Most Christians think it's ok to portray Jesus as white

Depictions of Jesus as white persist despite being Middle Eastern.(Photo: Unsplash/Leon Oblak)

Most British Christians think images of a 'white Jesus' are acceptable, but polling shows attitudes vary according to age and ethnicity.

The survey by YouGov found that over two-thirds (69%) of British Christians are comfortable with images depicting Jesus as white. This was higher than Britons overall (63%).

A similar proportion of Christians (68%) were comfortable with Jesus being depicted as Middle Eastern. 

But less than half of Christians (44%) said they would be happy with a black Jesus.

The survey was conducted in the run-up to Christmas, a time of year typically awash with depictions of a fair-skinned Jesus in nativity scenes and on Christmas cards.

Ethnic minority Britons were far less likely to approve of images of a white Jesus (40%) and ethnic minority Christians were the least likely to be comfortable with such a depiction (36%).

By contrast, six in 10 ethnic minority Christians said Jesus should be depicted as Middle Eastern. 

The survey also found significant differences according to age, with younger Britons less accepting of a white saviour (51% of 18-24 year olds, 61% of 25-49 year olds) than older generations (66-67% of those aged 50+).

Commenting on the results, Matthew Smith, YouGov's Head of Data Journalism, said, "The debate as to Jesus Christ's ethnicity has been going on for a long time, perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

"Christ is commonly depicted as being a White man, with the Washington Post crediting Warner E. Sallman's 1940 painting "Head of Christ" – which has since been reproduced a billion times ­– as playing a key role in this.

"The image of Christ as a man with white skin and blue eyes would appear to be at odds with what is likely, given the biblical account of his family hailing from the Middle East.

"Nevertheless, Britons are far more likely to say they usually see Jesus being depicted as white (58%) than Middle Eastern (22%)."