Head of Church of England: White Jesus Should be Reconsidered Amid Protests

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said Friday the Church of England and other religious institutions worldwide should "of course" reconsider portrayals of Jesus that depict him as a white man.

The leader of the Anglican Communion, which represents millions of people in more than 165 countries, has spoken out against racial inequalities within the church in recent weeks as protests demanding an end to systemic racism gained momentum across the globe.

Welby told BBC Radio 4's Today program on Friday that he has visited numerous churches with diverse cultural backgrounds, many of which do not use the whitewashed portrayal of Jesus that has become so controversial.

"You see Jesus portrayed in as many ways as there are cultures, languages and understandings," Welby said. "You don't see a white Jesus—you see a Black Jesus or a Chinese Jesus or a Middle Eastern Jesus, which is the most accurate."

Archbishop Justin Welby
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, speaks from his pulpit and delivers his Christmas Day sermon to the congregation at Canterbury Cathedral on December 25, 2015 in Canterbury, England. During an interview on Friday with BBC Radio 4, Welby said it was time for churches around the world to reconsider portraying Jesus as a white man. Chris Ratcliffe/Getty

In addition to revisiting religious institutions' portrayals, Welby said it was also time to review whether all the monuments depicting Jesus and other historic figures on church grounds were necessary. Whether or not the plentiful statues at places like Canterbury Cathedral or Westminster Abbey remain was not up to Welby, but there would be discussions on whether they all needed to stay, he said.

"The statue needs to be put in context. Some will have to come down. Some names will have to change," he said. "Goodness me, you just go around Canterbury Cathedral—there's just monuments everywhere."

Welby's comments came as leaders around the world were weighing the benefits of fighting to keep monuments that memorialize controversial figures in public spaces. In the U.S., protesters and city leaders alike have taken action to remove monuments of Confederate soldiers, Christopher Columbus and some Founding Fathers who had known connections to slavery.

Earlier this week, activist Shaun King added white Jesus monuments to the growing list, saying the depictions were "a form of white supremacy."

Hawk Newsome, the chairman of Black Lives Matter's New York chapter, echoed King's criticism during an interview with Fox News on Wednesday. "It's just the hypocrisy and the white supremacy in America and in the world that we show portraits of a pasty, white Jesus," Newsome said. "Jesus was not white. We all know this."

In England, Welby has already taken steps to address racism rooted within the church. After saying in a video posted on Twitter earlier this month that it was time for the church to "acknowledge our own historic errors and failings," the Church of England on Wednesday announced it was launching a task force to introduce "significant cultural and structural change."

The extent of that anticipated change in the Church of England will be determined when the task force meets early next year. Whether similar efforts will be made within religious institutions in the U.S. and in other countries is not yet known.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who leads the Episcopal Church in the U.S., did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment in time for publication.

Though it's too soon to tell what the extent of the change promised will be, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors has said the momentum behind the current movement is promising.

"It is a watershed moment," Cullors told Newsweek earlier this week. "The entire world is saying, 'Black Lives Matter.'"