As I sit holding and examining the print of the famous painting “The Last Meeting of Lee & Jackson” by E.B.D. Julio, I reflect on my own racism and prejudices that I grew up with as a Southerner. I feel as Wendell Berry wrote about, The Hidden Wound, inside me and the South, the hidden wound of racism. In this piece I would like to make my confession of how being raised in the South influenced me and other Southerners.
Being raised in the South, I became entrenched in the racist heritage of the South and beholden to the religion of the Lost Cause. I did not know or think of myself as a racist, for I had African American friends and colleagues. But deep inside me was the hidden wound that goes unnoticed by many Americans.
I know and am friends with Addison Hodges Hart, author of “‘White Jesus’ and Shaun King,” published at Public Orthodoxy on June 26, 2020. And I should also note that I am in full agreement with Fr. Hart’s main thesis there: Notwithstanding the fact that the historical Yeshua of Nazareth, as a first century, Palestinian Jew—and therefore, of Semitic, Afro-Asiatic stock—was, in all likelihood, a deeply tanned or brown-skinned man (with facial features, hair texture, and bodily proportions probably as depicted on the Shroud of Turin), artistic images of a “white Jesus” are “good and harmless”—certainly as originally intended by their Western European (and European American immigrant) creators. Moreover, attacking them as necessarily racist undermines the Black Lives Matter movement, giving an excuse to those who want to label BLM and its efforts to secure racial justice and human rights for African Americans (and, by extension, for all), as “imbecilic and dangerous.” After all, Christianity has always been an iconophilic (“image-friendly”) religion. That is, even as Christianity proclaims the Incarnation of God in Christ Jesus from its beginnings 2,000 years ago, it has always favored spiritual and aesthetic expressions that awaken the “active imagination” (to use a term dear to Carl Jung) through vocal and instrumental music; architecture; and visual, textile, and performing arts.
Shaun King, civil rights activist and founder of Real Justice PAC, stirred up controversy this past week by tweeting that images of “white Jesus” should be torn down and trashed. “They are a form of white supremacy,” he opined. “Always have been. In the Bible, when the family of Jesus wanted to hide, and blend in, guess where they went? [sic] EGYPT! Not Denmark. Tear them down.” He followed this, er, trenchant observation with a follow-up tweet: “All murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends should also come down. They are a gross form white supremacy. [sic] Created as tools of oppression. White propaganda. They should all come down.”
Needless to say, there was backlash and King’s call to iconoclasm won relatively little support. Later still, King claimed that within the first twelve hours after his tweets, he received 20 death threats in reaction, proving (as he said) “his point.”
On March 15, 1965, something momentous occurred. Martin Luther King Jr. marched down the streets of Selma side by side with various important religious and social leaders to memorialize the deaths of two civil rights heroes. With him marched Archbishop Iakovos—the only white bishop who had responded to the call to march.
The three marches on Selma served to highlight the inequality and racial discrimination African-Americans were still facing at the time, even after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. These marches are said to have directly influenced the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a legal measure that sought to protect African-Americans from unfair voting roadblocks.
Now, over 50 years later, progress has been made. The icing on the cake is surely the eight years Barack Obama has spent in the Oval Office. A black president—elected and re-elected—surely must be the signal that racism, especially explicit racism, is a phenomenon of the past.