This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
I am tired of Scandinavian images of Christ. For more than a half century, Mormons have been plagued by images of Christ as interpreted by Swedish artist Carl Heinrich Bloch. His illustrations have flooded every aspect of the LDS Church's persona. Bloch's Jesus is almost synonymous with Mormonism.
In Bloch's depictions, Christ is well-groomed (hair parted down the middle), with a neatly-trimmed beard, shiny-white robe and pasty-white skin. While Bloch's figures don't look like first-century Jews, art dealer David Ericson feels that the artist captures the "feel of Christ."
Starting this week, there is a tribute to Bloch's influence on Mormonism at Brigham Young University's Museum of Art. We can now all judge for ourselves whether Bloch's images are inspirational or absurdly ethnocentric. According to Dawn Pheysey, the show's curator, the artist's depictions seem to mirror LDS views of a manly, yet compassionate, Christ.
In point of fact, Christ was born into a Mediterranean environment; his skin was not lily white, it was a shade of brown. How dark, we will never know, but he was not Scandinavian, and in all probability he was heavily tanned from his constant exposure to the sun. And his white robes, if he in fact dressed in white robes, would have been difficult to keep clean.
Problematic illustrations of Christ are not unique to Mormonism. According to Pastor David Pratt (of the 4,300-person suburban church in Birmingham, Ala.), "When we gather in our church building to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not be worshipping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, we may be worshipping ourselves."
Unfortunately, Jesus is too often portrayed as a nonthreatening suburban gentleman.
If Christianity wants to be a truly international religion, it needs to drop its occidental ethnocentrism and come up with more realistic images of Christ and his associates. If Christians want to atone for past racial problems (segregation, second-class membership, slavery, internment camps, treatment of immigrants, etc.), I would recommend a darker-skinned Christ.
I travel to Africa a great deal; it would be a great inspiration for Christian believers there to see a more realistic depiction of Christ. On a recent visit to an orphanage, a college student traveling with my group was mistaken for Christ by some of the Ugandan kids. They saw his white skin and long, neatly-combed hair, and jumped to the conclusion that it was the Second Coming. It was a rather awkward moment for all of us.
W.E.B. DuBois, a Harvard-trained, African-American activist, struggled to understand why whites saw Christ in their image but blacks failed to do the same. Catholics, to their credit, have images of a black Christ (and Madonna). Years ago, I meditated in front of one in the Copacabana Cathedral on the shores of Lake Titicaca (Bolivia).
Our concept of Christ comes not from the gospels but from artist renditions. The Bible doesn't tell us much about what Jesus looked like. Unfortunately, most of us are less interested in Christ as He was than in Christ as we want Him to be. There needs to be some vision other than a white gentleman with movie-star good looks.
I understand that all cultures and races might relate better to a Christ who looks like them. But Christianity is popular throughout the world. If Christianity wants to be truly universal, a more Mediterranean or even darker Christ would be an excellent compromise. It would certainly be more historically accurate.
R. Dennis Hansen is a civil engineer working as a planner for a governmental resource agency. An Orem resident, he is a board member of the local chapter of Engineers Without Borders.