Today the NBA declared war on racism when commissioner Adam Silver banned franchise owner Donald Sterling from the league for life because of ten minutes of ignorant and offensive remarks recorded and recently released to the public. Silver’s historic decision exceeded what most experts had expected and said loudly to all who will hear, “We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA.”
A Not So Sterling Record
To be clear, Sterling’s racism has not been in hiding. He’s been sued more than once for refusing to rent to blacks or Hispanics, and that isn’t the beginning or the end of his offenses against minorities. He is a proven, unapologetic, and now banned racist. Sadly, his money has apparently been able to cover his offenses in the past. This weekend his racism was broadcast to the listening world and is now receiving its just punishment — at least as much judgment as the National Basketball Association and the media can levy.
In this most recent and most controversial conversation, the 80-year-old Sterling told his twenty-something girlfriend that she shouldn’t post pictures online with black people like Ervin “Magic” Johnson — one of the most beloved and successful black men in America — or bring “them” to the basketball games. It was the kind of disrespect and abuse that makes even our reality-television-hungry, anything-goes society gasp and call for disciplinary action.
The Silver Hammer
And Adam Silver has taken action. It was announced today that, effective immediately, Sterling has been banned for life from any involvement in NBA activities. He was fined $2.5 million, which is the maximum amount allowed. Silver also assured everyone that he would do everything in his power, with the cooperation of the other owners, to force Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers.
Silver’s statement was appropriately strong and decisive. Don, you and your money do not belong in our league or in our buildings. Even in a world ruled by money, your racism can render a billionaire penniless and unwelcome. In these arenas and front offices, we believe in and will guard the equal and valuable worth of all men and women regardless of racial or ethnic background.
The Gospel’s Press Conference
The swift and decisive condemnation will be celebrated by most across America, as it should be. Praise God for the progress our nation has made in striving for and experiencing racial reconciliation. The horrific injustices of our history are awful beyond imagination and ought to make us shudder today. And we can rejoice in a rising generation so comfortable with cultural and racial diversity that these comments almost universally shock, offend, and appall.
But as good as the news will feel for many — myself included — it pales in comparison to the gospel’s message in light of the Donald Sterling scandal. When we’re tempted to think judgment has been served, God has something more sure, more powerful, and more lasting — better — to say.
A Better Message for Minorities
First, the underlying message in Silver’s statement was that people of every racial or ethnic background — fan, player, coach, or owner — are embraced by this league. The NBA is a little society united by a love for freedom, money, entertainment, and basketball. That they’ve found ways to encourage and preserve diversity on those terms is commendable. Fortunately for us, the gospel gives us stronger ground to stand on in our efforts to reconcile what sin has corrupted in our differences.
** 1. We are all created by one God for one great purpose.**
God’s word says we were all created in his image, designed to display his unthinkable beauty and worth. Any woman or man on this earth has been endowed with the unique and inescapable purpose of picturing God Almighty, maker and sustainer of our planet and everything living on it.
2. We are all condemned before God by our own corruption.
We’re united in purpose, and we’re united in desperation. “None is righteous” before God, “no not one” (Romans 3:10). If racism offends us as much as it does — and should — consider what it means for us to disrespect and insult God himself with our sinful attitudes, desires, and behavior. If someone at TMZ were to parade our most selfish and prideful thoughts, it wouldn’t take ten minutes to prove our guilt and shame. And there wouldn’t be a ban or fine strong enough to vindicate God’s name and worth.
In our desperation before God, horrifically, we find ourselves in Sterling’s sin-stained shoes. Apart from Christ and without his undeserved and overwhelming grace, my heart really is as black as Don’s. We can’t believe that he could say such awful things so calmly and matter-of-factly. Stupidity and ignorance don’t quite describe that kind of prejudice. But at the very same time, you and I have thoughtlessly and consistently wronged God himself and welcomed his wrath. The disgust we feel with Sterling is only a faint shadow of what we would feel if we could see the way we treat God.
We all without exception find ourselves condemned and needy, and so we ought to be able to find sympathy and compassion for our fellow sinners of whatever race.
3. We are all redeemed and reconciled by one sovereign Savior and Judge.
But the union isn’t really born until we’ve been redeemed. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one finds full, lasting, trustworthy reconciliation — whether with God or with one another — apart from him. Money can’t buy this kind of justice and healing, and public policy alone can’t create and enforce it. It’s one thing to put on a Clippers jersey and sit next to one another at a basketball game. It’s a whole different thing to enjoy true peace, freedom, and joy together forever before the God who made us and meant to get worship in our gospel reunion across racial boundaries.
A More Devastating Punishment for Racists
The real Good News is better, and the bad news gets worse. Those who sin against God and others by dragging human dignity through the refuse of their racism — and refuse to repent — spend eternity paying for it. No one’s suggesting Adam Silver takes racism lightly. And no one will suggest that of God either. He will demonstrate the preciousness of his image when he crushes every racist rebellion.
Racism — like every other sin — can be nailed to the cross of Christ and completely forgiven if someone turns from their ignorance and finds life in the Truth. But if we don’t repent, God’s wrath will do what we wouldn’t let Christ’s death do. It will execute just and unimaginable punishment. We don’t have to worry whether Donald Sterling will get what he deserves. Either we’ll learn that his sentence fell on Jesus — and we’ll rejoice — or he’ll himself receive every ounce of divine retribution for his racism.
Without a doubt, there are some instances of racism — the good-hearted, bad-minded kind that any of us could be guilty of at any given moment — that should be treated with patient and gentle correction. But there is a radical, unrepentant, and unapologetic racism that cannot be condemned enough in this life and will be dealt with by God with a never-ending death.
Speak It Like Silver
On a day when we heard Adam Silver bring the NBA’s swift, decisive, and powerful statement regarding race and human dignity, let’s be encouraged and inspired not to be silent in the face of racism and injustice when it shows its ugly face.
Reconciled by the blood of Christ, filled with one and the same Spirit, and armed with God’s very words, we are standing on stronger ground and with more at stake. So let’s be about realizing — in our responses and relationships — all of the realities that Jesus purchased with his death and announced in his gospel.