BY ZACHARY MORTON
I grew up in a church in southwestern Pennsylvania with paintings of Jesus on the walls. I can still see them in my mind. Jesus was usually staring you in the face, but sometimes he was gazing off somewhere else, or at another character in the scene. Jesus often had light brown hair; sometimes curly and sometimes straight. His eyes would stare lovingly back at you — usually blue eyes or brown or sometimes they were even green. One thing was consistent, though; Jesus was always white.
Those images stick with us and influence the ways we think about and conceptualize God, and they make it easier for us to identify with God on some level. That is valuable when dealing with a God whom in other terms is unknowable, ineffable and beyond us.
While this can be a valuable tool for a white person, a black Jesus or an Hispanic Jesus or an Arabic-looking Jesus are just as valuable to people of other races and ethnicities. It is important for us to remind ourselves at a time like this that Jesus was not white, and God is most certainly not white.
This should be obvious, but based on much of the language and symbolism that has been brewing and rising in our state, our society and around the world, it apparently is not.
The recent terrorist attack on mosques in New Zealand, the Islamophobic displays in our own statehouse and the recent distribution of KKK materials in various Morgantown neighborhoods all appeal to the trope of a God whose will is somehow connected to various conceptualizations of whiteness.
Let me be clear: Any form of religion that attaches God to any form of racial superiority, or seeks to inflict physical, mental or spiritual violence on another is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the God of love revealed in the Bible.
God is not white. God has never been white. God never will be white. God does not desire for people of different races/ethnicities or religions to live separately or isolated from one another. Instead, the vision of God’s love put on display is a vision of all the nations of the world gathering and embracing the love of God together.
One of the most important commandments in the Hebrew Bible is the commandment to not make any graven images, or representations, of God.
There is a lot of wisdom in this command. Whenever we worship a God that we see in our minds as white or American we are worshipping a graven image, not God.
Whenever our understanding of God’s will becomes intertwined with our own conceptions of an ethnically or culturally “pure” vision, we are worshipping a graven image. Whenever we confuse the reality of God with the ideas about God that make us feel comfortable or nostalgic, we are worshipping a graven image.
We who call ourselves Christians must hold ourselves to a higher standard of God’s love for all people. We must reject any claim that God’s will is for something other than the celebration of God’s creative diversity.
We must counter any rhetoric that disfigures the Gospel of Christ with fear of another. We must remember that God is not white. God is not a Christian. God is not a nationalist.
God is love — the kind of love that brings people and communities together.
BY ZACHARY MORTON