Walking around India, at times, we felt like movie stars. People would stop us in the street and ask to have their picture taken with us. At one point, when we were walking along the coast, a young couple stopped me and asked if the woman could have her picture taken with me. I thought it bizarre, but agreed. When I asked her if I could have a picture taken with her, she suddenly became very camera shy, giggled and backed away. I asked our Indian friend why this kept happening. He told us that some people see white skin as something to aspire to, and that to have a picture taken with someone of white skin is something to show off to their friends. Apparently, somewhere in India, my picture will be hanging proudly in someone’s home.
I thought about this and became quite saddened by it.
Someone doesn’t realise how beautiful she is.
The same day in church we sang a song by Casting Crowns called Glorious Day. I love this song, but after my experience with the woman wanting my photo, I struggled singing the line – “One day when sin was as black as could be.” I sang red, not black. Because red is what the Bible says.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
Isaiah 1:18 NIV
Isaiah says scarlet
Colour of blood
Of child birth and menstruating childlessness
Of murdering your brother
Of the door posts when death passed over
Of the roads as bull after bull was sacrificed when the ark of the Covenant returned to Jerusalem
Of the streets of Jerusalem during its destruction by Babylon, then later again by Rome
Of animal sacrifice in the Temple
Of Jesus’ blood on the cross
Both sin and God’s provision for redemption are the colour of red.
“Come, let us settle the matter…”
In India, skin colour is one of the many factors that denote caste. Caste denotes place in society, where a person fits in the social hierarchy. The caste system is illegal now, but as we discovered in America, changing the law doesn’t change peoples’ hearts. (The Civil Rights Act was signed 52 years ago, and yet Americans still aren’t living Dr King’s Dream.) That’s why the prophets like Jeremiah were so eager for people to have their hearts changed for God.
As I talk to people about the scripture and the Good News of Jesus, it matters how I talk about sin and about the colour black. If I continue to use the word black to talk about sin, not only am I not reading my Bible accurately, but I’m continuing the cycle of urging people to view dark skin as something negative. Black skin is not sinful or dirty or anything other than “wonderfully made” like every other skin tone (Psalm 139:14). I know this in my head, but until my experience in India, I failed to fully grasp how language shapes how people are seen and sometimes how people see themselves. To share Jesus’ good news, I need a language that helps me to love God and love people. Continuing to talk about sin as black brings too much pain to too many people.
A recent news article on BBC News shows how three women are using social media to try and challenge peoples’ attitudes towards skin colour. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-35783348
Besides, red matters!
Fact is: our sin (whether individual or structural) spills a whole lot of blood. When blood is spilled, it is red.
When I see sin as red, I am reminded that suffering is caused by the unChrist-like things that we people do. I am also reminded that we are changed by the blood of Jesus. And then society will be changed by the loving Christ-like things we do by His Spirit.