At Immanuel, we are seeking, with God’s help, to build a community from all cultures where Christ is King. We believe that it has always been God’s purpose to bless all of the diverse families of the earth (Genesis 12). In fact, Jesus spilled his blood to ransom “people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Re 5:9). As we lift up the Cross of Jesus in our preaching, evangelizing, and our living, we fully expect our Lord to keep His promise to gather a multi-colored people. After all, it was Jesus who said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
So if we are so eager to see people from different backgrounds, cultures, and colors worshipping Jesus in our pews, why are the large stained glass windows on our walls covered with images of six white guys?
We Don’t Know
We can’t interview the people who ordered those stained glass windows so we cannot know for sure why they put them up there. At worst, it could be a reflection of the deep sense of racism and white superiority that has been prevalent throughout the history of this nation. A symbol of the many churches that supported, were complicit to or simply remained silent on the racial sins committed in this country. At best, it could be a reflection of the fact that cultures regularly make pictures of Jesus in their own image. Black homes often have pictures of a ‘black Jesus,’ Chinese art creates pictures of a ‘Chinese Jesus,’ and white Churches have often made pictures of a ‘white Jesus.’ Regardless, making images of biblical characters as if they were white is wrong.
It’s really wrong no matter what motivates a person to do it. If a person is motivated by racial pride to make Jesus (the ultimate man) in their own image, it is a sin. Pride is always a sin, and the sin of racial pride (“people of my color and culture are better than yours”) has a heinous history in this country. At Immanuel, we condemn the sin of racial pride and the sin of racial partiality that goes with it, passionately and unequivocally.
This other reason people make pictures of Jesus that look like them is much more innocent, but it is nonetheless wrong: people may simply make pictures of Jesus that look like them to remind themselves that Jesus was one of us. It is a powerful truth that Jesus Christ took on our humanity, and painting a picture of Jesus that looks like us can be a powerful way to be reminded that God really was one of us. The reason this is wrong is because God did not become a man in a general sense, but he became a Jew. He was born in Bethlehem, the hometown of the greatest Jewish king. His parents were Jewish. He was circumcised on the eighth day like a Jewish boy was supposed to be. He worked his entire salvation as a Jew, fulfilling all the promises of the Jewish Messiah.
In other words, the only way to make an accurate picture of Jesus (or any of the other ‘main characters’ of the Bible) is to make them look Jewish. While we do not know Jesus’ exact features or the exact tint of his skin, we do know that he was most likely not black, nor white, nor would he have borne the features of a man from the far east—He was a Middle Eastern Jew. He was most likely closer to olive than either black, white, or yellow. To portray him as anything other than Jewish is both historically and theologically inaccurate. Our Lord made it abundantly clear, “salvation is from the Jews.”
So Where Does That Leave Us?
At Immanuel, we want to follow the Bible in all that we do. If we have images of Jesus, we want them to reflect the historical reality that Jesus was a Jew. We want to reflect the precious theological reality that “salvation is from the Jews,” and that this Jew is gathering people from all colors and cultures to worship Him and be saved by the blood of his Cross. We do not want to communicate the lie that Jesus was white, nor do we ever want anyone to think that we believe that white is better than black or brown or anything. We believe that the Jewish savior has come to save sinners from every tribe, tongue, and nation. We also believe that in Jesus all peoples are equally made in the image of God, equally rebellious and sinful before God, and equally able to be fully and freely forgiven, accepted, and mightily used by God. We delight in all of these truths and we regret that the stained glass windows in our building do not communicate that truth more accurately.
So What Are We Going To Do About It?
Well, we could consider re-tinting our windows to, if possible, make the images of Jesus, Peter, John, Moses, Elijah, and David more historically, and theologically, accurate. We would love to re-tint our windows so that no one who saw them could ever draw the conclusion that we believed Jesus was white or that white was superior.
Unfortunately, after weighing many options, we do not believe that making these changes is the wisest course of action at this time. In order to change our stained glass windows in the next few years, we would have to forfeit the ‘tax credits’ we received from the State of Kentucky. Receiving these tax credits made moving to our new location possible, and forfeiting them would divert precious funds from gospel enterprises that we are pursuing locally and globally.
Some will see this as simply pandering to money. We want to assure you that this is not the case. We do recognize that this decision may be discouraging to some, and for that we apologize. It does not reflect any lack of empathy or sympathy for those who struggle with these windows and the racial implications that they could represent.
This decision does represent our desire to do what is wisest for the continued advancement of Christ’s kingdom—a kingdom that loves justice, equity and compassion, and a kingdom that we hope Immanuel continues to faithfully represent. This decision was hard and those who have run a home know there are always difficult decisions to make when you consider what to prioritize. This was one of those difficult decisions.
Could We Change Them In The Future?
We could, and in fact, we have already begun exploring how this could be done. We will continue to explore our options so that when the limits on what we can change in this building expire, we will be able to pursue a plan to remove stumbling blocks and make our architecture as historically and theologically accurate as possible.
What Can We Do In The Meantime?
Well, we can publish this blog post to express our hearts and to acknowledge that we have thought about this issue. Hopefully this blog can be a starting place if you are ever asked questions about our stained glass windows. We want this to be a helpful resource so that we can make it clear we hate all racial pride and we lament the racial pride that has been so prevalent in this country. We do not mean by our stained glass windows to support any racial partiality or superiority. On top of this, we want to communicate our desire to see every aspect of our architecture as historically and theologically accurate as possible, so that we can make it clear that the Jewish Messiah is the One gathering people with every shade of skin into a community from all cultures where Christ is King.
What Else Can We Do?
We can love one another. This love can be shown by having open conversations and living life with one another. Although our stained glass windows may pose a real and regrettable stumbling block to some who visit Immanuel, our love and our gospel are still the main ways we expose people to the powerful salvation of God. It is our prayer that despite having white faces on the stained glass windows in the balcony, we have a church made up of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation loving one another. It is our prayer that people will continue to see African Americans, White Canadians, Cameroonians, and Hispanics pastoring, serving and preaching the gospel from our pulpits. It is our hope that visitors will see us praying for the salvation of the Javanese on the Island of Sumatra, the Berber peoples of Egypt, and the Gaelic peoples of Ireland. We hope that in all these things our lives will reflect the gospel better than any stained glass window ever could.
Pastors Ryan Fullerton & Evan Calvin
For the Pastors