Kanye West as Jesus

January 26, 2006

A lot of people have been talking about the new cover of Rolling Stones magazine with Kanye West as Jesus (you can see it here). But no response seems to be as well stated as Ben Witherington's latest comments on his blog. Here are a few highlights:

"Does the outrage about this have anything to do with the fact that many people find a black image of Jesus troubling?"

"The issues I want to probe are twofold: 1) the problem that we all see Jesus from our own anachronistic point of view; 2) why is it that a black image of Jesus troubles some white American Christians so much, when they were certainly not much troubled when various white folk have portrayed Jesus in film and on TV, since Jesus certainly wasn't white (despite the best efforts of some to argue for an Aryan Jesus)."

"If you simply look at the history of Christian art you will see Jesus being indigenized for every culture--- dressed in Italian style, looking like an Englishman, portrayed as Oriental, looking like an African and so on. This is only natural. We all desperately want Jesus to be one of us, to be approachable, to be someone we can identify with."

"And here we are getting at the root of the matter. A Jesus who does not look like us, doesn't talk like us, doesn't dress like us, and lives according to a different culture is alien to us. He is very hard to identify with. Instead of changing ourselves into an image more like his which requires hard work and not a little imagination, it is so much easier to mentally change him into the image of ourselves. And this domestication of Jesus if taken to an extreme (for instance with the Aryan Jesus concept) becomes in fact idolatry--- the attempt to recreate God in our own image."

"I would like to suggest that the outrage at Kanye West's act, which was of course meant to be provocative, may indeed have surfaced the obvious fact once again that racism is indeed still an issue and indeed a besetting sin in our culture, no matter how much we would like to stick our head in the sand and say it is not. ... The church needs to look hard at itself and ask questions like--- "Why is the eleven o' clock worship hour the most segregated hour of the week in America even in 2006?"

"So perhaps we can take the Kanye West tempest in a teapot episode as a teaching moment. Perhaps we could ask ourselves why multi-cultural images of Jesus disturb us, if they do. Perhaps we could ask--- Shouldn't we be getting on with trying to conform ourselves to Christ's moral image, not conform him to our physical one?"