Like most everyone who heard the news of this past weekend, I was angered and appalled at the news of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s (alleged) racist conversation with his former girlfriend V. Stiviano. His words are almost unbelievable and unbearable to listen to.
I don’t believe I have a racist bone in my body. If I become aware of any racially insensitive thoughts or comments, I seek to change them immediately. I have friends from numerous races, nationalities, and ethnicities. I teach on racial unity. I speak against racial prejudice (prejudice of any kind, for that matter). I believe people should be treated like human beings regardless of color, class, creed, culture, or whatever other category we like to tag each other with.
I have listened to and read on the public outrage over Sterling’s comments. The people of the public are right for their shock and anger over such racism. It’s heinous.
Yet I find myself asking: How many of those who are commenting on this issue harbor racist thoughts themselves? How many of those who decry his racism speak and/or act as racists themselves? What if their conversations were recorded like Sterling’s were? What if we were able to hook them up to a “racial heart monitor” to see what’s happening on the inside, in their thought life? Are we naive enough to believe that many of these people wouldn’t be exposed for having racist tendencies of their own? It’s one thing to condemn very public comments by a very public figure in a very public way; it’s another to condemn yourself for thinking, speaking, and acting like him yourself.
What about you? What about me? Are we harboring “closet racism” ourselves?
Please do not mistake my questions as any kind of defense of Donald Sterling; if he is truly guilty of these words then he is indefensible. (My prayer is he would publicly confess his wrongdoing and take responsibility for his hurtful actions, and that his wrong would further eradicate racism from all races.) I in no way am coming to the defense of this man. I just believe his stupidity gives all of us an opportunity to examine ourselves and see if we are like him in any way.
Racism is a result of humanity’s fall into sin and death. God’s original plan for the world was for people of every color and culture to bear His image and bring about His ways on the earth in total peace and complete harmony. He has never abandoned this vision. The book of Revelation shows us that He is redeeming and restoring people from every ethnicity:
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (5:9-10; my bold and italics).After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands (7:9; my bold and italics).
All of this was launched in our crucified and resurrected King, the Lord Jesus. When He came announcing the return of His Father’s kingdom (see Mark 1:14-15), He did so by treating people as human beings. He did not view people through the same lens as we so often do based upon our prejudices. And His death tore down the greatest racial divide in human history: the one between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Everyone who is in Christ is now a member of this renewed humanity that God is forming in the world—a people of all colors, cultures, and classes. The church is to embrace one another in love without prejudice (see 1 Cor 12:12-13; Gal 3:25-28; Col 3:9-11). We are to lead the way in showing the rest of the world what racial harmony, unity, love, and peace looks like.
While Donald Sterling’s comments are awful, what if we took the time to see if our own reflections come back through our TV sets or computer screens as we watch or read about the fallout of his words? What if we used this time not so much to stand in judgment of him but instead we rushed to judge ourselves, making sure to cleanse ourselves of the filth of racism in our hearts and in our churches? Maybe—just maybe—times like these would lead people to look to the church for the answers to the problems that still plague our world, giving us the opportunity to tell them the good news of Jesus.