Westmont needs to face its White Jesus
Views 197 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 2 - 14 - 2019 | By: Brendan Fong, Emily Mata, Olivia Stowell
We have grave concerns about the image in the Prayer Chapel which depicts Jesus as a light-skinned man standing on North America.
First, this image is historically inaccurate. As a Palestinian man who never set foot in North America, depicting Christ as a White-appearing North American does not align with historical fact. Furthermore, this image (and other representations of Jesus as White) comes out of a troubled chapter in the evangelical church’s history.
Under the image of a White Jesus, salvation became about being or becoming White. Rather than defining salvation as coming “by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ,” as Westmont defines salvation in its statement of faith, evangelical Christianity aligned becoming Christian with becoming like White Europeans.
We, alongside theologians like James Cone, Willie James Jennings, and Karen Teel, believe representing Jesus Christ as a White man, given the context of global racism and colonialism, furthers the marginalization of people of color, while also ignoring the theological implications of God incarnating as a marginalized body. As Teel writes in “What Jesus Wouldn’t Do,” “the historical person of Jesus was not White, historically or analogically; he was neither European nor privileged . . . this taking on of oppressed human flesh must have been intentional.” Representing Jesus as a White, North American man alters history in a way that shrouds the significance of how, when, and where God became incarnate and into what kind of body.
If we aim to center Christ at Westmont, we ought not to prominently display images that misrepresent Christ’s person, life, mission, and work. Westmont’s mission is to create “thoughtful scholars, grateful servants and faithful leaders for global engagement with the academy, church and world.” Representing Jesus as North American centralizes our geographical context, at the expense of the real historical Jesus’ spatial positioning and at the expense of God’s work in the world, which isn’t limited to one country, nation, or region.
The image of White Jesus represents the colonization of the central figure of our faith. To depict Jesus as light-skinned downplays the fact that our savior was a person of color.
Students of color that attend predominantly White institutions live in a context of marginality, as did Jesus throughout his life. The United States is a nation in which people are privileged or oppressed based on their racial appearance. To take away the darkness of Jesus’ skin removes him from the context of oppression that he lived in. It also strips students of color of the opportunity to find spiritual refuge in knowing that their savior understands living outside a dominant social group. Images of Jesus as a White person create a visual story that excludes people of color, and this makes the Lord’s resilience smaller and lessens His gospel.
Noting the prayer chapel’s spiritual significance, we believe it would be healthy and healing for Westmont to repent of colonialist imagery and embrace its commitment to “diversity in a biblical vision of God’s Kingdom.” In our view, removing a White-appearing Jesus from the spiritual heart of Westmont would be a manifestation of Westmont's commitment to witnessing to the entirety of the kingdom of God, and would therefore be an “act of restorative justice.”
We hope Westmont is ready to engage in conversation about the impact of this image and consider its eventual removal.