Yeah, I know. Corny. Remember, I am an Iowan. We don’t have good weather. We don’t have oceans or mountains or any major sports teams. So, we make puns. I thought that one was pretty good, regardless of the grief I took from it when I tweeted it yesterday.
Before I say anything else about this mess, let me say this – Donald Sterling is a racist pig who deserved everything he got. Adam Silver gave him the bionic elbow and I cheered. Would that every scandal was handled with the firm justice Adam Silver meted out. And there is no point in trying to put Sterling’s racism in any kind of perspective. He’s a jerk. Honestly, if you listen to the conversation between him and his “girlfriend” there is a lot more to be concerned about that just his racism. He is whiny, pathetic, controlling, domineering, manipulative – name the negative adjective and he ticked the box in that conversation.
I have a few observations about the mess that I would like to make. None of them is in any way either a justification of Sterling or a questioning of Silver’s swift justice. They are just some random thoughts I’ve accumulated in spending way too much time reading about and watching shows concerning this matter.
1) “I love black people.”
Several times in his racist rant, Donald Sterling assured Ms. Stiviano (or whatever her real name is) that he was not a racist and that he really did love black people. It amazes me how people can say and do racist things while still convincing themselves that they are not actually racists.
I pastored a church many years ago that was rife with racism. I can still remember from those days some of the assurances I received from members of that church that they were most definitely not racist. Their “assurances” often made me cringe. They were able to categorize and rationalize clearly racist behavior as if it were not.
Donald Sterling hired a black GM, black coaches and gave millions and millions of dollars to black players. Because of that, he was able to convince himself that the fact that he did not want his girlfriend to take pictures with blacks was not really racism.
- “I am not a racist, but I wouldn’t want my daughter to date a black man, even if he were a good Christian.” I’ve heard that one on this site – more than once from several different voices.
- “I am not a racist, but I think it is best if blacks stay with blacks and whites stay with whites.” I wish I had a nickel…
- “I am not a racist, but I think racially insensitive jokes are funny and people should be so easily offended.”
- “I am not a racist and minorities need to get over the past and move on!”
I have, to my memory, ever intentionally mistreated a black person because they were black. I’ve never intentionally engaged in racist behavior or activity. But I’m not sure that absolves me of all responsibility. This society, and our denomination, were built on a shaky framework of racism. I love America and I love Southern Baptists but when we deny that the stain of our racist past still has effects and consequences today it is a form of denial.
If you say “racism” today, people form an immediate picture of Donald Sterling. But Donald Sterling had fully convinced himself that he was not a racist and that he is a victim of false accusation. The ultimate racist is not the white supremacist boldly proclaiming Caucasian superiority but the man of power who disdains minorities but convinces himself he’s actually not so bad.
My views on race issues in the SBC were changed at the annual meeting in Orlando (2010?), during a conversation with Dwight McKissic. The topic was racial reconciliation and Dwight’s motion had been referred. I went to him and assured him that I would do what I could to keep this issue in the blogs. He told me something that shocked me. “Dave, in this entire meeting, there has not been a single black (he may have said minority, my memory is unclear) on the stage the entire time.” White men ran things.
Was that by choice? Had a decision been made, “No blacks on the stage?” Absolutely not. We do not practice that kind of racism in the SBC anymore. Maybe in 1959 that was the case. No longer. But we had not been intentional about including minorities. It was unintentional, but think what message it sent to our minority brethren.
What bothered me is that I never once noticed it. It never even occurred to me that the stage had been devoid of minorities. I was completely unoffended by the absence of black Baptists on the stage during the annual meeting. Is there not a little bit of the Donald Sterling in Dave Miller? I would swear on a stack of Bibles, “I am NOT a racist.” I was offended by the overt racism among my church members in the 80s. But I never noticed that blacks were being marginalized in the SBC.
2) “There is no place in society for Donald Sterling.”
I heard this troubling statement about 4.6 million times in recent days, from athletes, owners, executives and ESPN talking heads. And I understand it. I would like to live in a country where Donald Sterling-types were not in positions of power and influence.
But there is a troubling aspect of that statement. America was built on the concept of freedom of speech, of associations and of thought. I think the NBA has every right to say that a racist ought not own a team. So let it be written, so let it be done.
But I start getting nervous when we start saying that people with unpopular ideas have no place in our culture. We are moving slowly toward a totalitarianism that is scary. Do we really want to empower the thought police?
That ties into my next point.
3) Mark Cuban was right, this is a slippery slope.
You can’t imagine how it pains me to agree with Mark Cuban about anything. Ever. But he warned of this as a slippery slope issue and I think he is right. When we let the thought police rule culture, where will it end?
Recent, Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich “resigned” because in 2008 he gave $1000 to a group that supported Prop 8 defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Horrors!
The same process of public vilification that (rightly) identified Donald Sterling as a horrible racist can be used to describe a good man as a dangerous extremist because of his religious convictions.
What is next with pro sports owners? Would a conservative (political or theological) be chased from ownership because he or she runs afoul of the pc thought police?
I am fully supportive of the action Adam Silver took against Donald Sterling, but I’m a little nervous about where this is all going to lead. Since Christianity has stopped being the moral majority and has become a prophetic minority, we must be wary when liberties are sacrificed on the altar of PC purity.
4) Outrage is NOT holiness, justice, or evangelism
Too often, we reduce our commitment to holiness, justice and evangelism to calling out sinners and expressing outrage over their sins. But we are called to do more than simply proclaim that Sterling is despicable. Posts about how awful our world is or how terrible someone in it is do not really accomplish anything. It is easy to declaim about the depravity of this world but that is unproductive and self-serving.
Calling Sterling a racist doesn’t change racism. Our job is to proclaim the gospel of Christ which transforms lives, to walk in holiness in this world and to seek justice among human beings. Simply venting our anger is not enough.
5) Racism isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I know that not everyone shares my (biblically correct) eschatology, but as the end draws near, Jesus told us that “nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.” Of course, the word “nation” is the one from which we derive our word “ethnic,” and indicates that racial and ethnic tensions will not only continue but perhaps even increase.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to fight the battle. Racism is an evil – one that has plagued the history of both our nation and our denomination – and we must deal with it. But it isn’t going to be easily solved. When I see white Christians questioning why we can’t just put the past in the past, I cringe a little. Blacks in America have made great progress, but there are still consequences of centuries of slavery, discrimination, segregation, oppression and racism. It is NOT in the past. Racism is a present problem in America and in American churches.
This is a battle against sin which we must continue to fight. It isn’t going away soon. Pretending that this problem is is only for the history books is foolish and naive.