I’m apparently a bit behind the curve on this as I had never heard of The Bible Series that is set to premiere on the History Channel in just a few weeks.
In case you’re like me and you’re out of the loop, here’s the preview for it. If you have already seen it, I encourage you to watch it again, pay careful attention, and let me know if you notice anything.
Did you catch it?
Apparently according to this History Channel special, a network devoted to as much historical accuracy as possible, everyone in the Bible was white.
And Jesus was British.
Oh, and it seems that most, if not all, of the “bad guys” in the Old Testament are, well, not white and British. Although, to be fair, maybe I’m wrong on that. I’m just assuming they’re the “bad guys” because they’re the ones killing the white guys who have already been established in the preview as the heroes of the various stories being told.
Now, I understand there’s only so far we can go in the realm of historical accuracy when it comes to making movies. For example, creating a series like this spoken entirely in the original languages would be a tough sell for American, English speaking audiences (though Mel Gibson did manage to pull that one off).
And therein lies the problem with this series, but not just the series itself. Herein lies the problem with most of us.
It’s not an accident that the Jesus in this History Channel special is white and speaks with a fine British accent. After all, it’s not like there aren’t plenty of actors of MIddle Eastern descent available to play these roles. That was a decision made by the producers of this program because they need ratings, they need to sell ad space, and the best way to do that is to portray Jesus, and all the other BIble heroes, in a way that is comfortable for the audience.
In other words, to put it bluntly, the producers decided that their audience was racist.
Now, before you think write me off for wild conspiratorial speculation or before you get upset at me for nitpicking a show millions of Christians are bound to watch and think is amazing for its “historical accuracy,” I want you to consider something first.
The images of Jesus in your church. The pictures hanging on the wall. The stained glass windows. The children’s books used in Sunday School. The videos used in small groups.
What does that Jesus look like?
Without having visited your church, I feel pretty safe in assuming that if your church is located in the United States (or the West in general) and your congregation is predominately white, then all the images of Jesus that occupy your church are also white.
This may not be the sort of overt racism of the KKK. Obviously it’s not. But it’s still racism. It’s racism domesticated, racism coated in a veneer of pseudo-innonence and naiveté.
Most of us are not dumb. If you talk to most people in churches today, they’ll probably tell you that Jesus was Jewish or of Middle Eastern descent – even though all the images of him in their church portray him as a white guy.
Why is that?
It’s the same reason we go to the churches we go to, live in the neighborhoods we live in, and shop or eat at the places we do. Not because we’re ready to don hoods and burn crosses, but because there’s something inside all of us – white, black, hispanic, asian, etc. – that fears that which is different. It’s this fear of the other that spurs racism and, in turn, allows us to subconsciously convince ourselves that surrounding ourselves with only things and people, or images of Jesus, that look, act, talk, and think like us is an ok thing to do.
Diversity is a gift given by our Creator. To ignore it, or worse, to try and dismantle it isn’t just racist or bigoted, it’s akin to idolatry. Why? Because in doing so we are attempting to remake the world in our own image, in the ways we see fit.
This is why something like The Bible Series is so problematic. Not because it makes historical mistakes, but because it feeds this idolatrous fear of the other. Not overtly, but subtly, on a subconscious level. Which may be worse, because it domesticates our racism and idolatry by allowing us to justify it through the medium of entertainment and accessibility.
Which is exactly what we do.
And then we populate our churches with images of this same white Jesus and white Bible heroes. Then we populate our churches with people who look just like these comfortable white heroes. Then we move into neighborhoods which are filled with more people who look like these white Bible heroes. And we eat and shop alongside people who look like these white BIble heroes.
And before you know it, we’ve white washed the entire world.
We’ve remade the world in our image.
We’ve committed idolatry on an industrial scale.
Again, you may think this is much ado about nothing. After all, it’s just a TV show, right? Maybe, but I doubt it. Yeah, it’s great when the Bible gets this sort of attention, but this sort of attention doesn’t excuse the inherent racism involved and, in fact, negates any “good” that may have otherwise been accomplished. Worse yet, in giving this sort of thing a free pass because it calls attention to the Bible we are implicitly supporting the sort of subliminal, but destructive racism it engenders. The truth of the matter is television, entertainment, mass media, they all have a profound influence on the ways we think and act whether we realize it or not.
But just for the sake of argument, let’s say this is just a TV show for the History Channel.
If it is, and it’s just an attempt to present the Bible in as historically accurate a way as possible for the purposes of entertainment and maybe just a bit of enlightenment, we’re still left with one burning question.
In this historical drama about the ancient Near East, why are all the “good guys” white?
Grace and peace,