Poor Megyn Kelly (MK henceforth)! She just can’t get any respect after her comment about the white Jesus and white Santa. The responses range from hilarious mockery to indignant outrage. The outcry of racism has filled my social media wall for two solid weeks at least, as we debate the color of Jesus and St. Nick. Certainly, her comments and the responses have implications about the race issue. To be sure, race is an issue, but I want to look past the race issue in this blog. After all, Jesus was white according to a certain formulation of the semitic race, though many interpret Kelly’s comment to assert that Jesus was Norther European white. The same can be said of St. Nick, an Asian Minor person. The fact is, all this discussion about color is anachronistic because people did not always see things in terms of skin color back then. At the center of it however comes a theological question. What does this discussion say about the Incarnation and Christology. So, in the spirit of Christmas today, I share my thoughts on how MK’s idea have to do with Christology.
My friend Prof. Greg Carey makes the cogent and valid point about people making Jesus their weapon for their ideology in his article for HuffPo. Whether MK is intentionally using Jesus or St. Nick as her weapon, I do not know. In the spirit of Christmas generosity, I’m going to extend her some grace. I want to propose that MK has done something many have done, and this is not limited to liberals or conservatives: she has identified Jesus with herself. She’s doing, what theologians call, Christology. Now, I have no idea what her faith status is, and I’m not in the position to judge that status. She does receive a lot of flak simply because she is a celebrity who stubbornly insisted on her own ignorance. Her Christology is simple; Jesus is like MK, and MK is like Jesus.
After all, I’m fairly sure the Jesus we like most is the baby Jesus. I think a lot of stuff could make this harmless and cute baby Jesus cry, such as “dirty diapers” (or “nappies” as my British friends would call them; well, maybe he didn’t wear a diaper. Who knows?) or just an empty stomach. This cute Jesus is not the same as that Jesus who used colorful words to vilify his opponents and beat up people in the temple. That Jesus is a bit “out there.” Of course, there’re those who also identify with that Jesus, the radical Jesus who would occupy Wall St. and Central District, HK, all at once. Baby Jesus however doesn’t offend anyone. He’s a baby after all! That Jesus is our skin color because he’s definitely the “good guy”, and we so separately want to identify with the good guy, in this case, the Son of God (or St. Nick). That’s what MK did, only her construct came out of a secularized version of Christology. So, no theologian took her serious, amidst raucous public mockery.
At the heart of her misinformed comments is Christmas and the Incarnation (and of course, baby Jesus). The popular formulation for the Incarnation has much to do with Jesus coming to be one of us. The problem MK created is the classic dichotomy between the Jesus of history and the Christ imagined by the church, except in this case, we have a Christ imagined by MK. In the imagination of the church or sphere outside of church, the Christ emerged in OUR image. Those who laugh at MK are reminding her about the Jesus of history. Yet, we must be reminded also that veneration of Jesus started very early even in the lordly language of the New Testament. The Jesus of history received early imagination and contextualization among first-generation Christians. People felt the need to imagine Jesus to be themselves, even though MK’s form of imagination was a bit extreme. Every time we say something about Jesus, we intentionally or otherwise are doing Christology. No wonder Jesus asked his followers the very important questions, “Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am?”
There’s however an area where we don’t think about too much, but I want us to think about now. What if Jesus were really different from us. What if Jesus was black, yellow, red, purple or green? What if Jesus were an alien? What if Jesus were the Other? In our deep desire to have a Jesus who is just like us, we often neglect the fact that the Incarnation includes the Otherness of Jesus. God forbid if Jesus had a different shade of skin color, different cultural habits and different worldview than we.
Jesus’ Otherness was evident throughout his career. Many rejected him even though he was a popular teacher. The disciples misunderstood him over and over again. After all, how was it possible to love the enemies? How was it possible to make the way to the cross (much like our electric chair) be the way of discipleship? Even his own family thought he was a bit off his rocker. For Jesus, eternal life came from a process of understanding of his Otherness.
The problem with the MK controversy is not merely race. It points to a greater problem in our society. We’re unwilling to learn from the Other (i.e. people or people groups that have nothing in common with us). By identifying ourselves with the “good guy,” we not only hijacked the historical good guy but also made those different from us the bad guys. Sometimes, just sometimes, the white Jesus represented white supremacy without always meaning to do so. There’s a need for people to be identified with the good Jesus they imagine him to be, and people outside of that identity are either inferior or worse, evil. The historical Christian understanding of Christmas tells us that there is no separation between the humanity and Otherness of Jesus. Perhaps, the Incarnation is not talking about how much Jesus was like us only (i.e. Jesus was white, black, yellow, red, or blue) but how much he was NOT like us also. This paradox combines the humanity and divinity perfectly without sacrificing or even separating one from the other. Maybe Christmas tells us that the mission for the baby Jesus was to take us out of our familiar environment to unsettle us by showing Jesus to be the Other. The Otherness of the adult Jesus really started with the baby Jesus. Perhaps, Christmas also reminds us that there’s some truth “out there” in the Other. We can indeed learn from the Other. Therefore, I wish everyone a merry Christmas and happy holidays, even MK. I’m thankful for all of my readers and friends from whom I learned much, even though we can disagree agreeably most of the time.