After the audio of Donald Sterling, owner of the L.A. Clippers, was released to the public, a lot of people had a lot to say, but one particular response caught my eye. Rapper Meek Mill tweeted, “Donald sterling is the definition of racism …. He could b your judge…. Your doctor…..you teacher etc.”
While his words could incite paranoia, they’re also true. Men and women with views like Donald Sterling’s could be in the courtrooms, doctor’s office, classrooms and even in our pews.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Don’t think for one second that believers that think like Sterling don’t exist.
When I was in college, I entered the office of an older white gentleman who had mentored me, in a sense, and had done some significant cross-cultural things to advance a movement of Reformed blacks. He was also highly esteemed in our circles. From time to time, we talked about my desire to be married, and he encouraged me to pursue it.
However, I had a problem. I was Reformed and black living as a minority immersed in Anglo culture. Because the majority of the women I was surrounded by were white, naturally, some of the relationships I pursued were interracial. I found myself running into the roadblocks of disapproving parents who didn’t want me marrying their daughters.
When I expressed my frustration to the gentleman, he asked how my family would feel about my marrying interracially. I revealed how the gospel had done a marvelous work in my family’s heart regarding this issue. He pointed out that interracial marriage was hard and should therefore be avoided.
The conversation ended awkwardly. I left his office and never returned. Years later, he admitted to a group of men that he could not bear the thought of one of his daughters marrying a black man. This church leader was an incognito racist.
Being against interracial marriage is simply a sign of a much deeper issue. They reject the sufficiency of God’s standards for marriage (between two believers of the opposite sex), the intrinsic worth of the individual they’re opposing, and ultimately the oneness of all ethnicities in Christ.
Don’t Let Your ‘Sterling’ Die a Racist
When a pastor is well aware that some of his congregants and even leaders are racists with views that deny the intrinsic worth of a particular ethnicity and the implications of said worth, I struggle. I struggle to understand how this is acceptable. Some pastors and leaders, it seems, would rather wait for certain members to die before they challenge, rebuke, and discipline them. These same pastors radically oppose same-sex marriage and abortion.
On the surface, those cultural issues seem to be more urgent, since we no longer live during the slave era or Jim Crow. They deny God’s original intent for mankind and our intrinsic worth as humans, a worth that sets us apart from the rest of creation. But racism does too.
Same-sex marriage leads to a distortion of the family. Legalized abortion leads to murder and infanticide. But racism leads to a habitual disobedience of the second greatest commandment (love your neighbor as yourself) and to numerous systemic evils.
Habitual racism may reveal that one’s ultimate allegiance is not to the household of faith and the kingdom of God, but to culture and heritage. The consequences are frightening. Failure to confront him or her could lead to their eternal torment, since this may not be simply a single area of struggle for that individual, but at the heart of their understanding of the gospel.
A Safe Place for Racists
I want the church to be a safe place for racists, because I want the church to be a safe place for sinners. The church should be a place that sinners can be honest about their struggles with sin, even racism, not a place that drives them into hiding. But the church fails to be a safe place for racists when it fails to call them to repentance. In the same way that churches during the Jim Crow era failed to be “safe” when they endorsed and approved the unjust laws of the time, when the church stops challenging its members and leadership in areas of sin, it becomes a very dangerous place.
I’m pleading with pastors to simply challenge your flock. Preach against racism when the text addresses it and rebuke racism in love when it rears its ugly head. Don’t knowingly let a member of your church die a habitual racist. Love them by preaching the intrinsic worth of all men and the implications of said worth.
Love one another by preaching the Gospel and all the implications of God revealing himself to mankind in Jesus. He purchased people for himself and he’s intentionally building his church with people from every nation, tribe and tongue. He calls us to unity, uniting us first to himself and then one another. We have unity because of Christ.
When we reject our brother or sister on any level based on the color of their skin, we reject the work of Christ and it’s implications. Christian, don’t leave your brother or sister in their sin. Restore them in a spirit of gentleness.