Mormon Images of Christ

The recent official Mormon publication Ensign (Sep 2010) has six different depictions of Christ.  None of them is very realistic:

Page 1 and 5:  Christ appearing in the New World:  hair perfect, well-trimmed beard, spotless white robe, and light-colored skin.  Some of the inidividuals he is communicating with look like people of color.  Extreme movie star good looks.

Page 6.  This small simplistic image intended for children is bizarre:  hair perfectly parted down the middle, well-trimmed beard, robe a little more realistic, but his skin color is lily white.  The adjacent images all show children of different races, so what’s with the European Christ?  A real missed opportunity here.

Page 8.  A little more realistic: hair and beard less groomed, brown robe, but his skin is still pale.  I like the illuminated cross behind his head.

Page 10.  What’s with this Christ?  blond hair (slicked back), well-trimmed beard, bizarre white robe, and the skin is glowing white.  This is the most Scandanavian of the depictions, and leaves me speechless. 

Page 25.  Christ praying:  well-groomed hair and beard, dull-yellow coat over off-white robe, and darker skin (looks like a deep sun tan).  This illustration also gives him movie star good looks.

Page 40, 42, and 45 (repeated 7 times):  Photographs of the cover to the spiral bound “Preach My Gospel:  A Guide to Missionary Service.”  This Christ is the most disappointing because of its intended use, missionary work.  Christ has well-groomed hair (parted down the middle) and beard, white robe, and pale skin.  The illustration, which shows John baptizing Christ, shows a similar John (except he has a tan robe and a slightly more rugged looking face).

Christ was born into a Mediterranean environment (King of the Jews), his skin was not lily white.  How dark we will probably never know, but he was not Scandanavian.  If Mormonism wants to be a truly international church, it needs to drop the European Christ, and come up with more realistic images.  If the LDS Church wants to atone for past racial problems, it would be good to have a rather dark-skinned Christ.  It would be good for the membership also.

I travel to Africa a great deal.  It would be good for the members there to see a more realistic depiction of our Savior.  Colonialism needs to end.

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8 Responses to Mormon Images of Christ

  1. dor says:

    There was the Jesus of history and the Christ of spirit. So many of our images of Christ come not from the gospels, but from artist renditions. The Bible doesn’t have very much narrative about what Jesus looked like. In the gospel, deeds, teaching wisdom was what was important to preserve.

    The Christ of Spirit is each of us. Christ is male and female, straight and gay, European and African. More importantly, Christ is action, service and witnessing.

    What if our images reflected not the personage of Jesus, but the Spirit of Christ? What if we moved away from the Jesus who has become an idol to the Christ that is the inheritance? What if we saw evangelism to be as much about learning and ourselves being changed rather than seeing it as a way to change others? What if the Christ who we worship is the spirit of unity that comes from learning, hearing and embracing God in the infinite images that come from plurality? What if the “tower of Babel” isn’t about human language but about the language we use to know God? What if the diversity of the God image is indeed, God?

    If we focus on the Spirit of Christ — the reaching out, the healing, the eating – avoid images altogether, avoid attention on the person of Christ, might that itself not lead to an end of colonialism?

    And why is ending colonialism important?

    The new colonialism is the not the rift between East and West, global north and global south. The new colonialism is the rift between the wealthy (in every nation) and the poor. It is the rift between the corporate/market economies that value production and the traditional, community economies that value relationship. Colonialism today is about supporting empire.

    It is the gospel, and the spirit of Christ, that allows us to see empire for what it is — a false God and a system of injustice. To use Christ to support it is a very grave sin indeed.

  2. Roger Hansen says:

    The following email was emailed to me by fellow transhumanist Carl Y:

    “I think you raise a good pooint but I disagree on the particulars. I too am tired of the idealistic glossy portrayals that are anything but artistic. On the other hand, I have no problem with the fact that every culture seems to depict Jesus in its own ethnicity. To me this just becomes another way of showing him as the ideal human–that goal towards which we should all strive. Making him look like you/me is IMO a good way of helping people relate to him and channel their own innate godliness. Artists from other cultures do the sme thing. Have you ever heard Alfred Burt’s carol “Some Children See Him”? (http://bit.ly/c0/Fz7)

  3. dor says:

    Yes, interesting. The issues you raise are related to approachability and validation. Because I can see a Jesus that looks like me, I can more fully identify with that image.
    The question then is is it equally important for those who are on the top of the class pyramid as it is for those at the base of the pyramid? What is the American ethnicity?
    When it comes to gender, we’ve learned to be cautious of always using the male pronoun, lest women feel viscerally, if not consciously, that they are not intended to identify. In secular culture, when forced to use a pronoun, using “she” helps to foster inclusiveness. In a global, interconnected world, does not the same go for the image of Christ?
    As transhumanists, we must be very, very aware of the images we use. (The fruit which led to the fall in Genesis is never called an apple. We se it as such because artistic images convey it as such). The images create a meta-narrative. If we are to ensure that a transhuman society is egalitarian, we need to be very careful to avoid the mistakes of history that saw genetic manipulation as “tied to ethnocentrism and the blindness of class interests” (Ted Peters, “Playing God?”).
    If images are to be used, they should represent the “ideal human” in a way that fosters inclusiveness. Do the blond, light-skinned depictions mentioned by Roger do that?

  4. Roger Hansen says:

    My response to Carl: I understand that all cultures and races relate better to a Christ who looks like them. But the Mormon Church is projected to have the majority of its membership in developing countries by 2025. If you want to be an international church, which racial/facial image of Christ are you going to chose? IMO, a more Mediterranean Christ might be a good compromise. It would be more historically accurate also.

    There is also the problem with Christ looking like a movie star. Since most of us don’t have star qualities, doesn’t that make it harder for us to relate to him, not easier?

  5. Roger Hansen says:

    Carl Y’s comments back:

    ” . . . not sure if I mind Christ looking like a movie star although perhaps it could be toned down a little. Our biology is hard-wire to pick up on beauty. There is a huge human bias towards it. I don’t have a problem with it as long as it’s not too overdone. Though I admit that some of the Church’s art definitely falls in the category of “overdone.”

  6. Roger Hansen says:

    dor, In regards to your first comment, I think we do need visual images of Christ. We need them as illustrations of biblical stories. Mormons particularly need them because of our belief in anthropomorphic deities.

    I totally agree that missionary work should first begin with ourselves. Your comments sound a little process theology. And I agree that the new colonialism is rich over poor. But there is still some of the old colonialism around. When I’m in Africa, I seem to be treated different. I don’t know if that’s from residual feelings from the old colonialism or from the impression that I’m rich. When in Africa, it is obvious that I’m a visitor and that might also have something to do with my treatment also.

  7. Roger Hansen says:

    According to the David Brooks writing in The New York Times (reprinted in the SLTrib 12 Sep 2010):

    “Jesus, (David) Pratt (pastor of the 4,300-person suburban church in Birmingham, Ala.) notes, made it hard on his followers. He created a minichurch, not a mega one. Today, however, building budgets dwarf charitable budgets and Jesus is portrayed as a genial suburban dude. “When we gather in our church building to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshipping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, we may be worshipping ourselves.”

  8. Pingback: The Color of Christ in Africa | Tired Road Warrior

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