When A White Jesus Is Present

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A few years back, when I was visiting my family in India, I remember my grandfather turning to my seven-year-old cousin and pointing to his arm.

“Look at the color of your skin,” he said. “You are lighter than most. White is the color of God and black is the color of the devil! Make sure you don’t get darker or you might be a devil person!”

My aunt and mom immediately rushed to assure my young, scared cousin that color had nothing to do with the devil or God. I almost fell out of my chair, laughing at the nonsense my grandfather had just spewed.

I knew he didn’t really believe in what he said. He was a silly man who got a kick out of telling silly stories to his grandchildren. Sadly, I also knew that my grandfather grew up in a culture steeped in colorism, racism, and casteism. In Indian communities like ours, the color of your skin and your relationship to God are closely linked.

As a Catholic, my grandfather must have grown up with countless images of a white god. Icons, bibles, statues, art—remnants of my people’s colonial past are ever-present in our communities. The narrative of white superiority and dark-skinned inferiority has endured across the generations and is plastered on every depiction of the Divine in Indian Christian homes and churches.

In spaces like these, white Jesus is always present and he is everywhere.  

When a white Jesus is present, colonialism is present.

When a white Jesus is present, the toxic legacy of colorism and casteism reigns supreme.

When a white Jesus is present, people of color suffer.

When a white Jesus is present, queer, trans and non-binary folx continue to be oppressed.

When a white Jesus is present, systemic racism is more deeply rooted.

As long as a white Jesus is present, the good news is actually better news for white, cis-gendered men.

As long as a white Jesus is present, none of us are truly free.

As long as a white Jesus is present, the promise and hope of Imago Dei is never fully realized.

A few years ago, when I first saw Kelly Latimore’s depiction of the Trinity, my body shuddered and I began to cry. For the first time in my life, I saw a member of the trinity look like me—a woman with brown skin and curly hair.

Does this mean God could look like me? I could look like God?

Maybe God is present in me then.

Does this mean God knows exactly what I experience?

It was the first time I realized I never truly believed in the Imago Dei. I never believed that God knew me intimately. How could a white man truly and fully understand me? How could the white Jesus sit beside me and tell me, “I understand. I’ve been through it, too.”

But the brown-skinned, curly-haired Christ could absolutely understand. This Christ could hold so much in her body. This Christ has felt the weight of dark skin in a white world and the fullness of all gender expressions. This Christ knows and suffers with. She is ever-present, full of mercy and compassion.

This Christ is a warrior, a protector, a peacemaker, a rebellious misfit, and a freedom fighter.

This Christ continues to liberate me from colonial narratives and into the truth of Imago Dei. This Christ dismantles white supremacy and patriarchy. This Christ heals generational wounds. This Christ longs to liberate ALL people because she knows that none of us are free until ALL of us are free.

This Christ healed wounds I didn’t even know about. This Christ invited me to live a bigger, more expansive life — one full of hope.

When I started to believe and live into the truth of Imago Dei, my theology expanded. My capacity for love expanded. My longing for justice expanded.

The work of debunking the myth of a white Jesus isn’t purely symbolic. It is an act of resistance and defiance. It is how we honor the Spirit that moves in and through us. It is how we restore our identity, dignity, and power. It is how we sow peace and hope into our minds, our bodies, and our communities.

It is the love letter I continue writing for the world, especially for brown-skinned womxn.

Debunking the myth of a white Jesus is the work of decolonization

I do this work because I want my seven-year-old cousin to see the fullness of Christ that is present in ALL people.

I do this work because I have the audacity to dream of a world of radical belonging, bubbling justice, and unadulterated joy for the next generation

I do this work because Christ has given me a taste of liberation, and I believe we are all meant to drink from this cup.

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