on various African populations and communities. The Ku Klux Klan used images of Jesus as white to justify and support their belief in white supremacy. However, it must be pointed out that the image of Jesus will most often reflect the race of the population that he is being presented to.