This weekend, it was reported that Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers, made racist remarks in a heated conversation with his girlfriend. The audio (obtained by an online gossip magazine) strongly suggests that Sterling has very unhealthy views regarding culture and ethnicity. It has also been reported that this isn’t the first time Sterling has been accused of being racist. As I stated on Twitter, Sterling’s remarks are unfortunate and disturbing considering his position in a league where minorities are the majority. Despite his views, Christians have a responsibility to God and therefore to Donald and men like him.
After observing the hoopla surrounding Sterling and the response of some Christians via social media, I have 3 quick exhortations for Christians on dealing with men like Donald Sterling.
1. We must love men like Sterling by understanding what he was actually trying to communicate.
It was reported by a gossip column that Sterling didn’t want Black people at the Clippers games, including Magic Johnson. After listening to the audio in full myself, I didn’t come to the same conclusion. It seems Sterling specifically didn’t want his girlfriend bringing blacks or other minorities to the games with her. It doesn’t appear he intended to band minorities from all Clippers games.
When engaging situations such as this and people like Sterling, in order to win them, the Christian must seek to understand. We should be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt instead of coming to the conclusion of the worst possible scenario. Sterling’s view is troubling enough without exaggeration. Unfortunately, it seems this is what the media did, and many Christians jumped on the bandwagon.
2. We must love men like Sterling by not overreacting and being quick to anger when they state their views.
I once saw a tweet that asked “Why are we surprised when sinners sin?” It seems that the sin of racism has been so demonized by the culture to the point that it’s one of the worst things anyone can be guilty of. When we spot it, we go on a rampage seeking to devour whoever is producing it, especially when they’re white. I understand this feeling because I’ve experienced it. When someone is challenging your intrinsic worth, it’s painful to listen to. How does God want us to respond when someone questions our worth with racist remarks? The scriptures call us to:
“make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-9).
I think the culture has influenced the church to a fault when it comes to racism. We must remember that scripture offers a proper view of sin that isn’t as black and white as the world’s view. We’ve simply overreacted to our history causing us to forget the power of grace. Men like Sterling must be called to repentance, not just for the sin of racism, but for all sin.
3. We must love men like Sterling by making the church a safe place for sinners, even racist sinners.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if racism is a sin, it will be with us until Jesus returns. Therefore, the church must be ready and willing to pastor and shepherd those who struggle with it. The church should be a safe place for racists. Often, many guilty of racism feel isolated and misunderstood. We don’t love them by misrepresenting them and overreacting when they reveal their struggle. Others who aware of church members struggling with these views and know they’re wrong are simply waiting for people like them to die.
This is unacceptable for the household of saints. We should want repentance. However, we can’t call someone to repentance when his or her sin is hidden due to shame, isolation, or because they feel misunderstood. The Gospel takes the blow for racists, offering hope and life, not condemnation.
When the world is screaming justice, the church should be screaming grace. Not cheap grace, but active grace that seeks to understand, is not quick to anger, and offers a safe place to rest the racist’s burden, calling him or her to repentance. Remember, the cross is sufficient for racism, not just of the past, but of the present and future.