Donald Sterling, Secret Conversations, and the Image of God
By now you’ve heard reports about the reprehensible and racist comments of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. This is a news story that now transcends sports, with repeated calls for boycotts of Clipper games, demands for punishment for Sterling, and even admonishment from President Obama. Update: The NBA has made the decision to ban Donald Sterling for life and the Board of Governors will vote to force Sterling to sell the Clippers franchise. They also fined him $2.5 million dollars.
If you are an NBA fan like me, you’ll know that Donald Sterling is a known curmudgeon, a highly ineffective owner, and a generally un-liked fellow. So we might be tempted to consider what he said to be merely the rantings of an out of touch, stuck-in-the-1950’s old man. We might ask why should Christians care what the owner of an LA sports team says?
But I think we should care, for several reasons:
First, Sterling’s words hurt and demean people created in the image of God. Just the way Sterling talks about African American people reflects a Satanic, soul-crushing view of humanity. “These people” is a way of setting a certain ethnic group aside as less than human.
Christians should be offended by Sterling’s words because racism is a direct attack upon the Creator, who lovingly formed each human in His image and likeness. It’s to tell the Creator that what He created good isn’t good. To treat someone as subhuman doesn’t simply humiliate the recipient, it dethrones God as Lord.
In one sense it’s shocking that we still hear these words in 21st century America. After all, we’ve made great racial progress in this country. And yet, in another sense, we shouldn’t be shocked, because racism is the fruit of a sinful, fallen world, where man will always consider himself better than his fellow man. Every generation has its racists, who set themselves up as gods. And every generation needs godly men and women to both be outraged by racism and committed to the gospel work that eradicates it.
Secondly, Sterling’s words and actions reflect a low view of marriage. Buried in the furor over the racist comments were a stunningly low view of marriage and sexuality. Marriage is not simply a Christian idea, but a Creational ordinance ordained by God to both illustrate Christ’s love for His Church and to ensure human flourishing. It’s no surprise that in Sterling’s life adultery and racism flow together. Each sin is a selfish act against a holy God.
Third, we should be warned that no conversation is secret. How many seemingly private conversations have been “leaked” to the media? The wrong lesson to learn from Donald Sterling (and other such conversations) would be this: be careful what you say, it might go public. Instead, we should strive not to have those nasty private conversations. Not simply for fear of them being leaked, but because even in private, God hears. We should strive to be in private what we hope people think we are when they see us in public. Besides, God will make known all the secret things one day. In a sense, there is no hiding, nothing “off the record” that won’t be replayed at the Judgement Seat.
So where do Christians go from here? What should we do?
We should continue to work for racial reconciliation. Racial reconciliation is not just a political program or a neat idea cooked up in the academy. It’s at the heart of God. In Revelation 5 and 7, we are given a view of the future Kingdom where “every language, tribe, and tongue” will gather to worship Christ. Christians should both be outraged by the injustice of racism wherever we see it and we should actively promote racial reconciliation in our churches, our communities, and in our homes.
We must preach the gospel as the only cure for racism. Racism is the fruit of sin embedded in the heart of every man. Only Christ, who crushed the serpent and defeated death can move into the racist’s heart and recreate it to be a heart of love. The cross is where racism goes to die, for every man, red and yellow, black and white, is in need of God’s saving grace. There is hope for the repentant racist, but it will only happen as Christ renews his mind and redeems his view of his fellow man. Let’s pray for Donald Sterling to repent and turn to Christ in faith. God delights in welcoming sinners home, including repentant racists.
We must model in our churches what racial reconciliation looks like. In the gospel, Christ has created for Himself one new humanity, called out from every race, tribe, and tongue. Therefore as we work toward intentional, real diversity in our Christian communities, we model in miniature what the Kingdom will look like in full. Let’s turn our outrage at Donald Sterling into the gospel-fueled work of reconciliation.
We should humbly consider our own sinful tendencies toward prejudice. Racism begins in a corrupted, sinful heart. If we were honest, we’d admit there is a little Donald Sterling in all of us. Only God’s sanctifying grace can remove the cancer of racism and replace it with a heart that reflects God’s heart.