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Let Parishioners See The Jesus Of Many Colors

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When I was a young boy growing up in a black Baptist church in Illinois, I remember sitting on the hard, smooth wooden pew surrounded by descendants of Africans. There were young kids like me, our skins glistening with Vaseline, and young adults like my parents, and older men and women with hair full of gray.

The ladies wore fancy colored hats and bright dresses; the men wore their best suits; and we boys and girls emulated them — not always by choice.

We were a black church. Yet, amid women getting "happy" and old men responding from the amen corner, I'd look up at the stained glass cross high behind the pulpit and see — a white Jesus.

I paid it no nevermind as a young boy. The Bible books were the same.

Jesus was white. That's all there was to it. Books don't lie. Certainly not a Bible book. Whoever printed the books and painted the glass surely would not want to commit the sin of a lie.

Hell was hot — so I was told from reliable sources.

As I approached my teens and became in tune with the black consciousness movement of the late 1960s, I remember questioning why we, in a black church, had the image of a white Jesus.

Then, according to a Gallup Poll, 98 percent of Americans said they believed in God. The God that most saw and believed in was white.

Though my parents were deeply active in the civil rights movement, they said it didn't matter what color Jesus was. He loved everyone.

If it did not matter, I asked, why couldn't the Jesus in our church look like us? And if it doesn't matter, why don't white churches — that I'd never seen the inside of at the time — have Jesus as a soul man?

Since the Santa Claus-and-Jesus-are-white-men controversy sparked by Fox News' Megyn Kelly's remarks, there have been a number of color-of-Jesus conversations resurrected across America.

In these conversations, I'm sure it has been noted that in different parts of the world, the image of Jesus reflects the people of that place.

Does it matter?

Whereas it was understandable that the image of Jesus was always white in the past, in a changing America, well, not so much.

I'd really like to have a Jesus that looks like me. But then, so does everyone else. So I offer a simple proposal. I propose we diversify our depiction of Jesus so that everyone in America gets Jesus in one's own image.

How? By applying what occurs at sporting events where advertising images are rotated every few minutes.

That is, in place of the current Jesus in churches across America, the clergy of America pass the plate to replace him with a rotating image of Jesus of many colors.

So I would suggest the following rotation based on the largest demographic groups in America: white Jesus, the first 10 minutes; Hispanic Jesus (white), the second 10 minutes; Hispanic Jesus (black), the third 10 minutes; African American Jesus (discernibly so), the fourth 10 minutes; Asian Jesus, the fifth 10 minutes; and native American Jesus, the sixth 10 minutes.

This way, each hour we cover the 92 percent of Americans who say they believe in God, down 6 percentage points from the late 1960s, according to a 2011 Gallup Poll Survey. Church attendance is also down, according to a recent Pew Center Research survey.

Of course, naysayers would say that tinkering with the image of Jesus risks driving church attendance further down, not to mention sparking an exodus to the bathroom when the black Jesus' time rolls around. However, others might say: "Ye, of little faith. Let this be a test of faith of the true believer. Bring forth Jesus as a soul man!"

While I am not one to mix politics with religion, I can't help but remember how when black Harold Washington won the mayoral primary in Democratic Chicago in the 1980s, white Democrats fled to the other side.

In politics, the other side was the Republicans. In religion, the other side is —

Just saying.

Frank Harris III of Hamden is a professor of journalism at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. His email address is frankharristhree@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at fh3franktalk.

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